Celebrating Romans: Template for Pauline Theology
ed. Sheila E. McGinn. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004. 252 pages.
The book is a collection of fourteen essays compiled by former students and a Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary colleague in honor of Robert Jewett. The focus is on Romans, a major concentration of Jewett’s scholarship; he is the author of the forthcoming Hermeneia series commentary on Romans, a commentary that promises to make a definitive contribution to the interpretation of that book. The essays use different methodologies to address a series of issues and themes in Romans.
Sheila E. McGinn, the editor, introduces the volume with an essay that outlines the five different methods used by the various writers: theological approaches, three essays; rhetorical methods, three essays; social-historical methods, two essays; feminist interpretations, three essays; and Romans in dialogue with contemporary life, three essays.
The first two “theological” chapters are helpful. James Dunn, in “Did Paul Have a Covenant Theology?” notes that “covenant” language in Paul concerns God’s covenant with Israel, and thus is focused on the terms and fulfillment of that covenant. He rejects the notion popular in some scholarly circles that Paul thought in terms of two covenants, one for the Jews and a different one for the Gentiles.
Jeffrey Gibson’s essay on “Paul’s Dying Formula” is both helpful and provocative. He shows how common the formula of “x dying for y” was in the ancient world, but also how different Paul’s formula was. The standard formula was used to inculcate and reinforce the values of the Greco-Roman imperial cult, e.g., war is glorious, violence builds civilization. In contrast, Paul’s formula represents a polemic against the values of the day—instead of seeking glory, Jesus shuns it; instead of advocating war, Jesus embraces defenselessness and dies; instead of dying for his own, Jesus dies for his enemies.
Peter Lampe’s chapter on “Paths of Early Christian Mission into Rome” examines inscriptional evidence to offer a profile of the socioeconomic status of some of the members of the Roman house churches.
Female readers of the book will be encouraged by the chapters on feminist interpretations. The essays by Sheila McGinn and Elsa Tamez in different ways show how the ethnic emphases in Romans on Jews-Gentiles can be interpreted more inclusively to address the relationships of men and women in the church.
“Getting Along When We Don’t Agree,” by Lareta Halteman Finger, narrates the use of simulation games as a way to teach Romans in the church. The chapter contains some helpful aids for how to facilitate such games.
As with any collection of essays, there is an uneven quality in the various chapters of the book. Teachers of the New Testament will find the book more helpful than most pastoral readers of Direction.