Pioneer Scholars: Academic Gems You Must Read!

Derek Ouellette —  January 12, 2010

There are several titles I want to bring to your attention. These books may be difficult to find but if you can get your hands on them, give them a read!

Their work has had tremendous influence in recent movements within the Christian faith. These movements include 1) New Perspective on Paul, 2) Home Church Movement, 3) Atonement Theory, and the tension of 4) Already/Not Yet.

Four Pioneer Books of Influence:

Paul Among Jews and Gentiles by Krister Stendahl

The New Perspective on Paul is a debate flaring up all over the place. On the one side is James Dunn, E.P. Sanders and Pamela Eisenbaum (whose book will be reviewed here next week on Cov-of-Luv). These scholars insist that throughout history the Christian church has misread Paul. It is imperative – they believe – to locate Paul within his Jewish context in contrast to a stereotypical reading of Paul as an Augustine/Lutheran.

On the other side of this debate is John Piper, Guy Waters, and D.A. Carson, who – it seems to me – have reacted against the N.P. out of fear, not of what it affirms, but of what it denies, primarily, the doctrine of the Imputation of Justification.

In this discussion it is difficult to over emphasize Krister Stendahl’s book Paul Among Jews and Gentiles which includes the essay, Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West. The basic premise of the essay is that Luther (and Augustine) imposed on Paul their own guilty conscience and context: Paul as an Augustinian Christian.

Contrary to this Stendahl argues that Paul was not an Augustinian or Lutheran Christian, and first century Judaism was not Pelagian or Medieval Roman Catholic: Paul was – from life to death – a Jew (thus the concept of conversion does not apply to Paul as it did to Augustine or Luther).

Christ and Time by Oscar Cullmann

Oscar Cullmann’s work, Christ and Time, has revolutionized certain discussions about the Kingdom of God, the nature of Justification, and the End Times.

Has the Kingdom of God arrived with Christ, or does it await the future at his second coming? Are Christians Justified in the present, or do we await a future Justification? Has the Resurrection occurred, or does it await the future?

Christians have wrestled with these (and other) dichotomies for centuries. Cullmann’s book has been very helpful in bringing to light the biblical principle of Already/Not Yet. I don’t think there’s been enough discussion at a local Church level of the Already/Not Yet principle, but one can hardly pick up a book on “Christian theology” without getting a firm sense of the influence of Cullmann’s work (a good example is Larry Helyers book The Witness of Jesus, Paul and John: An Exploration in Biblical Theology).

The tension is this: The Kingdom of God came with Christ, is present, but it has not yet been consummated. Christians are Justified in the present in anticipation of a future Justification based on Works. The Resurrection of the believer has already occurred “in Christ”, but the final resurrection (it’s consummation) awaits the future consummation.

In other words, when studying these issues, the question is not either/or, but both/and, or rather, Already/Not Yet!

Great book!

Ordination: A Biblical-Historical View by Marjorie Warkentin

Back in 1982 Marjorie Warkentin wrote a book, essentially a study, on the subject of Ordination.

From very near the beginning of the Christian faith there has been a hierarchical distinction between a clergy class (priesthood) and parishioners. One of the goals of the Reformers was to restore the biblical concept of the “Priesthood of all believers”. Unfortunately, they had not been very successful in accomplishing this goal because while the term “priest” fell out of use in many (not all)  Reformed traditions, that term was replaced with another: the “Pastorate”.

It seems the problem is not so much with terms (either Priesthood or Pastorate – semantics), but with the rite on which the terms and traditions hinge.

In this study Warkentin seeks to unveil the roots of “Christian Ordination”, arguing that it is not a practice found in the Christian bible, but developed very early on in Christian traditions. She believes that true Christian ministry can be (should be) practiced according to one’s spiritual gifts regardless of ordination – that this was the biblical writers intent and what it means to affirm a universal priesthood.

Books like Frank Viola’s Pagan Christianity has picked up on this study and ran with it. Very influential in the Home Church movement.

Christus Victor by Gustaf Aulen

Here is another influential historical study, one that has sparked more debate recently by challenging generally accepted ideas about the Atonement within Protestant tradition.

This book is actually so influential that it is credited with coining the term Christus Victor which, according to the study, is actually the oldest understanding of the Atonement in Christendom (Aulen calls it the “Classical motif”).

Two very influential scholars held (or hold) to this view: C.S. Lewis of a generation or two ago, and N.T. Wright of our own generation. It challenges the current belief that the purpose of Christ’ death was to sacrifice himself in place of humans to appease the wrath of God. Christus Victor contends that though this may (not all agree) be one of the purposes of the Atonement, it was not the only, nor the primary aspect.

The central idea of Christus Victor is the view of God and the Kingdom of God as fighting against evil powers ravaging in mankind. In this drama Christ has the key role, and the title Christus Victor says the decisive word about his role.

Christ did not just come to die in place of mankind, but he came to defeat the works of the devil and to undo the effects of the fall.

Concluding Question:

What do these four pioneer titles have in common?

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.