The Road from Damascus: The Impact of Paul’s Conversion on His Life, Thought and Ministry
A review of Richard Longenecker's, "The Road from Damascus: The Impact of Paul's Conversion on His Life, Thought and Ministry," by Dr. Craig Blomberg.
Longenecker, Richard N., ed. The Road from Damascus: The Impact of Paul’s Conversion on His Life, Thought and Ministry. Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1997. xv + 253 pp. $25.00 pap.
An important new series from an important Canadian university is the McMaster New Testament Studies series, edited by Richard Longenecker, designed to address key topics of contemporary concern in a style accessible to Christian laity and clergy but reflecting the best of current biblical scholarship. If this volume is representative of those to come, it will reflect a broadly evangelical perspective as well.
In 1982, Seyoon Kim persuasively put forward the thesis that all the major contours of Paul’s theology flowed logically from his reflection on his Damascus road experience, independent of his subsequent instruction in the Christian tradition (The Origin of Paul’s Gospel). This anthology of essays, reflecting an “all-star” cast of recent evangelical students of Paul, may be viewed in essence as a fleshing out, updating and nuancing of Kim’s thesis.
Bruce Corley begins with a historical overview of how Paul’s conversion has been interpreted. Longenecker himself deals with the foundational role of Paul’s Christology for his theology more generally, as his conversion convinced him that Jesus was indeed the Christ. I. H. Marshall demonstrates how this Christology in turn determined Paul’s eschatology–if the Messiah had come, the Messianic age of the kingdom was inaugurated–hence, the famous “already but not yet” framework of NT theology more generally. But the kingdom was not entirely present, so, since all Jewish expectation of the reign of the Messiah looked for an earthly reign, there must be a future Parousia to establish fully the kingdom on earth (p. 56). Although Marshall does not develop this point, it is an important one in response to Tom Wright’s increasingly well-known, recent disclaimer of a literal Parousia, in his Jesus and the Victory of God, and elsewhere.
Terence Donaldson proceeds to address the question of the Gentile mission in Paul’s thought. Against a variety of alternatives, he concludeds that Paul was a zealous Jew and proselytizer already before his conversion so that the call to the Gentiles followed naturally even after his encounter with the Risen Christ. Donaldson particularly pits this against Wright’s “eschatological pilgrimage” explanation (particularly elaborated in Wright’s Climax of the Covenant), but in this instance it is not clear why the two explanations could not be complementary rather than contradictory. James Dunn repeats his by now well-known approach to Paul and justification by faith–the issue at stake was not legalism but Jewish restrictivism–but he does not interact with the growing number of responses to his approach that again insist on a “both/and” rather than an “either/or” solution (e.g., Thielman, Schreiner, Kruse). Not surprisingly, Kim next argues for the origins of Paul’s understanding of reconciliation to emerge from his Damascus road experience, particularly in light of a close reading of 2 Corinthians 5:11-21.
Bruce Longenecker (Richard’s son) explores Paul’s use of covenantal imagery, which has been distinctively Christified. He follows the increasingly popular approach that takes pistis Christou in various texts to refer to “the faithfulness of Christ” rather than “our faith in Christ” (p. 133), though without advancing any more convincing arguments than others have for this approach. Stephen Westerholm redresses some of the imbalance in Dunn’s essay, revisiting the question of Paul’s understanding of Torah. Again his conversion was decisive: if God allowed the Messiah to be crucified, then “the Mosaic law served merely to highlight human bondage to sin” (p. 162). Gordon Fee builds on his massive recent work on Paul and the Spirit (God’s Empowering Presence) to stress how Paul’s theology in this arena also flowed from his conversion, noting the texts and “creeds” that show its presence from the earliest stages of Paul’s thought.
Judith Gundry-Volf presents one of the most balanced discussions available of Paul on gender roles vis-a-vis Judaism of his day. Simplistic summaries about Judaism’s chauvinism or Paul’s egalitariansim (or Paul’s chauvinism) simply will not do; the data are too diverse to justify sweeping generalizations. Paul’s Christian views were both continuous and discontinuous with various Jewish models previously available to him. He is concerned to contextualize the gospel with cultural sensitivity, as we should too, even if at times coming up with diametrically opposite applications. Walter Hansen concludes the volume by outlining Paul’s ethic of freedom in Galatians as freedom from slavery, through the cross, by the Spirit and to love (p. 215). In short, while this work does not treat every major topic in Pauline thought, it forms a helpful primer on numerous key topics and their origins, admirably meeting the objectives of the series.
Craig L. Blomberg
Professor of New Testament