The State of New Testament Studies: A Quick Review

The field of New Testament studies is vast. And it’s growing at a remarkable pace. That reality is both exciting and discouraging. Exciting because these all-important documents are getting the attention they deserve and the field as a whole continues to thrive. Discouraging because no single person could possibly keep up with all the literature. In light of that, we can be grateful to Scot McKnight and Nijay Gupta for editing a new book titled The State of New Testament Studies: A Survey of Current Research (Baker Academic) which brings together a top-notch group of New Testament scholars to survey the major developments in their areas of specialization.

The contributions fall into four major sections. Part 1 is on the ancient context of the New Testament and attends to the relationship between early Christianity and the Roman Empire along with attitudes toward women in the ancient world. Part 2 takes up questions related to interpretation with chapters focused on hermeneutics, Old Testament use in the New Testament, the genre of the canonical Gospels, and developments in the study of Greek. Part 3 contains essays generally oriented around the relationship between history and theology in scholarship on Jesus, Paul, eschatology, and ethics. The final section is Part 4, which contains chapters surveying scholarship on most of the New Testament texts.

I found the book fascinating. One of the challenges with edited volumes is maintaining a sense of coherence between chapters written by different authors. This navigates that challenge well. In general, the chapters do a good job surveying the major movements in each area. They consistently relate newer scholarship to older scholarship and every chapter draws attention to voices that have been marginalized in the interpretation of the New Testament. The chapters focused on my area of specialization (i.e., Paul) helpfully clarified a few matters regarding how different streams in Pauline scholarship relate to one another. And the chapters focused on areas of the NT beyond my specialization were particularly helpful in orienting me to the major emphases in those discussions.

I will say that I would have liked to have seen more on Paul in Part 4. The only text from Paul that gets serious and extended treatment as a text is Romans, which means the rest of the Pauline corpus (and the extensive scholarship on it) was dealt with to a lesser degree than other New Testament documents. I think I understand the editorial choice here. Romans is useful for orienting people to Pauline scholarship, and more chapters on other letters in the Pauline collection would have made an already lengthy book even more so. Nevertheless, I would have very much enjoyed a chapter on the Corinthian correspondence and some attention to the shorter letters. Of course, this is no reason not to read the book. If anything, it’s a testament to its value. Upon reading a nearly 500 page book, I found myself wanting more.

The book will be most useful to graduate students in biblical studies. Every New Testament PhD student should read the whole thing. It will be immensely valuable in navigating the intimidating mountain of secondary literature with which students need to become familiar, and many chapters draw attention to potentially fruitful avenues for future study. Established scholars will already be familiar with much of the material, and will find the book most helpful in orienting them to areas of the New Testament that might lie outside their established research agendas. Academically-minded pastors may also find the book of interest.

All in all, I’m happy to recommend The State of New Testament Studies: A Survey of Recent Research. I plan to keep my copy close at hand and expect to consult it often.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

Hey Wesleyans, Let’s Stop Talking about 3 Types of Grace

It happens all the time. We Wesleyans love to talk about what are often called three types of grace – prevenient grace, justifying grace, and sanctifying grace. The problem is that there are not three types of grace. There is only one type of grace, the type that joins a person to Christ and saves that person from sin and death. The three adjectives we use to modify the word “grace” are not referring to different types of grace; they are referring to different times of grace.

Grace is not a substance

Part of the problem is that we seem to think of grace as if it’s a substance – a substance that comes in different types. If you do not yet know Jesus, then you get the prevenient sort of grace. If you are in the moment of meeting Jesus, you need the justifying type of grace. If you’ve already met Jesus, you get sanctifying grace. And we are left erroneously thinking  in terms of different things.

But grace is not a thing that God gives us. Grace just means gift. And when the Bible talks about God’s grace, it means God’s gift of himself to us in a way that rescues us from condemnation and slavery to sin. Grace is union with God in Christ through the agency of the Holy Spirit. That’s a single reality, not a range of substances or types of things. There is no grace outside of Jesus. So, when we think about grace, we need to be thinking about union with a person named Jesus. We need to be thinking about how Jesus gives us access to the Father. We need to be thinking about how the Spirit renews us as a consequence of our union with Christ. When we think about grace, we don’t need to be thinking about some thing or things. We need to be thinking about reconciliation with God.

Seasons of grace

So, what should we make of these three terms – prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying? In theology, these terms don’t refer to substances, they describe the work of the Holy Spirit in distinct periods of time as he draws us into union with Christ, unites us to Christ, and works out the implications of that union with Christ in all of life. Prevenient grace describes the work of the Spirit through the gospel before conversion that draws us to Jesus by convicting us of sin and enabling us to repent and believe. The Latin word “prevenient” only means “to come before.” Justifying grace is the forgiveness of sin and experience of peace with God that comes from the Spirit’s work of uniting us to Christ. This is not a different thing; it is the beginning of a new season of life – one in which we are reconciled to God in Christ. The reality is still union with Christ. The difference is two periods of time, one in which that new reality is anticipated and the other in which that new reality is realized. Likewise with sanctifying grace. Again, grace isn’t describing a thing in itself but the work of a person (the Holy Spirit!). The language of sanctification encapsulates the new period of time after our initial union with Christ in which the Holy Spirit renews us and works out the many and varied implications of our union with Christ. The adjectives are describing a range of temporal realities, distinct periods in time, seasons in God’s economy of grace in our lives, not distinct substances or types of grace.

Grace is grace all the way through. It’s the work of the Spirit to draw us to Christ (prevenient), unite us to Christ (justifying), and form Christ in us (sanctifying). We do better thinking of these in terms of a single continuous work that stretches out over time. This is about seasons of growth in reconciled relationship with Jesus rather than different sorts of things that happen to us. So, dear Wesleyan friends, can we agree to stop talking about three types of grace?

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

Falling Away or Cut Off? Romans and the Question of Apostasy

I’ve recently had the opportunity to contribute to a three-part series of essays on the question of apostasy. The essays are being published at the Center for Pastor Theologians blog and will be written by fellows of the Center from different eccesial traditions who (consequently) handle the question in somewhat different ways. My contribution was posted today. Here’s the intro:

The recent departure of Joshua Harris not only from Christian ministry but from Christianity altogether has brought questions regarding apostasy and falling away to the forefront of recent evangelical dialogue. Can a true believer fall from grace? If someone commits apostasy, were they ever really saved? If it is indeed possible to lose your salvation, how does it happen? What’s the condition? How should we understand the notion of perseverance? What do key biblical texts say about the issue?

You can read the rest at the CPT blog. If the CPT is new to you, be sure to check out the other resources on the site. I’ll also add links to the other contributions once they go live.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

Why Calvinism Gets Election in Romans 9 Wrong


There are a number of reasons I’m not a Calvinist. One of them stems from the problematic way Calvinism frames the biblical doctrine of election. In this video, I consider how God’s choice of Abraham’s family (over others) shapes the way we should read the language of election in Romans 9-11.  Watch the video below. Then click over to YouTube and subscribe to my channel to get notifications when new content is posted.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

#GC2019 Interview Roundup (#UMC)

I’ve recently had the opportunity to be interviewed on a couple of podcasts regarding the outcomes and implications of the United Methodist Church special session of General Conference earlier this year. This post puts all the links in one place.

The first one was came on The Kuyperian Commentary and was hosted by Pastor Uri Brito. You can listen here.

The second interview came in two parts on The Pastor Theologians Podcast hosted by Todd Wilson and Zach Wagner.

I’m grateful to have had these invitations. Feel free to chime in with comments and questions. Thanks for listening.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

John Wesley Asks: Who is a Gospel Minister? #UMC

 

The answer comes in his essay: “Thoughts Concerning Gospel Ministers”:

Who is a Gospel Minister, in the full, scriptural sense of the word? He, and he alone, of whatever denomination, that does declare the whole counsel of God; that does preach the whole gospel, even justification and sanctification, preparatory to glory. He that does not put asunder what God has joined, but publishes alike, “Christ dying for us, and Christ living in us”. He that constantly applies all this to the hearts of the hearers, being willing to spend and be spent for them; having himself the mind which was in Christ, and steadily walking as Christ also walked; he, and he alone, can with propriety be termed a Gospel Minister.

Let it be particularly observed, if the gospel be “glad tidings of great salvation which shall be to all people”, then those are, in the full sense, Gospel Ministers who proclaim the “great salvation”; that is, salvation from all (both inward and outward) sin, into ” all the mind that was in Christ Jesus”; and likewise proclaim offers of this salvation to every child of man. This honorable title is therefore vilely prostituted, when it is given to any but those who testify “that God willeth all men to be saved”, and “to be perfect as their Father which is in heaven is perfect”.

New Video: Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh (2 Corinthians 12)

We don’t know what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was. In this video, Dr. Matt O’Reilly explains why it was necessary – and how our weaknesses can be a theater Jesus’ power.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.