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The Life and Theology of Paul. By Guy Prentiss Waters. Reformation Trust, 2017. $15.00.

Dr. Guy Waters, the James M. Baird Jr. Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Miss., has accomplished a great feat—again. He has blessed the church with another book on Paul. Having written Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul, as well as a host of other books and essays on a broad range of related topics, he has now penned a popular-level volume on the life and theology of Paul. I couldn’t think of another Reformed Pauline scholar more qualified to write a book on Paul at the popular level. It bears all the hallmarks of pastoral scholarship: solid exegesis, a thorough grasp of Pauline theology, the theological influence of great theologians—past and present—and, most importantly, a desire to equip, comfort, and correct the church with the glorious truths of the gospel.

When I initially received a copy, I was shocked by how slim the book was. As you probably know, slim Pauline theologies are hard to come by these days. Just pick up a copy of N.T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God (2 vols.) or John M.G. Barclay’s Paul and the Gift and compare. Of course, these massive tomes have different aims and audiences. Waters simply wants to highlight the most important aspects of Paul’s pre- and post-conversion life, distill the main contours of his theology, and write primarily for the Christian in the pew (although many students, pastors, and seminarians will certainly benefit from this work).

When considering the outline and structure of the book, I was overjoyed. Only two chapters dedicated to Paul’s life (chaps. 1–2) and ten to his theology (chaps. 3–12)? Brilliant. Way too many Pauline works bombard (or, perhaps better, bore) readers with unessential facts about his upbringing, education, vocation, chronology, etc. Against this tedious trend, Waters provides only what is needed to understand Paul’s theology within his personal and social context. And yet, he doesn’t leave us in the first century. He concludes almost every chapter with practical sections titled “Lessons for Today.” The pastoral impulse of these sections—no doubt stemming from the author’s many years of personally ministering to people in the church—is deeply encouraging. From the outset, I could tell that this would be a book unlike many books on Paul. It would enrich the mind and warm the heart, or perhaps more accurately, warm the heart by enriching the mind.

Now to the content of the book. Waters begins chapter 1 by mentioning three figures of no small repute: Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, and John Wesley. All of these men were greatly influenced by Paul. They were forever changed and would exert a profound influence on those who came after them. What would the church look like without figures such as these? More importantly, where would we be without Paul? To be sure, Waters says, “we would know far less about such precious biblical truths as election, calling, justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification” (pp. 2–3). Before exploring many of these topics, Waters provides a brief yet informative account of Paul’s pre-Christian life in the remainder of chapter 1, including everything from his physical appearance to his education to his persecution of the church. But, again, only what is necessary for us to know in order to read Paul rightly.

Waters then turns his attention to Paul’s conversion and call in chapter 2. Readers are immediately introduced to the debate over whether Paul was converted (i.e., turned away from Judaism to Christianity) or called (i.e., appointed to become an Apostle) on the road to Damascus. It is no surprise that he demonstrates how both must be affirmed. They are but “two strands of the same cord, inextricably bound and interwoven” (p. 13). The Lord Jesus converted and called Paul to be an Apostle, and then Jesus, through the Apostle, converts and transfers people “from Satanic darkness to divine light” (p. 17). So the question Paul would have us asking is not, Where would we be without Paul? but, Where would we be without Christ?

Chapter 3 sets the tone for the chapters to follow. Using 1 Corinthians 15:1–5 as an outline of Paul’s theology, Waters rightly insists that Paul’s theology is “gospel theology.” The death and resurrection of Christ is at the center. While Waters will expound on the content of the gospel in subsequent chapters (i.e., sin and salvation), he primarily focuses on the historical character of the gospel in this chapter. All of history, for Paul, finds its climax in the person and work of Christ. This historical event is “the decisive point of transition” between two ages: “this age” and “the age to come” (p. 26). After explaining specific characteristics of each, Waters draws from Romans 8 to describe the Christian’s existence in union with Christ as one within “the overlapping of the ages.” We’ve been delivered from the present evil age (Gal. 1:4) and have been brought into the new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). But although we are not of the present evil age, we continue to live in it (p. 29). This “overlapping” is crucial for understanding Paul’s “gospel theology,” especially when it comes to sin, justification, and sanctification—topics to which Waters now turns.

All of history, for Paul, finds its climax in the person and work of Christ.

Chapters 4–5 unpack the relationship between sin and the gospel. Waters puts it well: “For Paul, human sinfulness is the great presupposition of the Christian gospel” (p. 41). Without sin, the gospel doesn’t make sense. It is, after all, a message of salvation from sin. That said, Waters looks to Romans 1:18–3:20 in order to affirm the universal unrighteousness of humanity, our inability to procure righteousness apart from Christ, and our sinful state of enmity with our Creator outside of Christ. Turning to Romans 5:12–21, he then traces the roots of our sinfulness back to Adam, in whom all human beings are counted as sinners and condemned before God. The law cannot rescue us from this state of affairs. Only one who “is of or from Adam, but . . . not in Adam” could do that—the God-man, Christ Jesus (p. 44, emphasis original).

This naturally leads us to chapters 6 and 7, where the relationship between the gospel and justification—the “crown jewel” and “main hinge” of religion (p. 49)—is explained. Waters perceptively analyzes key words in Romans 3:21–26 such as “redemption,” “propitiation,” and “justified.” He also clarifies the “two inseparable realities” of being declared righteous: (1) full pardon of sin and guilt remitted, and (2) the acceptance and accounting of righteousness. That means, according to Waters, that “we are not merely declared innocent; we are counted righteous” (p. 53). But this righteousness does not come from us. It is the righteousness of Christ, which consists of the full satisfaction of God’s justice on the cross and his perfect obedience to the law. Against the Roman Catholic notion of infused righteousness, where moral transformation plays a role in our justification, Waters insists on the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. In his words, “Jesus’ righteousness . . . is not infused into us for justification but imputed to us” (p. 57). All of this takes place by faith alone, the divine gift of trusting Christ for salvation (cf. Eph. 2:8–9; Phil. 1:29). By faith, we are united to Christ as our representative head. We are no longer in Adam. We are now and forever in Christ, the last Adam. Union with Christ is therefore an essential aspect of our justification (see chap. 7 for more). Having laid “two major planks” of Paul’s gospel theology (p. 71), sin and justification, Waters then lays another major plank: sanctification.

Chapters 8–10 focus on the relationship between sanctification and the gospel. The chapters in this section of the book underscore several aspects of sanctification from Romans 6, 7, and 8, respectively. The reason for this is that the gospel not only deals with “the guilt and penalty of sin” but also delivers us “from the dominion, presence, and power of sin” (p. 71). Many truths are clearly taught and faithfully affirmed in these chapters, such as definitive and progressive sanctification, the inextricable yet distinct nature of justification and sanctification, the relationship between the indicative and imperative of the gospel, the remaining power of indwelling sin, and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

In chapter 11, Waters describes the community that the gospel creates. As individuals, we constitute the body of Christ. He is our Head and we are His members. As His members, we are given the gift of the Spirit, who produces unity in the body and gives spiritual gifts to edify its members and to bind them together. Christ, as our Head, is authoritative over His church. He “is Lord and King of His church.” But His headship also consists in His “ongoing work to grow and to mature His church” (p. 107). Maturity, Waters explains, has at least two marks: “a common commitment to the teaching of Scripture and agreement about its meaning, and conformity to Jesus Christ” (p. 108). If we are honest, this doesn’t always seem to mark the church. But there is no denying the fact that the Spirit of Christ dwells in her and is conforming her, however slowly, to His image. We are not yet where we will be. But, one day, we will be.

Waters focuses on this future day in his final chapter, “Paul and the Future.” He asks two questions. First, “What is it that God has yet to do in the lives of individual human beings?” Believers will experience an intermediate state where there is a “temporary separation of one’s soul and one’s body” (p. 114). The perishable body undergoes corruption while the soul gains Christ in heaven (Phil. 1:21). Unbelievers, however, will be raised bodily, judged by Christ, and experience eternal punishment. After the glorious return of Christ at the end of the age, the souls of believers will be reunited with their transformed resurrection bodies. Once this occurs, believers will be judged by Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). But this judgment has nothing to do with justification. It has everything to do with “reward” (1 Cor. 3:14–15), which varies according to our service to Christ and, according to Waters, can be defined as “a richer experience of communion and fellowship with Christ in glory” (p. 118). Because talk of judgment may cause some to doubt whether they’ll experience eternal bliss, Waters slowly walks through Romans 8 in a section titled “Assurance of Salvation.” Unbelievers, on the other hand, will be raised bodily at the last day, judged by Christ, and experience eternal punishment.

The second question, “What is it that God has yet to do in the world?” has a much shorter answer. God will bring us into a glorified existence that is “both corporate and embodied” (p. 122). We will not be disembodied spirits floating around on clouds with harps in hand. We will dwell in God’s renewed creation. As Waters concludes, “Glorified bodies will dwell in a world that is free from corruption and gloriously renewed at the return of Christ” (p. 123).

Thinking critically, I do take issue with a few, minor matters, such as the absence of a chapter dedicated to the doctrine of adoption (although there is a brief section in chap. 10), Waters’ interpretation of the “I” in Romans 7, and the need to say a lot more about Paul’s theology in relation to ethics (especially as this relates to the Pauline priority of knowing over doing [see pp. 72–76]). Still, I find much more to commend. In addition to what I have said above, I would add a few notes of commendation. First, Waters’ use of Romans as an outline for the book resulted in a rich exposition of the text filled with exegetical-theological insight and interspersed with incisive arguments against faulty views. To name a few, he corrects those who hold to a “secret rapture” (p. 116), affirm universalism (pp. 63–65), or deny the historicity of Adam (pp. 42–44). Second, this book is written at a popular textbook level with brief chapters. Though at times the prose is a bit stilted, the short chapters and guiding questions make it much easier to grasp the material. Third, although small in size, it is stacked theologically. Waters clearly and succinctly packages Geerhardus Vos, Herman Ridderbos, Richard Gaffin, and other brilliant scholars into bite-size pieces, helpfully delivering the great truths of the Reformation to our modern day. Last, I am thankful for a volume on Paul whose content and delivery reflects Paul’s theological and pastoral impulse. Paul loved the God of the gospel. He loved the church. And he sought nothing other than to put his gospel theology in service of the church, with the ultimate aim of glorifying God in Christ by the Holy Spirit. Guy Waters mirrors this Christian impulse in The Life and Theology of Paul.

 

  1. Dr. David Briones is a professor at Reformation Bible College, which is affiliated with Ligonier Ministries and its publishing imprint, Reformation Trust.

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