Significance of Grace in the Letters of Paul, by Brad Eastman. Peter Lang
Publishing, New York, 1999. 247 pp. $51.95. ISBN 0-8204-4075-2.
This excellent study of the concept of grace in Paul's undisputed
epistles begins by briefly surveying the contributions of Sanders, Dunn, Räisänen,
Hübner, Westerholm, and Thielman to the debate concerning Paul and the law.
Since law and grace are so intimately intertwined, and since
"there is neither consensus about the significance of grace in Paul's
thought with regard to the law, nor consensus about the overall place of grace
in Paul's thought" (10), a comprehensive and up to date treatment such as
this is a welcome contribution.
After the introduction, five chapters treat grace in 1 Thessalonians, 1
and 2 Corinthians combined, Galatians, Romans, and Philippians respectively.
Each chapter is structured around the themes of the human condition,
dependence on God, and human responsibility.
The final chapter offers summary and conclusions.
Contrary to the views of a number of Pauline scholars, Eastman finds
that "Paul's view of grace is not only central to his ideas about
justification and salvation, but permeates many important aspects of his
religious vision, including his ethics and ecclesiology" (207).
Indeed, "Grace is the single-most important element of the
believer's entire existence in Christ. Without
the various manifestations of grace in the Christ event, in the gift of the
Spirit, and in judgment, humanity would be without hope" (217).
Though acknowledging that Paul was not unambiguous when relating grace
to human responsibility, Eastman finds that despite "his overwhelming
insistence that the believer depends on God's grace, Paul is not a theological
fatalist who believes that human actions and experiences are determined by a
divine will that effectively rules out human responsibility.
Paul does not believe that grace is irresistible and he seems to
believe, at least in the case of individuals, that God will not override the
human will" (215).
Eastman's work is well researched.
He constantly interacts with much of the best scholarship on his
subject. Only very rarely did I
feel that he had left a stone unturned or a hole in his arguments.
For example, while agreeing with Sanders that Paul's problem with
Judaism and the Law was not "legalism," Eastman does not think that
Sanders takes seriously enough Paul's pessimism about all humanity's ability
to keep the law" (214). This
may or may not be a valid criticism, but Eastman never enters into the
sustained discussion of Phil 3:4-6 that would be required to make the case.
But I reiterate that such weaknesses are infrequent.
Pauline specialists of all persuasions should find Eastman's work
valuable. Less advanced readers
will struggle with an occasional untranslated ancient or modern quotation, but
the arguments will still be comprehensible.
Missouri State University