Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
TrinJ 13:2 (Fall 1992) p. 215
J. Christiaan Beker.The Triumph of God: The Essence of Paul’s Thought. Trans. by Loren T. Stuckenbruck. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990. 144 pp. $9.95.
Amid the welter of current proposals for understanding Paul, that of J. Christiaan Beker, presented concisely in this volume, stands out as one of special importance. Beker, much like the combative Ernst Käsemann, decisively rejects Bultmann’s constriction of Paul’s Gospel to the offer of a new self-understanding to the individual. This stance is not unusual: the support for an existentialist interpretation of Paul has eroded considerably since Bultmann’s day. What is noteworthy is the prominence which Beker gives to apocalyptic eschatology. The sure hope of the imminent victory of God through Christ over the forces of evil is, according to Beker, the central feature of Paul’s thought. The stone which Bultmann rejected becomes with Beker the head of the corner.
Beker’s bold formulation presents a challenge to the manner in which Paul is often misunderstood. His thinking, strongly influenced by the Reformed tradition (as he indicates himself), gives unusual room to theology proper in Paul’s thought. Despite the prominence of soteriology in Paul’s letters, for Beker the underlying concern which informs and directs Paul’s utterances is God and his triumph, which no soteriological metaphor (not even “justification”) may be allowed to displace. There is much which makes good sense in this assertion when one considers Paul in his first-century context, even if various historical details remain to be worked out. There is also much that is healthy theologically, which may serve as a corrective to common misreadings of Paul. Paul’s understanding of salvation in Beker’s interpretation, whether formulated in terms of justification or of union with Christ, does not have its scope defined by human needs and longings, but by God and his purposes. The move from Romans 5 to Romans 6, from the freedom of grace to the obligation to service, although not completely explained by Beker’s thesis, appears far more coherent in this light than in any other. More often than not it is Paul’s audience which fails to appreciate his God-centered conception of salvation, as may be strikingly seen in 1 Corinthians. Here, where Paul’s addressees had construed salvation as a matter of self-fulfillment, Paul’s apocalyptic eschatology finds its fullest articulation in his argument for the hope of the resurrection, which, it is to be remembered, Paul defines as God’s triumph through Christ over the last enemy, death (1 Cor 15:25–28).
The other primary thesis which Bek...
Click here to subscribe