Don’t pick up an N.T. Wright book if you’re not prepared for some serious, hard-core Biblical scholarship that challenges your perceptions and yet still manages to inspire. His book on Paul — adapted from a series of lectures — develops themes he has already presented elsewhere, in book such as What Saint Paul Really Said, and there are plenty of hints that these themes will be far more fully developed in the next massive volume of his exhaustive and daunting Christian Origins and the Question of God series.
Wright examines Paul’s letters in the light of traditional and current scholarship. He confines his discussion mainly to the seven letters that are widely accepted as Pauline, though he makes it clear that he believes that at least Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians are also authentic. However, presumably to meet more liberal theologians on their own ground, he draws evidence primarily from the undisputed epistles of Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians and 1 Thessalonians.
Wright’s view of Paul places him firmly within the Jewish tradition of what he calls “creation and covenant”: a view of God as the creator of the world Who called a particular people, the Jews, into relationship with Him for the purposes of redeeming a fallen world. Wright argues that Paul saw Jesus, the Messiah, as the fulfillment of Israel’s purpose, and that those who followed Jesus were the “new” Israel, with God’s covenant promises now fulfilled in them. For a lot of us conservative Christians this is standard theology, but it has come under a great deal of fire as being essentially anti-Semitic “supersessionism” (i.e., that Christanity supercedes Judaism). Wright argues vigorously that, although viewing Christianity as the fulfillment of God’s promises to the Jewish nation is not a popular view today, it is a view clearly developed throughout Paul’s letters.
There’s much more indepth theology developed here: the book requires a careful reading, but it also rewards that reading. And, as always, Wright manages to be pastoral and even evangelical as well as scholarly (a feat not many can manage). If we Christians are the people of God, if we are living out the final act of what he describes as God’s great five-act drama of creation and redemption, then that believe has implications for our communal life, for our politics, and for our interaction with the world. Paul’s theology challenged the supremacy of Caesar and the Roman Empire of his day; our theology should challenge the empires of this world, the principalities and powers.