David A. deSilva, Transformation: The Heart of Paul's Gospel. Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2014.
Review rating: ***** five out of five stars
This small book by David deSilva is a necessity for any pastor and student of St. Paul who wants the heart of Paul's gospel in a readable and succinct format. What follows are some important quotes from the book.
The summary of Paul's gospel:
...I wish to suggest that Paul's good news could be... summarized in a statement such as the following...: "God offers you the means to become reconciled with him and to become a new person who will want and love and do what is pleasing to him because the spirit of his Son will live in you and change you. The result of God's kindness and activity is that you will live a new kind of life now and, after death, live forever with him." (p. 2)
Salvation--Not belief in a formula, but a call to follow:
Paul's understanding of the call to discipleship (the call to a living, saving faith) did not differ from Jesus' own call--which was not "believe in the effectiveness of my death and resurrection, and you'll be saved no matter what" but "if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel will save it" (Mark 8:34-35). (p. 5)
The Bifurcation of Justification and Sanctification:
The existence of justification and sanctification as distinct categories threatens to render asunder what Paul joins together in his vision of a single, great process of God's intervention in the lives of human beings. (p. 9)
What the gospel cannot mean:
What the gospel, therefore, cannot mean is this: When God comes to judge the world, God will treat you as righteous when you are not; you're saved from being judged on that day no matter what you do, how you live, for whom you live; Jesus' righteousness is enough to get you off the hook with God; God expects nothing from you. If we think this is what Paul's gospel means for us, we have to be prepared to say that God does show partiality. God will judge his Son's friends according to one set of standards and everyone else by another set of standards--and he will declare innocent those in the first group who would fail the test if they belonged to the second group. Such a view is naive and even unjust on our part. If Paul went to such lengths to negate any claim to privilege before God on the part of the Jewish people, who had a significant pile of scriptural texts to legitimate their claim to enjoy special favor from God, he would not allow us the comfort of believing that God will have a double standard when it comes to Christians at the judgment. (p. 19)
The two-fold sense of justification:
Justification is, in the legal or forensic sense, the recognition by God before all at the Last Judgment that one has lived in line with God's righteous standards. But as Paul describes the transformation effected by the power of God within believers, he names another action of "justification" at work as God brings us in line with God's standards of righteousness by lining us up with Christ, even bringing Christ, the One who is perfectly aligned with God's righteousness, to life within us. Because of this transformation, the final verdict of acquittal or approbation (dikaiōsis) reflects the truth of the life lived by the power of the Spirit that God provides to those who are in Christ. (p. 28)
Salvation as yet to be:
...while Paul will speak of our having been saved in a sense, many of Paul's statements indicate that in another sense salvation is still out there in front of us as something toward which to keep pressing on, a sense in which we are still in the process of experiencing the deliverance that God has prepared for us. (p. 35).
For Paul salvation or deliverance is what happens at the end of the journey. It is rooted in what God has already done for us; it is drawing closer everyday; but it is certainly not simply behind us. (p. 36)
Why did Jesus die?
"Why did Christ die for us?" The answer is stunning in the scope of its claim upon the disciple: he died for us so that we would no longer live for ourselves, but for him. (p. 39)
The free gift accepted and the obligatory response:
Because we are far removed from this [Paul's] social context, we tend to hear "the free gift" (a common translation of the Greek word charisma) to mean that there is no obligation on the recipient of such favoring. Something is "free" if it costs us nothing. For Paul, however, "the free gift" speaks to the fact that the giving could not be coerced by any act of our own.... the giving is free and uncoerced, but the receiving creates a relationship of obligation. (p. 40)
Why is God's grace amazing?
God's grace is "amazing" not because it is freely given, or given without being earned. That is inherent in any act of "grace" for it to be an act of grace rather than paying what is due. God's grace is amazing because God displays an extreme degree of generosity toward those who had displayed to God an extreme degree of disrespect and hostility. (p. 45)
What are good works?
In the first chapter we examined what kind of works Paul set in opposition to "faith" and found that these were not "good works," but rather the practices that set Jews apart from Gentiles on the assumption that the former were privileged in God's sight and the gatekeepers of God's kingdom. As for "good works," Paul speaks of these as our whole reason for being. As "new creation," "we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the purpose of good works which God prepared in advance, in order that we should walk in them" (Eph 2:10). (pp. 50-51)
Christians and the law:
Paul doesn't speak anywhere of Christians doing the law, but he does speak of Christians fulfilling the law (see also Gal 5:13-14; Rom 13:8-10), accomplishing by another means what the law was after all along-- and that means the Holy Spirit, given as a guide and even as a champion to overcome the drives and impulses of the flesh. ( p. 62)
The church and the process of transformation:
The point of the image [the body of Christ], at least in part, is that we are dependent on one another for our own transformation. We are, individually and collectively, part of God's mechanism for fostering this process of transformation in one another. We need what each other has to offer if we are to persevere and remain consistent in our own journeys of transformation. (p. 71)
Where individual disciples are not growing and where congregations are experiencing atrophy, it is likely that we are failing to invest in one another. Once more this pushes us past the level of polite social interaction with one another to a level of intimate investment in one another's lives, progress in the faith, and points of need. (p. 72)
The church is not supposed to be a place where people can continue to sow to the flesh, or continue to live in destructive ways, without others getting involved and trying to get them back on course--just like Alcoholics Anonymous is not supposed to be a place where someone can go and keep drinking without an intervention. People go to AA meetings to stop drinking; Christians gather together in a church to stop living for themselves, to stop giving in to their self-centered impulses. And we all need one another's uninvited intervention from time to time if we are to stay on track. This is an important venue for the Spirit's intervention in our lives. (p. 74)
The church and the dividing walls of hostility:
...Paul calls all Christians to lavish honor on one another, and to take special care not to shame our sisters and brothers in Christ on the basis of anything that proceeds from their temporary, worldly status and circumstances (e.g., Rom 12:10, 16; 1 Cor 11:20-22). It will be a community whose members do not respond to a visiting Hispanic family by wondering whether they are in the country illegally, but by embracing them as family in Christ. It will be a community that anticipates that God can work as powerfully and significantly through a woman as through a man. We experience less of God's transforming power where we do not seek this reconciliation across walls of hostility among the people of God in Christ (whether racial, ethnic, national, socioeconomic, or patriarchal). (p. 83
David's book is an important addition to any theological library. I highly recommend it.
A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)