Are the best Paul scholars today mostly non-Calvinist?

Daniel Kirk commented today on the recent Gospel Coalition roundtable discussion of the New Calvinism, which we discussed here. In his post, Calvinism as “The Big Tent,” Kirk made an interesting point about Calvinism and the state of pauline studies today.

I do find it significant that few of the most important Paul scholars in our day and age are Calvinists in the sense outlined in the video. Richard Hays and Mike Gorman are Methodists. N. T. Wright is an Anglican with Reformed roots but with quite a different modern-day expression. John Barclay, Lou Martyn, Bruce Longenecker, Douglas Campbell… there’s not much serious Calvinism coming out of careful reading of Paul–and not much complementarianism either.

What do you think? Is it true that the best Paul scholars today are mostly non-Calvinist and egalitarian? If not, how would you respond to Kirk? Is he being overly selective in the people that he cites as being the “best” among the pauline scholars? Or, if you think he’s right, why do you think that this is the case? Do you just agree with Kirk that a careful reading of the text should eventually lead someone in this direction? Or, do you have another explanation entirely? Could it be that certain segments of the church are doing a better job in pauline studies today than those that are traditionally Calvinist? (Personally, I think it’s because the Illuminati control the publishing houses and have a secret conspiracy to rid the world of Calvinist pauline studies.)


About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on October 30, 2010, in New Testament and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 61 Comments.

  1. I tend to be sympathetic to this assertion though I know why. I am skeptical of someone who I think will put the Calvinist grid on their commentary. I know those who Kirk mentions have their grid, but for one reason or another (maybe it is familiar, maybe I don’t see it as unified, maybe it is “new”) I trust it more. I know this is my bias but I also know my gut reaction is to agree with him.

  2. Marc,

    I can think of Thomas Schreiner, he would be a Reformed Baptist scholar I think? And note his book on Paul, Apostle Of God’s Glory In Christ, etc. But it came out in 2001. Is that ancient history now?

    But, yes, who wants to jump into the Pauline academia now? If your a conservative and a Calvinist, you have two strikes already! But thank goodness that the Reformed publishing companys still re-print many of the best of the Reformed writers of the past. No “Calvin” and “Paul” are still alive and well!

  3. “Important” is in the eye of the beholder. Ask a bunch of “New Calvinists” who they think are the most “important” Pauline scholars today and I’m sure that list would look quite a bit different. We have to remember that in general the Reformed crowd value a different type of scholarship, i.e., confessional scholarship, so their “important” scholars tend to be those who uphold the tradition (e.g., Ridderbos or Schreiner). And while a careful reading of Paul might not lead those that Kirk listed to Calvinism (which I’m sure our Reformed friends would object to) or complementarianism, it certainly hasn’t led them to agreement amongst themselves!

  4. Amen Nick, I could make a list of “Calvinist” theolog’s, and myself as an Anglican “Calvinist” and closer to the FV, it would be rather eclectic. But always complementarian!

    And amen again, Ridderbos’s “Paul, And Outline of His Theology”, is still a thing of beauty!

  5. I enjoyed some of Schreiner. I have his book. I have seen some good things from Ridderbos and there is another guy at Westminster who has said some things I’ve found helpful but I can’t remember his name.

  6. I completely agree that we should be mindful of the giants of the past, many of whom were thoroughly reformed in their theology. But, it does seem interesting that (at least at first glance) the giants of pauline scholarship today are not particularly reformed. Tom Schreiner is a good example of a quality (baptist) reformed theologian doing good work in pauline studies, but would we really rank him among people like Fee, Wright, Hays, etc?

    Who would we put on a list of the very best pauline scholars (still alive and writing today) and operating from a reformed perspective?

  7. Outside of Fee, Wright and Hays are in reality speculative theologians in my thinking. And a true Reformed theologian is not a speculative thinker, at least on written paper. Some of the great Reformed theolog’s were also historical theologians. Today, though he is my age I think of Richard Muller. And Muller’s book: The Unaccommodated Calvin, Studies in the Foundation of a Theological Tradition, is simply a gem! And we need not make great speculations in doing biblical theology, but seek as Calvin did to honor and exegete faithfully the Holy & Sacred Word of God.

  8. Marc,

    Btw (if I can), concerning a kind of speculative theology, I personally consider Austin Farrer’s theology one of the most profound that the 20th century has seen! His work on the divine action and human freedom is simply some of the best thought I have ever read! See, Light in a Burning-Glass, A Systematic Presentation of Austin Farrer’s Theology, by Robert Boak Slocum

    • Farrer has long been on my list of people that I really need to spend some time engaging. Sadly, I haven’t managed it yet. But I will definitely get there.

  9. Oh c’mon…are we really going to toss Hays, Wright, Fee, et al, aside by saying they are speculating while the Reformed tradition is exegetical. I hope that is not what is being insinuated. Both try to be exegetical and all are left with a little speculation.

    • I’d be curious as well to hear an explanation of what it means to call Hays and Wright speculative in this sense. I certainly don’t think you could accuse either of being unconcerned with the text.

      And, I must say that I’m still waiting for a list of the best Reformed pauline scholars alive and writing today.

  10. Brian,

    I said nothing about tossing Hays or Wright aside, but they are certainly not what I would call Scripture scholars, in the full exegetical sense. They are theological thinkers and somewhat dogmatists. Certainly Fee would come very close in the exegetical however. But the history of the Reformed theologians, is always more toward both the historical and exegetical.

  11. I think those are brush strokes that go a bit too broad.

  12. Let’s not forget Simon Gathercole out of Cambridge; he is a very substantial Pauline guy (NT guy), and “Calvinist.” Although, I wouldn’t say he would fit the “New Calvinist” grid; per se.

  13. @Bobby: True, Gathercole is a force. Didn’t he do his dissertation under Dunn and in doing so directly challenge Dunn? That’s bold.

  14. @Brian, yeah, he did; and there still good mates (to borrow some of their lingo 😉 ). I like Gathercole’s stuff, and he’s also a good guy; I had a question about something I read in his book “Where is Boasting”, I emailed him, and he corresponded with me a bit (that made a good impression).

    It does seem in general that Kirk’s assertion is probably true.

  15. *and they’re still good mates . . .

  16. A few thoughts: (1) Both Wright and Hays are deeply rooted in the biblical text, even while they are theological readers. Wright is quite concerned with history, Hays with intrabiblical exegesis and its theological ramifications. I wouldn’t say that either is more driven by their theology than Reformed NT scholars.

    (2) I don’t have anything against Calvinism, and given the choice between that and Arminianism I’d probably go with Calvin. I love his union with Christ soteriology and I’m a predestinarian (though probably not in a way that would make T4G happy). So I’d be happy if more Calvinists were leading Paul scholars. My point was more that the claim, “Read Paul and you’ll be Reformed” confuses “how we read Paul” with “what Paul himself says,” a problem that suffused the Gospel Coalition video as a whole.

  17. @Daniel: Agreed, I don’t see Wright and Hays as being any less concerned with the text than those of the Reformed tradition.

  18. Daniel, thanks for your thoughts. I appreciated your push back on the “Read Paul and you’ll be Reformed” idea. Although I deeply appreciate Reformed theology, the simplicity of that argument is frustrating.

    I think the issue with people like Wright and Hays are hard to categorize because they’re deeply textual, but also very theological. So, they don’t fit neatly into our preconceived categories of exegete vs. theologian. (And, may their tribe increase.)

    The thing that caught my eye the most about your post though was the fact that none of the major Paul scholars you listed was particularly Reformed. That surprised me given the long history of quality Reformed NT scholarship and was something I hadn’t considered before. I tried to come up with my own list and really couldn’t get very far. So, I’m still searching for some good suggestions. (Gathercole was one that I hadn’t considered before.)

  19. My comments about Hays and Wright were not meant to diminish them at all, but to focus on their great theological dogmatics, who like Barth make theological speculations and theory. We must admit even Calvin’s double predestination falls here also, even if we think it maybe biblical. And we must admit that theology & dogmatics must also be done with self-examination to the historical Church Catholic. No theologian escapes here!

  20. Marc,

    Theology ebbs and flows, and also Reformed Theology. We can look at the history of Reformed Theology, from Zwingli to Calvin, the English Puritans.. to the great Dutch Reformed. And not to forget the Scottish. And even a few Americans! 🙂 And again Reformed theology is always more historical and exegetical, at least that has been its great strength and own history. It is here also that I would see personally the great Reformed historian Philip Schaff, with his History of the Christian Church, his work on the library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Not to mention his contributions with the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia. But certainly Schaff sought a modified Hegelianism, and he himself also brought a somewhat smaller-scale dialectics with Mercersburg. As he wrote, “Christianity forms the turning point of the world’s history; and Christ, the true pole star of the whole, the centre also around which all revolves.”

  21. I completely agree that there will always be a need for solid exegetical as well as more theological interpretations (though I’d still like to see less of a dichotomy between these). And, I also agree that the Reformed tradition has a long history of strength in exegetical studies of Paul. That’s actually why I was surprised to see a comment on the dearth of Reformed pauline scholars today. And, I haven’t seen anyone offer contrary evidence yet. So, I have to say that I’m beginning to wonder if this is an area that the Reformed tradition has begun to slip in lately.

    As I was typing this, though, I realized how weird that would be. With all of the attention that the new perspectives on Paul and federal vision theology have gotten in Reformed circles in the last decade or so, I would have expected pauline studies to be a central focus of Reformed academics. Is that not the case? Or is it simply that few of the scholars have reached the point in their career where they are considered among the giants in their field?

  22. Maybe the Reformed tradition, for the most part, feels like it has arrived at a consensus on Paul. Maybe the game plan for combating the advancing NPP is to just agree to be unified in a “Reformed” perspective in hopes that it will outlast the “new” ideas on Paul and once the NPP is history they can resume infighting? That could be the subconscious strategy!

  23. Marc I wouldn’t rank Schreiner among them, but then again, I’m not Reformed. I know quite a lot of people who place Piper above Wright in terms of Pauline scholarship. Do I agree? Not really (although I admittedly haven’t read much of either). The young, restless, reformed types highly value the guys who write against things like the NPP so I’m sure we’d see names like Guy Waters, Simon Gathercole, D. A. Carson, Mark Seifrid, et al. on their list of important scholars writing on Paul. Now you might not consider their output enough to qualify them as Pauline scholars but then I’d ask what the parameters are for being a Pauline scholar. How many articles, books, or essays must one write or edit in order to make the grade? And who gets to assess their status as Pauline scholars? If the Reformed crowd come to some kind of consensus that the non-Reformed disagree with about someone like Schreiner then who gets to decide? Or what if someone, like Wright for example, generates a ton of material on Paul but hardly any of it is convincing? Is the sheer output, regardless of the quality, enough to make him an important scholar on Paul? These are the types of things I wonder about and have to consider when I read statement’s like Kirk’s.

    • Gathercole is w/o a doubt a central Pauline guy. Maybe it’s the criteria being used to adjudicate who is a serious “Paul” guy and who isn’t. Maybe if the criteria is tensed by being a NPP advocate, and this is what makes you a serious Paul guy; then this becomes a self-serving circular assessment of the state of affairs.

      Btw, I’m no fan of the “New Calvinists,” just to be clear!

      • Bobby,

        Give us “your” definition of the “New Calvinist” please? it would be helpful I believe.

      • Fr. Robert,

        Socially/culturally: represented by folks like: Molnar, DeYoung, Duncan, Dever, et al.

        Doctrinally: anyone who is a ‘Federal’, or as our friend TF would say Bezan (even though Muller & co. don’t like that) Calvinist.

      • Bobby,

        We should note that “Federal” and the Federal Vision people are not necessarily the same. Not with me anyway, and I like some of the FV. And I myself don’t follow the NPP either.

        I like Muller overall. I love, as I have stated his book on Calvin: The Unaccommodated Calvin, etc.

      • Fr. Robert,

        I agree, FV and Federal are distinct (and of course related at points).

        Muller is a good scholar. I disagree with his thesis on Calvin and the Calvinists quite vehemently (his book UnAccomodated, After Calvin and many more are all dense and scholarly . . . I just disagree with his, R. Scott Clark’s, Trueman’s overall project to spit Barth and Torrance out of the ‘Reformed Tradition’ see my most recent post).

        Now what we’re you saying about, Paul (we better not get too off track 😉 )?

  24. Marc,

    I have said nothing about listing the Reformed today, because of both my age, and I am an a Anglo-Irish Anglican. But in my time we had the likes of so many, from the Dutch Reformed, Hendikus Berkhof, GC Berkouwer, Herman Ridderbos, to name a few.

  25. If I may interject late into this post – I would like to say I really appreciated Timothy Gombis’s non predestinarian reading of Paul in Ephesians 2 in his new book The Drama of Ephesians! I found myself wanting to jump up and shout, YES! So, from this I can appreciate non calvinistic readings of Paul since I think they often miss the overall feel of the text. Thanks for letting me share.

  26. Interesting that neither Doug Moo or Peter O’Brien have come up in this conversation, both of whom have spent a good deal of time in Pauline studies. They’d both fit under the umbrella of ‘Reformed,’ which itself is a poorly defined word these days.

  27. Danny: I thought of both of them also but I wasn’t sure of either of their denominational affiliations. I checked out Moo’s faculty bio, his personal website, and his Wikipedia page and I couldn’t find anything about denomination. I found even less on O’Brien.

  28. O’Brien is an Anglican. Moo attends, if I remember correctly, a non-denominational church. They would both, I believe, classify themselves as “Calvinists” and would rank amongst the best evangelical Pauline scholars around. Then again, as noted above by Nick, the term “important” will end up meaning something different to everyone.

    • danny,

      Yes, I know about O’Brien being an Anglican and Reformed. I just did not want to appear as a know it all with him, since I am too an Anglican, Irish born (Anglo-Irish now). And both of these men are in my own generation and time. I am too Reformed & Calvinist as an Anglican, but I am drawn somewhat to the FV.

      Also Moore Theo. has had some very good Reformed men, with the likes of T.C. Hammond and Leon Morris, etc.

  29. It sounds like Moo and O’Brien would be good additions to the list, though it’s interesting that neither of them represent Reformed traditions.

    Where would you place Greg Beale him among Paul scholars?

    And, what about Udo Schnelle? Does anyone know his background?

    • It seems to me, that Beale is a “Revelation” scholar; not Paul 😉 .

    • Marc,

      From what I know of Udo Schnelle (which is not much) he is a German and Lutheran, of course a European. He has his Dr. Theo from Gottingen, you perhaps know he is professor of NT at Halle. Besides his book on St. Paul, he has a book: Theology of the NT.

      I have his book on St. Paul, but I have only spot read it. I need to read it fully! Have you read it?

    • Marc,

      It used to be, but certainly a long time back, that at least some Anglican theolog’s were Calvinist, like my Irishman James Ussher, and note the Irish Articles of 1615.

      • I had the right thread or reply! Just busy night.. Phone, wife and yeah I still have a 14 year old, not bad for an old man! (My 20 year old is in college in the UK; both of my son’s were born in my 40’s! 🙂

    • Marc,

      A good look at Peter O’Brien’s commentaries shows his Reformed nature. I like his Ephesians and Hebrews. He is at least my age I think, maybe older?

      And looking at the younger Simon Gathercole, he really is bright and a new Pauline thinker. I dug up my copy of Pre-existent Son, etc. by him. I also read an edited book: Divine and Human Agency in Paul and His Cultural Environment, with J.M.G. Barclay. Very thoughtful! Let’s see if he can write more on Paul and the Pauline theo?

      I am reading Schnelle’s Paul again. So many irons in the fire! Books to read that is. Hopefully I can keep the old Irish mind alive! lol

  30. Brian, I’ve heard great things about Tim’s book, and I’m looking forward to reading it. It might be interesting to do a follow-up post sometime on who are some younger Paul scholars worth keeping an eye on. Tim would definitely have to be on any such list.

  31. It’s interesting that you use the term “Egalitarian” to describe non Calvinist Pauline theologians.

    Perhaps the current thrust has been to sift through Paul’s teaching in regards to what he really taught, thought and practised in regards to women in ministry.

    I would say that any serious student / scholar of Paul cannot in intellectual honesty remain a complementarian.

    • Craig,

      Funny, but “you” in one stroke have cut off (yourself really) from both The Orthodox Church, and the Roman Catholic Church! Myself, I will remain with the Orthodox. As an Anglican I can at least stand with Orthodoxy doctrinally.

    • I was actually using “non-Calvinist” and “egalitarian” as separate labels since there’s nothing about the one that entails the other. So, what was interesting to me is that many of the best Paul scholars today are both non-Calvinist and egalitarian.

      But, I’d still have to disagree with your last statement. Unless we want to assume that biblical scholars throughout most of church history were being intellectually dishonest, there’s probably more latitude for legitimate complementarianism than you suggeest.

  32. Marc, I think it would it be fair to say that the Pauline scholars of the past were more “Culturally influenced” than they were dishonest.

    I would also argue that those same scholars didn’t have the resources and research that we have today and therefore modern scholars don’t have the same excuse for complementarianism as they did in the past.

    • Craig,

      Mate, this is simply begging the question! Like modern scholarship really knows more than both the Judeo-Christian Text & the Church of God!

      But what and where is the Church of God is the great question, always!

      • Robert;

        Modern research and discoveries have caused a rethink in many areas of interpretation / translation of the Bible. Just because the early church fathers were closer in historical time to the writings of Scripture; doesn’t mean they had a better handle on their meanings.

        Take the modern understanding of Koine Greek to what and how it was understood by Origen and many of our other predecessors…. simply put; in many matters they got it wrong.

      • Craig,

        So modern scholarship is the new Apostolic? And forget really the Church and “tradition”? I think not! I have been up that road, it never ends with questions and suppositions!

        I will stay close to the Church’s constant “charisma” and Pentecost! Jesus Is Lord, and Christ is Risen!

      • I am not saying that we throw the baby out with the bathwater Robert.

        I am saying that where modern scholarship proves previous scholarship wrong; or adds more weight to an area of contention; it would be intellectually dishonest to continue to hold to and promote the old beliefs.

        Take those who believe and continue to promote the KJV is the only valid version; despite it being proven the manuscripts it was translated from are not the best.

        Many of the Church fathers promoted an allegorical reading of the Scriptures; again modern scholarship has shown this method to be faulty ..therefore which method should one employ in reading Scripture?

        Not to mention the current example between young and old earth creationists.

        To say that you will hold onto old beliefs solely on the basis that they were held by the church fathers is rather misleading; for the question then begs to be asked.. which father and what part of their teaching do we hold to…. for within their ranks there were many diverse understandings.

      • Craig,

        I am simply seeking to promote the place and position of the true Church of God! And this is simply lost in the West, save Roman Catholicism perhaps, and the Orthodox Churches in the West!

        Your position called “egalitarian”, for the complete social, political equality of women. Is in reality not the Biblical/theological and Apostolic position of the Church. (1 Cor. 11:2-3 ; 7-8, etc.) Before the Throne of God man & woman are equal (Gal. 3:28). But not in this life of the Church in a fallen, sinful world. And this is simply the traditional and classic position of the Church.

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