Review: Baptist Times (Trevor Reynolds)

A New look at Paul
‘Contours of Pauline Theology’

A Radical New Survey of the influences on Paul’s Biblical writings
By Tom Holland    Christian Focus:Mentor 2004  £14.99
ISBN 1-85792-469-X
Reviewer: Trevor Reynolds

As Christians, we frequently read our Bibles exclusively in terms of how it applies to ‘me’ rather than ‘us’. Thus, perhaps unwittingly, we become even more embedded in the individualistic ‘me culture’ of today. In this new book, Dr Holland forcefully argues that we need to read the Scriptures in a much more corporate way. He does this by showing how Paul wrote his letters from the viewpoint of one who had been schooled in the corporate/covenant categories of the Old Testament which he went on to apply to his understanding of Christianity. As a Jew, Paul would have thought of salvation primarily in terms of the Exodus and Passover sacrifice, categories which are fundamental to a proper understanding of Paul’s writings.

This leads Dr Holland to challenge individualistic readings of texts which Paul originally intended to be primarily applied to the Church. Thus, for example, it is believers collectively who constitute the temple of the Holy Spirit, not individual Christians. ‘Body of sin’ in Romans 6 is seen as a reference to fallen humanity – being ‘in Adam’ – from which we are redeemed so as to be ‘in Christ’. ‘Justification’ is similarly seen in relational not just legal terms, being brought back into a covenant relationship with God, thus making for a yet ‘more glorious gospel.’

In his book, Tom Holland challenges the kind of scholarship that seeks to extrapolate Paul from non-biblical writings and place a wedge between Paul and Jesus. He also confronts the proponents of ‘the New Perspective’ in their understanding of what Paul meant by ‘works of the law’.  The book thus contains a good deal of detailed theological debate that will not appeal to all, but its message concerning the essentially corporate nature of our faith is one that we all need to hear.

Rev Trevor Reynolds, formerly Pastor of Putson Baptist Church, Hereford and currently studying for a Ph.D at the Evangelical Theological College of Wales.

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