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Saints or Sinners?

David Bell's profile picture
Posts: 1034

23 July 2017, 12:51 PM

On Reading Romans

Spurred on by Greg and Julie I went back and re-read Romans too. It was as I remembered, utterly magnificent in places, off at tangents elsewhere, and sometimes too hard to understand. But maybe the latter two are explained by the fact that Paul dictated it to a scribe, Tertius. Anyway, it never was an easy read for me, but some of the concepts are inspirational and sublime and are gospel, pure and clear. 

I remember when I was a student minister learning Greek. Over a couple of years, two or three different teachers suggested that Paul may have been used the occasion of composing the letter as we would today use an interactive tutorial. That is, a few key people were sitting with him, as Tertius took notes.

I have always felt that the way in which John's gospel is written is much closer to the theological-methodological spirit of Romans and Corinthians, and Ephesians, Colossians than to the the synoptic gospels. But I haven't the scholarship to test that as more than just a hunch.

William James 1842-1910

But I should have said earlier how William James used St Paul.

Many won't have heard of William James  but in many respects he was the absolute founder of a religious psychology based on pragmatism. Let me quote wikipedia

He, "was an American philosopher and psychologist who was also trained as a physician. The first educator to offer a psychology course in the United States,[3] James was one of the leading thinkers of the late nineteenth century and is believed by many to be one of the most influential philosophers the United States has ever produced, while others have labeled him the "Father of American psychology".[4][5][6]

Along with Charles Sanders Peirce and John Dewey, James is considered to be one of the major figures associated with the philosophical school known as pragmatism, and is also cited as one of the founders of functional psychology. A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked James as the 14th most cited psychologist of the 20th century.[7] He also developed the philosophical perspective known as radical empiricism. James' work has influenced intellectuals such as Émile DurkheimW. E. B. Du BoisEdmund HusserlBertrand RussellLudwig WittgensteinHilary Putnam, and Richard Rorty,[8] and has even influenced Presidents, such as Jimmy Carter.[citation needed]

How did William James use Paul?

For decades I have had and dipped into the  James Gifford Lectures, 1901-2, published as The Varieties of Religious Experience (1920). Here is quotation from the chapter on Saintliness (p. 261). He had earlier directly cited Paul in the chapter ' The Divided Self' .

I begin, therefore, by asking a general psychological question as to what the inner conditions are which may make on human character differ so extremely from another.

I reply at once that where character, as something distinguished from the intellect, is concerned, the causes of human diversity lie chiefly in our differing susceptibilities of emotional excitement, and in the different impulses and inhibitions which these bring in their train. Let me make this more clear.

Speaking generally, our moral and practical attitude, at any given time, is always a resultant of two sets of forces within us, impulses pushing us one way and obstructions and inhibitions holding us back. "Yes! yes!" say the impulses; "No! no!" say the inhibitions. Few people who have not expressly reflected on the matter realise how constantly this factor of inhibition is upon us, how it contains and moulds us by its restrictive pressure almost as if we were fluids pent within the cavity of a jar.


Greg Morgan's profile picture
Posts: 23

23 July 2017, 9:41 PM

I have had a ball re-reading Romans and rediscovering the focus on mutuality and eschewing judgement. The Crossan talk was good prep for this, right down in the details. For instance, I read again an article on Romans by Robert Jewett, and his discussion of the house and tenement churches called to mind Crossan's depiction of teeming and diverse streets.

Researching around, I found a series of pieces on that most perplexing of passages, Romans 7. So: John Piper on how this is all about 'your' Christian experience; Tom Schreiner on how it is not; and reference to Lloyd-Jones (he delivered some 140 odd sermons on Romans) on why believer/unbeliever is not the point. And a whole lot of blogs and comments that trailed on for quite a part of the weekend. Including David's; William James was new to me.

So many Baptists seem keen on Romans 7 [unscientific comment]. Some years ago Michael E. Brooks produced a dissertation on Romans 7:14-25 which looks at the wider context of Paul and joyousness of his confidence. The 'I' in these verses cannot be Paul himself, but is a fictive 'I' as he mulls empathetically over the state of one who might in a hopeful way lay claim to the law but who cannot grasp its real purpose.

As a result of all this reading I still think the passage enacts a drama around the opportunity of change but don't see the struggle as the lot of someone acting in Christ (why would the yoke be heavy?). If we discern a fictive (not generalising) force to this expression, that seems very gospel-like.

David Bell's profile picture
Posts: 1034

02 November 2017, 10:58 PM

I've just completed a very short video on what I think is the greatest theme in Romans where Paul recasts Christ as the second Adam. If you watch it, do like/dislike or share in YouTube. Many thanks. It can also be viewed here in Doing Theology and the advantage is it locates it into further resources on similar themes.

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