Ever since I invested in studying the New Testament as part of my undergraduate degree in theology, I’ve been fascinated by doctrines and personalities of the thin end of the Bible. So, as part of my 2017 reading challenge, I’ve been keen to include a number of books that force me to go over old notes, dust off my greek New Testament, and think afresh about some old things. This little book – coming under 100 pages – is one of those, dealing with a doctrine from the heart of the Gospel.
Stephen Westerholm’s Justification Reconsidered: rethinking a pauline theme is a brilliant little book that does exactly what it says on the tin. A fundamentally un-radical but careful reading of Paul and engagement with other, wilder readings of Paul, this is a book that deserves engaging with. The myriad of topics like the New Perspective (contested term but workable for my layman-like brain), inclusion, salvation and so on mean that when a scholar of Westerholm’s stature distills their learning into a readable and accessible volume, armchair theologians like myself should sit up and take notice.
Westerholm offers what is both a brilliant summary of recent (i.e. the last 100 years – theology as a discipline has been around a while!) scholarship and a constructive synthesis of what Paul might be saying about Justification. From my limited perspective, he covers all the relevant material, paying close attention to the texts and engaging constructively and critically with epoch-marking work like E. P. Sanders Paul and Palestinian Judaism. There is an excellent chapter engaging charitably with the work of N. T. Wright, whose shadow looms large over many discussions of Paul and Justification.
Overall, then, this is a helpful little book for people like me with some theological education but neither the time nor the inclination to stay abreast of everything going on in Pauline studies. For church leaders in the year of the Reformation’s 500th anniversary, this could be a helpful tool to engage with current thinking on the topic. Regardless, this is a readable, thorough and surprisingly accessible book on a vital topic, from an author who writes engagingly and well. A treat!