This week I began reading Scot McKnight’s new work, Reading Romans Backwards: A Gospel of Peace in the Midst of Empire.
Why might this book be a helpful voice on studies in Romans? McKnight offers a different angle on the intent behind Paul’s most well-known, most taught and preached letter in all of the New Testament. As he notes in a recent interview:
“So we read the book of Romans as if it were an evangelistic tract to get people saved. No. The people to whom Paul is writing this letter are saved. He is not sketching how to get saved. He is sketching the foundation of reconciliation…”
In the introduction to the book, McKnight states it this way:
“To say it again, it is for many an irresistible temptation to make Romans abstract systematics, theology, or philosophy. A theodicy if you will. A systematic theology if you will. A long day’s discussion under the stoa in Athens if you will. An exploration of how God can somehow maintain integrity and holiness and still be full of grace and love then justify, sanctify, and glorify sinners while maintaining covenant with Israel. Romans 1-8 or 1-11 becomes Christianity’s first abstract theology. Those chapters become timeless theology, their ties to the house churches of Rome ripped from their hooks. Many are so worn down by this approach to Romans that by the time they reach chapter 12, they breeze through the rest as compulsory, unimportant information. The best of commentaries barely escapes this temptation, so I have chosen to read Romans backwards in order to demonstrate that this letter is a pastoral theology about Privilege and Power in search of Peace in the empire” (xiv).
I think McKnight is on to something – to work to embed this letter in the house churches of Rome, which he reckons made up about 100 to 200 followers of Jesus in total.
I’m only a short ways in at this point, so I look forward to seeing how he fleshes out this them even more.