About This Blog

Thursday, August 7, 2014

"Encountering the Book of Romans" (Douglas J. Moo)

TITLE: Encountering the Book of Romans: A Theological Survey (Encountering Biblical Studies)
AUTHOR: Douglas J. Moo
PUBLISHER:  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014, (240 pages).

When encountering the biblical book of Romans, what comes to mind? For some, Romans represent the essence of Paul's theological treatise. For others, it is a powerful resource for the teaching of adult Christian Education classes or deep systematic theology. Professors have based entire lessons on the book. Pastors find Romans a powerful place to do Greek exegesis and theological structuring. The common words associated with this book range from "Powerful Theology" to "Beautiful Greek."  What about reading it as it was intended? Not what John Calvin or Martin Luther had interpreted it to be, but what Paul's "game plan" was when he first wrote it.

This is exactly where author and Professor Douglas Moo begins.
Cautioning us that many interpreters through the centuries are not neutral in their interpretation, he points out too that we see Paul's letter to the Romans from our own contexts too. That is why it is important to encounter the ancient contexts of Romans before we can begin a modern theological survey. Moo does this very well by showing us a few examples of the progression of interpretive thought through parts of history. For instance, in the Reformation years, Luther's focus on individual salvation and justification by faith had skewed his reading of Romans.  It also skewed ours. This is due in part to our modern tendency toward individualistic thought. Another reason for Luther's interpretation was the reaction against the Roman Catholic doctrines of justification by works. We too are participants in reacting against certain elements in our culture, and we unconsciously read Romans with our culture in mind.

Another modernist thought is from E. P. Sanders who sees Romans as reflection of first century Judaism. James D G Dunn says that Paul was concerned more with the "people issue" where God intends both Jews and Gentiles to be grafted as a chosen people. There is also a "new perspective" with advocates like NT Wright who argues that Romans is about salvation for all people. Adding to the complication is the rise of a "radical new perspective" that Paul was critical of the Judaism of the day but still maintained the "traditional means of atonement" for the Jews.

Moo deals with all the three interpretive angles: Reformation, New Perspective, and the Radical New Perspective in this book. As a letter, he urges readers to practise what Augustine called "Take up and read!" This book goes on to help us encounter Romans in seven ways.

First, we learn about Romans as an ancient letter which exhorts the Jewish Christians in Rome to press on in their faith. We see Paul beginning with the Righteous Person of God as the starting point of theology, about Jesus. Moo thinks that the theme of Romans is "the gospel in its salvation-historical context." He lays out the structure of Romans based on chief points of emphases.
Second, we encounter Romans by recognizing our human dilemma, about the problem of sin, the futility of works and law, and the pervasive power of sin. We are all under sin. No exceptions.

Third, we encounter Romans by seeing the full and perfect provision of God through Christ's righteousness and our faith in Christ. He contrasts this regularly with what the Law entails, emphasizing that we need mercy and grace, not more justification by works. Using the example of Abraham, Moo shows us there is much to learn from the faith of Abraham, especially in the midst of a culture of "chronological snobbery" that elevates our own modern times above the ancient faith.

The fourth part of the book is a turning point as Moo gradually guides us toward a "Christ-centered" perspective of life and hope. The joy and rejoicing comes from freedom from the power of sin and the freedom to choose Christ above all. We learn of what it means to live in the Spirit toward a life of adoption, assurance, and glory in Christ.

Part Five deals with the age-old interest about Israel and what the gospel means to the Jews, physical as well as spiritual Israel. Moo identifies two ways to look at God's call to Israel. The first way is  Physical Israel and Spiritual Israel are hand in hand, common in some, different in others. The second way is to see "Spiritual Israel" as a subset of physical Israel. He gives us three perspectives of what "All Israel shall be saved" means. This holds particular interest for those of us interested in the Messianic nature of Israel. Rather than Jews and Gentiles being saved separately, or all Israel as strictly and only the Church, Moo shares why he believes that "a significant number of Jews" will one day turn to Christ.

Part Six focuses on the Christian worldview, the meaning of citizenship in heaven, and the plea for unity in the Church. When the gospel transforms, the results are many manifestations of love. It is about being in the world but not of the world. It is about fulfilling the law via the way of love. The "day of the Lord" is synonymous with the culmination of full salvation.

Part Seven deals with the conclusion of the letter which summarizes Paul's purpose for writing the letter. It reveals the ministries and gospel plans of Paul. There is a strong focus on teamwork and fellowship of the saints. It ends with a doxology very distinctive of Paul.

So What?

It is vital to remember that Romans is not a textbook, not a theological paper, not a syllabus for a seminary course, and definitely not a lesson on Greek language exegesis. It is simply a letter and we must keep this in mind, even as we exegete, study, analyze, theologize, or reflect on this letter. According to the author and esteemed Wheaton College Professor, who had written several volumes already on this particular Pauline letter to the Romans, it is a letter written to a particular people at a particular context. Moo begins very well in this manner. Using a sequential segmentation like a commentary, the book is laid out as follows:
  1. The Letter: Romans 1:1-17
  2. Man and Sin: Romans 1:18-3:20
  3. Provision in Christ: Romans 3:21-4:25
  4. Life and Hope in Christ: Romans 5:1-8:39
  5. Israel and the Gospel: Romans 9:1-11:36
  6. Transforming Power of the Gospel: Romans 12:1-15:13
  7. Conclusion: Romans 15:14-16:27
I appreciate that. Moo introduces the book robustly with a focus on authorial intent. He shines in parts four to six. Unfortunately, he ends on relatively duller note. Perhaps, this has to do with the mood of the whole letter. Maybe, Paul ran out of time. We do not know. Sometimes I wonder what Paul the Apostle would think of Moo's segmentation of Romans. Yes, it is a letter, but due to our modern scholastic paradigms, it is hard to get away from a structured seminary-style syllabus of Paul. I get the strange feeling, that would be what Paul would be thinking and would be empathetic to what to our situations. Perhaps, more importantly, as long as we grow more to desire Christ, to let Christ be central, and to testify for Christ in word and in deeds everywhere we go, Paul would not have a problem.

For all the critical observations Moo had made at the beginning, he too is a victim of modern thought and perspective. This begs two questions. How far back into the ancient times do apply a legitimate interpretation? How far forward do we apply our hermeneutics? I think we need to do both. We need to learn as much as possible the ancient contexts and the reasons why Paul wrote Romans. We need also to be familiar with our surroundings and modern circumstances and to apply the principles and teachings of Paul with wisdom and discernment. This calls for knowledge of what the Bible says, and in this case, what Romans is saying both then and now.  In other words, know both. Learn both. Be conservative in interpreting the past. Be progressive in applying to the present. Be assured that when the day of the Lord arises, it will be Jesus who will have the final say.

This book is a necessary resource for us to frame a very difficult but rewarding study of the purpose of Romans. If you are in the ministry of teaching or preaching, or wanting to lead a study on Romans, this book is a great start toward encountering Christ.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Baker Academic and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

No comments:

Post a Comment