Wrestling With Romans
Over the past six months I have been wrestling with Romans in preparation for a sermon series that began on May 28. I started off simply by reading the letter repeatedly. On Tuesday mornings I blocked out an hour and a half and read the entire letter in one sitting using the NRSV one week, the NIV the next, the Message the next and once in Alexander Campbell's The Living Oracles and the TEV. I have tried to maintain this schedule until the present. Each day I would pick out a section and spend a little more time digging into that particular section of the book.
In February, I began to read through a few articles on the occasion of Romans. The collection of essays in The Romans Debate, Revised and Expanded edited by Karl P. Donfried is rich with points and counter points. Among the very stimulating essays in this volume are Peter Lampe's "The Roman Christians of Romans 16," Jervell's "Letter to Jerusalem," and the essay by Wiefel "The Jewish Community in Ancient Rome and the Origins of Roman Christianity." Other articles I have found stimulating are Richard Oster's "Congregations of the Gentiles" (Romans 16:4): A Culture-Based Ecclesiology in the Letters of Paul," and Paul Sampley's "Romans and Galatians Compared and Contrasted." N.T. Wright's "Romans and Pauline Theology has also been very stimulating
Among my favorite books is K. C. Moser's The Gist of Romans. While certainly not conversant with the "new perspective" this is still a stimulating work. I am keeping as dialogue partners the following commentaries: John Calvin's commentary, Cranfield's Shorter Commentary on Romans, N. T. Wright's Paul for Everyone and Paul Achtemeier in the Interpretation series.
I have also found to be stimulating Joseph Shulam's A Commentary on the Jewish Roots of Romans. Shulam is a Messianic Jew living in Israel and brings a different persepective to the text. His knowledge of Jewish literature is incredible and uses it to illuminate Paul's thought world. There are a number of places that I find him very insightful but also places where, in my view, he and I simply disagree. But for those who forget that Paul was first a Jew (and never uses the word "Christian" in his writings) this is a great book.
A number of N.T. Wright's works are proving to be very helpful and insightful. His What Saint Paul Really Said and his new Paul: In Fresh Perspective are good books. One book I have learned a great deal from is one that offers a critique and evaluation of the "new perspective" on Paul (including James Dunn and N.T. Wright), Simon J. Gathercole's Where is Boasting: Early Jewish Soteriology and Paul's Response in Romans 1-5.
Finally since a sermon is hardly a lecture on the first century I must mention the very well done book called Preaching Romans edited by David Fleer and Dave Bland. This book is about half and half in the form of essays on theology, ethics and eschatology and the second half is sermons modeling how to move from the exegesis to homily.
I am currently involved in new exercise with regard to Romans. I am not reading the book as much as I am praying my way through the book. Using the techniques mentioned in previous blogs of lectio divina (see http://stoned-campbelldisciple.blogspot.com/2006/05/spiritual-reading-with-bede-about.html) I am, for the next 16 days, taking what appear to be the most significant portions of each chapter and praying with the text.
In fact, if you are looking for a specific direction for your prayer life over the next two weeks then I invite you to wrestle with the text through prayer with me. What better way to let God speak to us in community than through praying the book of Romans together. Tomorrow I will post the texts that are serving as the basis of my devotions and if you are so moved to join with me that would be wonderful.