On the whole, even after reading this book, I’m not sure what I think of Dunn. Which is unusual for me. I normally like to have something of a relationship with the author I’m reading, either because I know what school they belong to or someone’s recommended them or I’ve previously read lots of their stuff. That means that I feel like I know how to take them, when to give them the benefit of the doubt, etc. But with Dunn, I didn’t know much about him going into reading this. I’ve read a few articles by him this year for college, but this is the first book of his that I’ve read. Other than that, I’ve only heard a few random things, like about how he coined the term ‘the new perspective on Paul’ which is slightly disconcerting considering the vehemence with which some oppose the new perspective (though I haven’t looked into it myself). So with this book, all I was working with was the argument.
And it’s certainly a well structured argument, partly due to Dunn’s insistence on summary statements. This is certainly a scholarly work, as evidenced by casual scholarly references, for example, to the debate between J.A. Sanders and Brevard Childs. So it’s not for the faint hearted, but at the end of each paragraph, section and chapter, there’d be a sentence saying something like, “By now it should be clear that I think….” In the intricacies and length of scholarly argument, this makes the book entirely accessible to the interested reader.
I didn’t agree with some of what he says and much of it made me feel uncomfortable. Partly, that’s because he refuses to give easy answers. However, there were two things that any Christian can take on board from Dunn. Firstly, his ardent commitment to biblical exegesis. Time and again, he asked, “But where do we get that from in the Bible?” His emphasis throughout was to see the Bible as the authority, even if that calls our own tradition into question. It’s a brave thing to do, but for a reforming tradition, it’s a necessity. Secondly, in the complexity of issues (and more questions) that arise, Dunn points his readers to a greater truth and asks, are we mature enough, have we enough faith, to sit with some degree of uncertainty? Are we indeed prepared to be people of faith?
I’m still not sure what I think of Dunn’s conclusions, though I find many of them persuasive. However, more than that, I’ve been impressed with his integrity and his relentless pursuit of the living word.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.