26 July 2011

Unhealthy Individualism vs Healthy Concern for Individuals

Here's the first page, and the first page of the conclusion, of Gary Burnett's published dissertation, Paul and the Salvation of the Individual.
In New Testament studies over the past 25 years there has been an increasing emphasis on the understanding of the documents against a background of people groups--Jews and Gentiles--and how the NT writers understood the relationship of these groups within what they saw as the emerging plan of God.

The result of this has been that more and more emphasis has been given to the relevance of the texts to questions of collective identity and social cohesion, and less and less importance attached to how the texts might address issues more to do with the individual, the salvation of the individual and individual behaviour. This has developed largely as a result of two influences: that of the tools and methods of the social science disciplines, to which NT scholars have increasingly turned for assistance in their quest to understand the texts; and that of the New Perspective on Paul, which has served to highlight Paul's concern about the relationship between Jew and Gentile in the community of the people of God and along with the the wide acceptance of a covenantal framework for understanding first century Judaism and the worldview of the NT writers. (p. 1)
Burnett then goes on to examine at length some key passages in the first 8 chapters of Romans to consider carefully the degree to which Paul seems to have in mind the individual.

He concludes:
Recent approaches to NT study have, quite rightly, given much more attention than ever before to the socio-historical situation in which the texts were originally written and read, and have often sought to find useful tools by which to do this by recourse to the disciplines of sociology and social anthropology. In addition, in the New Perspective that has emerged in Pauline studies, interpretations of Paul have become much more focused on Paul's concern with the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in the people of God. . . .

While both these factors have resulted in much benefit in understanding the Pauline texts, there has been something of an imbalance in recent years, where the implications of Paul's arguments for the individuals in the churches to which he wrote, and indeed, we might say, for the individual in general, have been either neglected or dismissed. It is the contention of this thesis, that not only are there implications for the individual in what Paul has to say, but it was his intention to address the individual. . . . Paul's argument had the individual in mind, rather than simply broad 'macro' issues, such as the identity of the people of God. (p. 215)
--Gary W. Burnett, Paul and the Salvation of the Individual (BibInt 57; Leiden: Bril, 2001)

A very important and needed corrective. A corrective that should not displace the gains of recent scholarship, yet it should supplement, and even sober, current scholarly tunnel vision regarding Paul's concerns.


Drew said...

Thanks for posting this. I'm reminded of Gal 2:20, "... I live by faith in the son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." It's a sad day when this kind of statement is dismissed.

Bill Crawford said...

It would be nice if this book were available at less than the $156 amazon price....