Book Reviews

Book Review: “Reformation Readings of Paul” edited by Michael Allen and Jonathan A. Linebaugh

rrp-allen-linebaughReformation Readings of Paul is a collection of essays that surveys how various Reformers read Paul. Each Reformer has a pair of essays dedicated to their thought on a specific aspect of the Pauline corpus. The first essay is generally focused on simply expositing what the Reformer thought, while the second essay is generally focused more upon the analysis of that Reformer’s thoughts on the letter(s) they were commenting upon. This gives a rather robust groundwork for further research as readers are exposed to a mass of commentary from the Reformers themselves alongside various works critiquing or expounding on that same body of work.

The Reformers and books covered are Martin Luther (Galatians), Philipp Melanchthon (Romans), Martin Bucer (Ephesians), John Calvin (1 & 2 Corinthians), and Thomas Cranmer (Letters). The selections were well-chosen, for they pair theologians either with books for which they are particularly well known (Luther and Galatians), or help draw out lesser-known insights (Calvin and Corinthians). I was particularly pleased to see Melanchthon among the choices, as he is often, it seems, overlooked in favor of others like Zwingli.

The essays are each of great value, even for those who may disagree with the theological conclusions of the specific Reformers. The reason is because these are not merely reporting what the Reformer believed, but also subjecting them to a fresh look, analyzing the Reformers’ readings of Paul with the very latest theological resources, whether this comes from updated (and more accurate) Greek texts or from the specific insights into the historical-cultural background of the texts themselves. Each essay calls on the readers to not only think about how that specific Reformer read Paul, but also to think about how they themselves have read (and possibly misread) Paul. They call to readers to be aware not just of the Reformers’ cultural blinders, but also of our own–the ways that we have simply assumed meanings within the text which may not be there.

Another great value of the work is that it critically interacts with the Reformers’ readings. These are not (merely) criticism, but they also show how modern scholars have sometimes ignored the genuine insight these Reformers can provide into the text. The essays on Bucer were particularly excellent in this regard. The application of critique is not, however, danced around. Corrections are made where necessary, and, as David Fink notes in his essay on Luther (see my Sunday Quote on this), the Reformers themselves would have endorsed such correction.

The main downside to the book, in my opinion, is that because two essays are dedicated to each Reformer, fewer Reformers are put forward. Those included make quite a bit of sense, but it would have been nice to be able to access an even wider swath of Reformation Readings of Paul. Regular readers of my blog know that I am a Christian feminist, and I can’t help but wonder whether at least one female author could have been found to contribute to this work. It’s not a substantive critique, but it would be nice to give ear to a broader range of voices in a collection like this.

It is rare to find collections of essays in which not a single one seems off beat, but Reformation Readings of Paul is such a collection. Each essay has much of value, and readers of all levels of familiarity with the Reformers will benefit. It is highly recommended.

The Good

+Representative looks at some major figures of the Reformation
+Challenges readers to understand their own biases
+Interacts with most current scholarship
+Applies modern insights to the Reformers, and vice versa
+Consistently excellent essays

The Bad

-Could have used wider selection of Reformers
-Little background given to each individual Reformer

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of this work. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.


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Michael Allen and Jonathan A. Linebaugh, editors, Reformation Readings of Paul (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015).



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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


4 thoughts on “Book Review: “Reformation Readings of Paul” edited by Michael Allen and Jonathan A. Linebaugh

  1. Hi, J.W. Thanks for this intriguing review.

    Does the book pay much and/or helpful attention to the issue of how to translate and interpret “pistis Christou”?

    Posted by Michael Poteet | December 28, 2015, 11:03 AM
    • I don’t recall that being part of the book and flipping through I don’t see it. The focus of the book is pretty narrow: modern evaluation of how the Reformers read Paul. And of course no chapter (or two) can cover the whole range of what the Reformer touched on even in just one book.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | December 28, 2015, 12:50 PM
  2. Thanks for this review.

    Posted by SLIMJIM | December 28, 2015, 6:43 PM

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