Review: Evangelicals Now (Peter Misselbrook)

Contours of Pauline theology

Forced theology

By Tom Holland
Mentor/Christian Focus. 291 pages + 90 pages appendices, bibliography and indexes
ISBN 1 85792 469 X

My verdict on this book? I really cannot improve on that of Dr. Peter Head, who, on the front cover, describes it as, ‘Challenging, unsettling and infuriating’.

Dr. Tom Holland teaches New Testament and Hermeneutics at the Evangelical Theological College of Wales. He writes to demonstrate that Paul ‘never left the religion of the Old Testament’ and ‘never departed from the teaching of Jesus’. In this he follows in the footsteps of Tom Wright in What St. Paul Really Said and David Wenham in Paul and Jesus. But Dr. Holland believes that he has uniquely discerned the key to Paul’s thinking: he argues that no other scholar has paid sufficient attention to the way in which Paul’s understanding of salvation is modelled on the New Exodus promise of the Old Testament. In particular, Dr. Holland argues that the Passover is key to understanding Paul’s doctrine of redemption and provides the background to his use of the term ‘firstborn’ as a title for Christ.

There is much to be applauded in this book, such as the insistence that Paul’s thinking, including the shape of his argument in Romans 6 and 7 and his use of the term ‘justification’, is corporate rather than individualistic. Dr. Holland writes that Paul’s letters ‘are not about what God has done or is doing for a Christian. They are about what God has done or is doing for his covenant people, the church’. In another particularly helpful section, Dr. Holland argues that Paul, in his mission, so identifies with Christ that he sees himself as a suffering servant of the New Covenant. However, in trying to demonstrate that Exodus and Passover are central to Paul’s thinking, it seems to me that Dr. Holland has at times forced the evidence to fit the conclusion, such as in his suggestion that the absence of any explicit mention in Luke of Mary and Joseph’s ‘redemption’ of their firstborn means that he, unlike all other firstborn males at that time, was not redeemed. Other themes, equally important to Paul, such as ‘new creation’, are underplayed in this study.

I found it a frustrating book, scholarly and even pedantic in style, and yet, failing to do justice to the contribution of many other scholars in this field. Frustrating also because, alongside fine treatment of many passages of Scripture, Old Testament as well as New, there was a failure to recognise the multifaceted nature of biblical imagery — a tendency to want to tie everything down to a single definitive reference or meaning. But even here I am thankful to Dr. Holland for he has renewed my desire to study Paul’s writings and to understand afresh the glorious gospel that animated the life and ministry of this apostle.

The book also suffers from an unattractive layout with narrow margins.

Peter Misselbrook,
member of Pendennis Evangelical Church, Bristol

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.