An Author Interview from Books At a Glance
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Greetings. I’m Fred Zaspel, and welcome to another Author Interview here at Books At a Glance. Today we are talking to Dr. Kevin McFadden about his excellent new book, Faith in the Son of God: The Place of Christ-Oriented Faith within Pauline Theology. It is a major theme in the apostle Paul’s writings, of course, but it is also a major point of contemporary debate and discussion. Dr. McFadden is here to talk to us about it.
Kevin, welcome, and congratulations on your really excellent work.
Thank you for having me!
Tell us what your book is about and what you hope to contribute. And clarify the background concerning the debate you are addressing,
It is a study of Christ-oriented faith in Pauline theology. The background of it is a debate among New Testament scholars. It is a debate over this phrase, πίστις Χριστοῦ, which is faith of Christ. It occurs eight times in Paul’s letter. It is kind of like in English, the phrase, love of God. Love of God could mean love for God, God is the object of our love. Or it could mean God’s own love. Most have understood this phrase in Paul’s letters to refer to our faith in Christ. Richard Hays wrote a dissertation 40 years ago that has convinced many English scholars that the phrase means Christ’s own faithfulness. It has been so influential that it has affected some English Bible translations. The NET Bible translates it “the faithfulness of Christ.” That is the background of my book. Really my interests are not just in the πίστις Χριστοῦ debate but in Paul’s entire theology. My book is more about the theological implications.
In your Introduction, you provide an excellent survey of the discussion as it has developed. Before we move on here maybe it would be helpful to clarify how all this entails but goes beyond the “New Perspective” debate.
I have a long introduction and I try to articulate the theological argument of the faithfulness of Christ. I summarize the idea that we are not justified by our own faith in Christ but rather by Christ’s faithfulness. I try to show how, in my view, Richard Hays was responding to Rudolf Bultmann who was a towering figure in the 20th century. He wrote a lot on faith, even a New Testament theology that was translated into English. He was an existentialist and had a very man-centered view of faith. Hays argued that in Paul’s Gospel it is not about us but about Christ. This is admirable and a right critique of Bultmann. Then Hays overcorrected and significantly deemphasized the importance of our faith in Pauline theology. Especially the means by which we are justified or saved. In this book, I try to show that my thesis is that Paul significantly emphasizes Christ-oriented faith in his theology.
The New Perspective on Paul, and this faithfulness of Christ view, have a lot of overlap. Many would ask if it were a part of it. Technically speaking it is not. The New Perspective on Paul is built on this new view of second temple Judaism which was promoted by E.P Sanders. One of the biggest critics of Hays was James Dunn, who is one of the biggest promoters of the New Perspective. With that said many people who hold to the New Perspective on Paul would also hold to the faithfulness of Christ translation. Most famously, NT Wright. It overlaps well with Wright’s emphasis on the faithfulness of God in Paul’s theology.
It is a part of a different stream of Pauline interpretation that is sometimes called the apocalyptic Paul. In some ways, it is almost the opposite of the New Perspective. The New Perspective questions this protestant evangelical reading of Paul, the Lutheran Paul, that makes a strong distinction between justification by works of the law and justification by faith. The New Perspective says they misunderstood Paul on that. The apocalyptic Paul takes that distinction and radicalizes it. Many in this school of Paul say it is not just that we are not justified by our works, we are not justified by our faith, but entirely justified by God’s action in Christ. It is in some ways a hyper protestant view of Paul.
Why is this debate so important? What is at stake?
The phrase faith of Christ only occurs eight times in Paul’s letters. Our faith in Christ is important and faithfulness of Christ is also important. Does it really matter that much? It matters because six of these eight phrases occur in some of Paul’s most important discussion on justification in Romans 3, Galatians 2, and Philippians 3. It only occurs eight times but in these very central places in Paul’s letters. I would say the phrase faith of Christ is always actually embedded in a prepositional phrase with the preposition by. It is part of a larger pattern of Paul’s statement by faith. It has implications with the means by which we are saved. How we think about how we are saved.
Its theological significance has been recognized more by those who hold to the faithfulness of Christ translation more than by those like me who hold to the faith in Christ translation. According to Paul, we are justified by Christ’s faithfulness. I think this is an overstatement. It is a hyper Pauline and a hyper protestant view of salvation. It is not surprising that for some like Doug Campbell, it is one thing that underlies their universalism. Those who hold the faith in Christ translation have not discussed enough of the theological implications and that is part of why I wrote this book. Theologically the faithfulness of Christ is important because he is the trustworthy object of our faith in salvation.
Before I ask about some specifics, give us just a brief overview of your book, a big picture of how you pursue your agenda.
I try to articulate a theological argument of the faithfulness of Christ view. It has deemphasized Christ-oriented faith. My thesis is that Paul significantly emphasizes Christ-oriented faith in his theology. I try to show that by starting with a chapter on Paul’s understanding of Christ-oriented faith in historical context. I try to show how Paul appeals to many texts and traditions that speak about our faith in God and even in Christ as a cause and condition of our salvation. It should not be surprising to hear Paul doing the same thing.
The second chapter is my most important in the book. I address direct statements of Christ-oriented faith in Paul’s theology. What is important is that I only address texts outside of the πίστις Χριστοῦ text. Paul clearly teaches we are justified by our faith no matter which way you translate these phrases.
In the third chapter, I try to reinforce my thesis by looking at conceptual parallels to Christ-oriented faith. Like obedience to the Gospel and seeing the glory of the Lord.
In the fourth chapter, I address the πίστις Χριστοῦ debate head-on. I have read most of the literature after Hays, but I spend a lot of time interacting with Hays. I try to show in that chapter this is really the watershed where this view became convincing to scholars. I try to interact deeply with his original argument.
In the fifth chapter, I do a theological synthesis where I take what I have explored and go over a few other texts and synthesize Christ-oriented faith in Paul’s theology.
Paul was an apostle and a missionary. He spent his life commissioned by the risen Christ to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles. He is proclaiming Jesus is God’s Son, sent into the world, descended from David, risen, enthroned in power, and coming again to save believers from the final judgment. To understand Paul, you must know he is all about this Gospel of Christ that came from God. When he proclaimed the Gospel, he also called for a response to it.
In Romans 1 he says that he received this apostleship from the risen Christ to bring about the obedience of faith among the nations. When Paul proclaimed the Gospel, he would call people to believe it as true, to embrace and trust in Christ. It really matters that we believe in Christ. Some would say if we are justified by our faith. How is that any different than being justified by works? It’s something we do. This is a misunderstanding of what Paul means when he says we are justified by faith. In one way it seems to misunderstand that our faith is a part of the gift of salvation that God has given to us.
Paul makes this clear in several ways. It misunderstands that the reason Paul says in Romans 3:28, “we hold that one is justified by faith,” is not because he thought our faith on its own justified us. It is because faith rests on the death and resurrection of Christ for us. One thing I try to show is faith is a kind of proximate cause because it rests on the more ultimate cause of the death and resurrection of Christ. God sent his Son to die for our sins and to be raised from the dead for our justification. It is right to speak of faith as a cause in salvation. But it rests in the more ultimate cause of the death and resurrection of Christ for us. The final thing to note is that in Paul faith has an eschatological character as well. We believe in the Christ who has died and been raised but we also wait for the one to deliver us for the wrath to come.
Talk to us then about the meaning of πίστις Χριστοῦ in Paul.
This is where everyone disagrees. I do not imagine convincing everyone with my arguments. My concerns are more with Paul’s theology as a whole. It is important because it is in the central places where Paul talks about justification in his letters. One thing to note is that Paul never just says faith of Christ but always by faith of Christ. It is a part of this broader pattern where he says by faith about forty times or so in his letters. What these eight πίστις Χριστοῦ phrases do is specify the object of our faith as Christ himself. They do show us that faith for Paul is fundamentally oriented towards Christ. Not to say it is not also oriented toward God. These phrases allow Paul to both say we are justified by our faith and by Christ and his death and resurrection.
Just in summary, then, give us a synopsis of Paul’s doctrine of our faith in Christ as it relates to justification and the blessings of salvation.
I would first go back and repeat the thesis of the book, which is the idea that Paul significantly emphasizes Christ-oriented faith in his theology. Paul says our faith is a cause of salvation, it rests on the more ultimate cause of the accomplishment of the death and resurrection of Christ for us. Finally, I would say this is all part of God’s grace to us. Christ is God’s gift to us; our faith is God’s gift to us. It is all a part of the gift of salvation to us.
We are talking to Dr. Kevin McFadden about his new book, Faith in the Son of God: The Place of Christ-Oriented Faith within Pauline Theology. It’s an excellent and important contribution to the current discussion and a reliable guide to a more precise understanding of Paul’s doctrine of faith in Christ.
Kevin, thanks so much for your really good work on all this, and thanks for talking to us about it today.
Thanks again for having me, Fred.
Buy the books
FAITH IN THE SON OF GOD: THE PLACE OF CHRIST-ORIENTED FAITH WITHIN PAULINE THEOLOGY, by Kevin W. McFadden