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Spring 2004 · Vol. 33 No. 1 · pp. 115–116 

Book Review

Paul Among the Postliberals: Pauline Theology Beyond Christendom and Modernity

Douglas Harink. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2003. 283 pages.

Reviewed by Devon H. Wiens

Harink, professor at The King’s University College in Edmonton, Alberta, an institution in the Reformed tradition, situates Paul comfortably amid the “postliberals,” chiefly J. H. Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, R. K. Soulen, and Scott Bader-Saye, whose theologische Vater is Karl Barth, as mediated through Hans Frei and George Lindbeck, and whose theological heritage represents “a genuine recovery of the Pauline gospel” (18).

In chapter one, “Justification,” which demonstrates his profound indebtedness to the “New Perspective” in Pauline studies, Harink rejects the traditional definition of justification by faith in Jesus Christ as “predominantly anthropocentric” (28) and individualistic. The corrective consists in not translating pistis Christou as “faith in Christ,” but also in understanding the phrase as encapsulating “a story about God’s faithfulness in relation to Jesus’ faithfulness” (41)—hence, “the faith/faithfulness of Christ.”

Chapter two, “Apocalypse,” makes the somewhat outrageous claim that Paul in Galatians and the postliberal theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, are essentially engaged in the same theological program. As Paul was concerned, in an apocalyptic mode, in Galatians to affirm “the singularity of the gospel,” so Hauerwas has roundly scored American liberalism for its civic, Americanized version of the gospel (in effect, producing a nongospel or “another gospel”).

In chapter three, “Politics,” Harink seeks to show that Paul’s writings and theology “are as crucial in [John Howard] Yoder’s theological project as is the story of recent tendencies in Pauline studies.” Thus, Paul’s instructions to imitate Jesus do not involve “mystical, existential, or pietistic communion with Christ.” Rather, such imitation “is about participating with Christ in a conflict with the structures and powers ‘of the present age’ ” (110).

In “Israel,” as chapter four is titled, Harink interacts with N. Thomas Wright’s reading of Paul and finds it to be “supersessionist”: “The only hope for Jews and Judaism . . . is to convert to Christianity” (157). For a corrective to this view, Harink presents a close exegesis of Romans 9-11, and then turns once more to Yoder, who saw in the Jeremianic (29:4-9) Diaspora pattern the normative type of Judaism which Paul extolled as a model for the primitive Christian community {116} as well. Whether Diaspora Judaism was thus sedulously engaged in proselytizing Gentiles (as articulated in the massive works of Louis Feldman, but opposed by Scot McKnight) is an open question in this reviewer’s opinion.

Finally, in chapter five, “Culture,” Harink, after examining the concept of “culture” and the role of religion in it, conjectures loquaciously about “what might have happened, culturally, if the Diaspora communities had fully welcomed Paul’s Gentile converts and granted them full rights of participation in synagogue life” (219). He concludes that this would have eventuated, not in Christianity replacing Judaism, but in a new amalgam of Jews and Gentiles.

In the reviewer’s opinion, Harink, in a delightfully idiosyncratic work, effectively demonstrates that Paul can neither be monopolized by traditionalists nor scorned by a pass— liberalism. The book represents a judicious and timely conjoining of Pauline and postliberal theologies; it should assist in prying open the rusty doors of both traditionalism and liberalism. One finds considerable convergence with Anabaptist predilections, not the least reason for which is Yoder’s emergence, in Harink’s view, as an avant-garde figure of the new Blick.

Devon H. Wiens
Professor Emeritus of Biblical and Religious Studies
Fresno Pacific University, Fresno, California

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