Feb 8, 2016

The Apocalyptic Paul?

A couple of days ago, I had the opportunity to hear Michael Bird speak at the Lanier Theological Library. His talk was entitled “An Invasive Story: Paul’s Theology between Messianic Event and Salvation History.” Here is a paragraph describing the topic.
In the contemporary study of the Apostle Paul, some scholars have stressed that Paul was a very "apocalyptic" thinker, believing that God had invaded the world to bring an end to "religion" by dramatically revealing salvation in Jesus Christ. Yet some have questioned whether this is really what "apocalyptic" means and whether Paul really posits such a rigorous discontinuity between Israel's "religion" and his own account of Christian faith. Accordingly, other scholars have contended that Paul had a theology informed by a continuous story called "salvation-history" in which salvation is not the negation of the old order, but its very fulfillment in Christ. The Book of Galatians has been the primary battleground in this debate between "apocalyptic" and "salvation-history" and is currently one of the more contentious contemporary debates in Pauline studies. The purpose of this lecture is to introduce this topic to a wider audience, to briefly evaluate both the apocalyptic and salvation-history approaches, and to propose a somewhat mediating position between them. 
Bird began his talk by sketching out for common approaches to Pauline theology: Traditional, New Perspective, Radical Paul/Paul within Judaism, and Apocalyptic Paul. 

For the apocalyptic Paul view, the problem is the cosmic tyranny of son and death that religion cannot fix. The solution then was the faithfulness of Christ who undoes sin, death, and evil. Bird also explained the major emphases of the apocalyptic Paul view by borrowing and adapting the Reformed acronym TULIP (here is an earlier and slightly different version). 

Tendency to downplay salvation-historical continuity 
Unveiling of salvation in the apocalypse of Jesus Christ 
Law as the agent of Oppressive Powers 
Invasion of Grace as the End of Religion 
Pistis Christou as the Faithfulness of Christ 

Bird notes that one of the challenges to an apocalyptic reading is the matter of definition since apocalypse can refer to a literary genre, apocalyptic eschatology to a worldview, and apocalypticism as a social movement or group.
Bird went on to examine and critique the apocalyptic approach and seems to find it wanting as the best way to understand Paul. But he did mention a forthcoming volume, Paul and the Apocalyptic Imagination, that those interested in the apocalyptic approach might want to pick up. 

The Lanier library typically posts videos of the lectures but this one is not yet available.

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