Interview: John M.G. Barclay
We had the privilege and honor to briefly share an exchange with John Barclay. John Barclay is Lightfoot Professor of Divinity at Durham University. We would highly recommend reading and checking out Barclay's latest book "Paul and the Gift." We Hope that you guys would be blessed and encouraged to dive into the word more thoroughly and excitingly, gaining new insights and a deeper appreciation for what God has done in Christ Jesus. As Paul said about God, "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" (ESV 2011). ~ Amateur Theologians
1) What does Grace mean in Paul's gospel?
Grace means God's gift or favor, given supremely in Jesus Christ; but the particular nuance it has in Paul is that the gift is given without regard to human worth - either positive worth or negative worth, that is without regard to the ways we judge people as superior or inferior in relation to their ethnicity, gender, social status or moral virtue. That is what made Paul's good news so radical.
2) Can you explain what scholars mean by "Paul was an apocalyptic thinker"?
'Apocalyptic' can mean several things, but what is usually meant here is that Paul emphasizes the agency of God in rescuing the world from its dire state, from 'beyond' as it were, and not by some immanent process of history or human development, nor in reaction to some prior move on our part. It also emphasizes the ways Paul sets things up in opposites (present evil age, vs. new creation; flesh vs. Spirit; human vs. divine) and remaps reality around what God has done in Christ. The key theologian here is J Louis Martyn.
3) What does the justice and wrath language in Paul mean? Does this cancel out Grace and love?
Paul takes seriously the fact that God's creation of the cosmos entails an order within which it flourishes; if we act against that order, we harm ourselves, the creation and others, and alienate ourselves from God. God's wrath is his negative reaction against the ways we cause that harm (and against the powers, within us and beyond us, that foster that evil). It is not an emotion so much as a settled resistance to what ruins all that is good. God's justice is God's judgment against what is evil, but also God's purpose to turn what is evil into good, the justice inherent in his merciful desire to put the world back on track and to bring it to its intended fulfillment. So grace is not cheap and love does not mean anything goes: they mean that God, without regard to our failures and rebellions, loves us and lovingly recreates us by his act of justice in Christ, removing our sin and reordering us by the life of the Spirit. So grace does not cancel out justice, or vice versa: grace is the unexpected and undeserved mercy of the just judge who restores and recreates us in the resurrection life of Christ.
4) What is the heart of Paul's gospel? I mean when it's all said and done, what does this gospel message promise to do for a world estranged and lost?
The heart of the gospel (which means good news) is this: God's love, by which we and the world were made, has acted in Christ without regard to our worth - either the things we pride ourselves on or the things that make us feel inferior. God gives us our worth in Christ, so we are free of former failures, free of the judgements that others make of us or that we make of ourselves, free from anxiety to make ourselves worthy in the sight of God or others, and free to be welcomed and to welcome others into communities of unconditioned love.
5) If you could sum up what it means to be Christian (In Christ), what would you say?
To be a Christian means to put all your investments in Christ: to die with him to your past, to trust in him, to draw on his new life through the Spirit, to follow him, and so to be most fully what we were designed to be. It means to be caught up into his grand purpose to restore humanity to a relationship of love, faith and gratitude to God and so to take part in the new revolutionary community we call 'the church', whose mission is to bear witness to this purpose and to act out the love of God that crosses borders of ethnicity, status, gender and class.