Item description for Paul Among the Postliberals: Pauline Theology Beyond Christendom and Modernity by Douglas Harink...
Overview "Paul Among the Postliberals" sheds new light on Paul's letters by creating links between contemporary scholarship and the writings of theologians. Harink argues that Paul's central doctrine of justification by faith has been widely misunderstood; he emphasizes instead that the goal of the gospel is to free Christians for faithful action.
Publishers Description Douglas Harink's "Paul Among the Postliberals "sheds new light on Paul's letters by creating links between contemporary scholarship and the writings of theologians such as Stanley Hauerwas and John Howard Yoder. Harink argues that Paul's central doctrine of justification by faith has been widely misunderstood; he emphasizes instead that the goal of the gospel is to free Christians for faithful action. Reading Paul in dialogue with Yoder and Hauerwas, Harink outlines the political ramifications of Paul's writings, calling the church to embrace, rather than avoid, the political realm. Finally, drawing on the Pauline doctrine of God's election of Israel, "Paul Among the Postliberals" addresses the need for a Christian theology of Israel and Judaism. Pastors, teachers, students, and anyone seeking a more thorough understanding of Paul's letters will take a keen interest in "Paul Among the Postliberals."
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Reviews - What do customers think about Paul among the Postliberals?
The Trouble with Chapter Four Mar 24, 2007
This is a fantastic book, one for which I've been waiting for a long time. I'm not going to review it, however, in its entirety. I'm just going to talk about the one chapter in the book that sticks out like a sore thumb. If it weren't for this chapter, I'd agree with virtually everything Harink argues. Not to suggest that chapter four (on the doctrine of election in Wright and Yoder) is not valuable--it is incredibly valuable because it raises some challenges to supersessionism that need to be raised.
First, however, I would like to respond to something another reviewer here said: "Unfortunately, when Harink turns to Wright, his examination falls apart and even turns into a vicous [sic] ad hominem attack at several points."
This just isn't true. I read this review before I read the book, and after reading the book I had to look back through it to try to find these "viscous ad hominem attacks." They weren't there. Harink clearly thinks Wright's position is dangerous, and attacks Wright's position with all the passion Harink's view logically requires, but in nowise does Harink's critique of Wright's supersessionism constitute anything like an ad hominem attack.
That said, that same reviewer is right to point out that Harink often mischaracterizes Wright's view. Nevertheless, it ought to be pointed out on the other hand that anyone dealing with Wright's thought, just given the enormity of Wright's corpus, is always going to have to paint a caricature of Wright in order even to have an intelligible argument of his or her own. That is true whether you are rejecting or affirming Wright's thought.
But, Harink's arguments against Wright's use of the Old Testament are sorely lacking in theological rigor. Harink raises vague challenges not just to Wright's view but (of necessity) to the consensus view, without asking any literary-critical or historiographical questions. Harink's corrective reading of the Old Testament only coheres for Harink because it is based in Harink's assumptions about the shape of the doctrine of election. Reading Harink's reading of Abraham and Isaiah, I understood how he could read it that way, because of his prior assumptions, but Harink seems to proceed as if his reading were just the natural reading of the text. I don't think there's any such thing as the "natural reading" of the text, and I doubt Harink does either, but he proceeds as if his reading were self-evident. Moreover, Wright's use of the Old Testament to form his view of Israel's vocation as a light to the world goes way beyond Genesis 10-11 and Isaiah 40-55. But even Harink's use of these texts was selective. For example, in his use of Isaiah he only cited the pericopes that dealt with God's love and faithfulness, and did not deal with any of the many texts that deal with God's judgment on Israel because of Israel's unfaithfulness.
Similarly, in Harink's treatment of Romans 9-11 he bases his argument upon the claim that the subject for Paul is not Israel's unfaithfulness but rather God's faithfulness. That's true for chapter 9. But chapter 10 and 11 are dedicated to just the subject of Israel's unfaithfulness. Moreover, Harink does not deal in any clear way with the fact that Israel's unfaithfulness is clearly the impetus for Romans 9-11 in the first place. He does not deal with Paul's consistent argument that Israel will only be saved by "not persisting in unbelief." If Israel is saved purely by virtue of divine election, then why would Paul tell the Romans that his prayer to God is that Israel may be saved (10:1)? He does not deal with Paul's claim in 11:23 that Israel's being "grafted in again" is dependent upon their not persisting in unbelief. In failing to even deal at all with Paul's full argument, Harink makes Paul over in his own image, and distorts Paul's use of the word "election," making it into an inflexible, ahistorical, transethical doctrine, rather than an historical, storied reference to God's steadfast love for his people. Paul's argument is not that Israel is saved whether they reject God or not. His argument is that God has not rejected Israel in principle, but that God's plan was to have mercy on everyone who believes. If Harink wants to interpret 11:32 as meaning that God's plan was to save all Israel regardless of their disobedience, then logically (since the Gentiles are included in this thought) Harink would have to be a universalist. Harink just ignores everything the Bible says (Old and New Testament) about the necessity of the obedience of the people of God.
Finally, Harink abuses Yoder's trust. While admitting that Yoder never explicitly committed himself to Harink's version of the doctrine of election, he goes on ahead and claims that, like Paul, Yoder would no doubt agree with him.
Yoder provides an incredible alternative picture of Israel to that of Wright's. Yet Yoder's picture does not necessarily contradict Wright's. Rather, Yoder's picture stands in a dialectical tension to Wright's, and calls Wright's to pay attention to this over here, and that over there. Harink clearly sees that Yoder sees the continuing value of Judaism for Christianity to be exemplary, yet Harink goes on to posit that by this Yoder must have meant that the Jews are saved apart from faith in Christ.
Yet Yoder would never have made that claim. Yoder's own doctrine of nonviolent agape would prevent him from making any such claim, because, from Yoder's view, if Israel chose not to obey God in Christ, it would be a violence done to Israel for God to go ahead and save them anyway. (Cf. his positive treatment of the doctrine of atonement in "Preface to Theology.") If God were to save Israel regardless of Israel's obedience/disobedience it would violate free will and thus violate agape. According to Yoder, the same love that thrusts Jesus to the cross is the love that consigns unbelievers to hell.
Yoder saw, much more clearly than Harink sees, the relationship between faithfulness and salvation. In fact, from Yoder's perspective, one might say that to be saved is to be faithful. Nevertheless, that does not mean for Yoder that the unbelieving physical descendants of Abraham just become another race among the pagans (the view that Harink is especially concerned to attack). Rather, they are God's thorn in the side of the Church, unwittingly living according to the politic of Jesus whom they formerly rejected, as a reminder to the Gentile church that, as Paul says, God can more easily cut off the branches that were grafted in than the natural branches, and that the natural branches can be grafted in again as well. The faithfulness of the unbelieving Jews to display the politics of diaspora in the midst of the constantinian unfaithfulness of the Church is a reminder to the Church that what was true of unbelieving Jews is also true of unbelieving Gentiles: only faithful obedience to God as found in Jesus terminates in salvation.
Having said all of this, the rest of the book is incredibly on point. Some of you may just want to skip chapter four.
Paul the Postliberal or Paul through a Postliberal lens? Oct 17, 2004
It is hard to tell when reading this book. Paul sounds an awful lot like Barth, Hauerwas, and Yoder, or they look a lot like them. That said, it is a wonderful treatment of Pauline themes and postliberal theology. Each chapter alternates between the two poles. Harink treats justification as the work of God in Christ, as opposed to human work. The Apocalypse is a present reality in the cross and resurrection of Christ. Politics is about making the reign of God clear by communal living. God elects a group of people, Israel, onto which is grafted the church. This church is then a culture, which interacts with other cultures, calling them into the reign of God. If you are a postliberal thinker, chances are you will like this book. If you are not, you will have some significant reservations. All things considered, this is an excellent example of a Postliberal reading of Pauline themes.
A Nice Summary, but . . . Sep 20, 2004
This book is an excellent summary of several of the most important "postliberal" Pauline scholars and theologians. Harink is at his best when he focuses on Hauerwas and Yoder; he proves quite effectively that he understands each better than most critics (and critical readers). Unfortunately, when Harink turns to Wright, his examination falls apart and even turns into a vicous ad hominem attack at several points. Harink does not display a thorough understanding of Wright's work and, as one the previous reviewers on this page has noted, his summary is really a parody of Wright. Sadly, the weaknesses in the chapter on Wright betray further weaknesses in his scholastic aptitude, and his inability to comprehend the most important international "postliberal" Pauline scholar forces the reader to question whether he really has a grip on postliberalism (or Paul) at all.
The Apostle Paul from a Postliberal perspective Aug 20, 2004
There will be times when conservative evangelicals (like myself) need to expose themselves to literature that go beyond the usual comfortable theological zone. Douglas Harink's book is a book that qualifies for that. It will either make you re-think Paul's theology or make you go into a fit for turning upside-down the traditional evangelical understanding of Paul. Harink's book is basically a combination of his own thoughts on Pauline themes and an overview of how well-known postliberal theologians have understood Paul. The book contains five long chapters: 1) Justification; 2) Apocalypse; 3) Politics; 4) Israel; and 5) Culture. All of these chapters are stimulating to read (some more than others). Here is an evaluation of all five chapters:
Chapter One: Justification. Harink provides some provocative conclusions on regarding Paul's doctrine of justification. He overturns the traditional Protestant paradigm by calling into question things like the pessimistic anthropology of Lutheran and Reformed theology, the "faith IN Christ" interpretation (cf. Gal 2:16), the negative view of the law, and the highly forensic nature of justification (he believes that justification has more to do with "empowerment" than "acquittal" [p. 44]). He then goes over the doctrine as it is understood by Karl Barth, John Howard Yoder, and Stanley Hauerwas. This chapter was very interesting and may open the reader's eyes on how justification is understood by postliberal scholars.
Chapter Two: Apocalypse. This chapter was the most enjoyable and thought-provoking in the book. Harink discusses Paul's understanding of the "apocalypse" as presented in Galatians and Hauerwas' writings. Harink goes onto show that Paul's point in Galatians was not to contrast faith and works, but to affirm the "singularity of the gospel" over against all other loyalties (religious or political). According to Hauerwas, Paul's main concern was to create a new eschatological people which marks themselves off from the unbelieving world.
Chapter Three: Politics. This chapter deals with the political theology of Paul and Yoder. Harink tries to demonstrate - through Paul and Yoder - that the church is not only a religious body but also a political body that is supposed to act and live differently from the rest of the world. Harink's interpretation of Jesus' call for cross-bearing is very interesting. The cross-bearing did not deal with personal discipleship but for the community to mark themselves off from the opposing political authorities. Whether this reading is correct is debatable.
Chapter Four: Israel. This chapter deals with the highly controversial issue of physical Israel in the place of redemptive history. Harink compares the works of two scholars on this issue: N. T. Wright (a supersessionist) and Yoder (a non-supercessionist). Harink does a good job showing the errors of Wright's supersessionism and its disturbing consequences. For instance, Harink makes a good point that if Wright's supersessionism is true, then the God of Israel and the Church is a capricious and non-trustworthy God (p. 165).
Chapter Five: Culture. I found this chapter to be the least interesting and stimulating. I believe Harink here fails in trying to maintain the truthfulness of the gospel with cultural and religious toleration. The gospel, on the other hand, convicts people and tells them to turn to Christ alone for salvation. Paul would have no toleration for anything that waters-down the gospel for something that is more non-offensive (cf. Galatians 1:8-9).
Overall, the book is interesting to read. I would recommend other conservative evangelicals (especially those within the Lutheran or Reformed camps) to study this book with an open mind. One may not agree with many of Harink's conclusions (like me) but one should still read this book to get a good understanding of what postliberals believe about Paul and his concerns.
A thoughtful striving for insight that transcends millennia Oct 5, 2003
Paul Among The Postliberals: Pauline Theology Beyond Christendom And Modernity by Douglas Harink (Associate Professor of Theology at The King's University College, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) seeks a dialogue between post-liberal theologians such as Yoder and Hauerwas and the testimony of the "original apocalyptic theologian", the apostle Paul himself. A thoughtful striving for insight that transcends millennia, and written with a close eye on the Scriptures and their impact on Christianity in the present and future, Paul Among The Postliberals is a welcome and recommended addition to Pauline Studies and New Testament Studies reading lists.