Here's an excerpt from the preface to my first Paul volume, Paul: Messenger of Grace:
This book and its sequel mean to present and reflect on the life and ministry of the apostle Paul by bringing the best of current scholarship into dialog with the concerns of Christian life. A good deal has taken place in the study of Paul these last thirty years, and not all of it has made its way from scholars to the pew. Some voices have expressed alarm at “new perspectives” on Paul, although for many of us in the Wesleyan tradition, these new perspectives fit very well with things we have always believed. Indeed, in some respects, those who most object to some of the “new perspectives” on Paul are the same individuals who have generally looked down on the thinking of the Wesleyan tradition.
For example, more than ever before, Pauline scholars recognize the importance of “works” in the Christian life. Perhaps the most decisive figure in the revolution in the study of Paul was E. P. Sanders, who surveyed all of the Jewish literature of Palestine and concluded that Jews kept the Law to “stay in,” not to “get in.” The Jewish emphasis on the Law was in response to God’s grace, not an attempt to “earn” their salvation. This suggestion fits very well with the Wesleyan notion that we are not saved by works, but we must live a godly life through the power of the Spirit to “stay” in the faith.
I am dedicating each book in this series to two scholars who have revolutionized my understanding of Paul. I am dedicating this first volume to Krister Stendahl (1921-2008) and Jimmy Dunn. I never met Krister Stendahl. But his little article, “Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West” did more to transform my understanding of Paul than any other single source. His observations seem so commonsensical, so obvious. Paul was a Jew and would not have seen his faith in Christ as a conversion from one religion to another, from Judaism to Christianity. Although Stendahl was a Lutheran bishop, his explanations of Romans 7 and Philippians 3 are thoroughly Wesleyan. Romans 7 is not Paul’s current experience, nor is Paul leaving behind his sinful failures in Philippians 3 as he presses forward. Rather, Paul had a “robust conscience,” a strong sense of his blamelessness as a believer.
Jimmy Dunn is my Doctor Father, the brilliant mind under which I studied for my doctorate in New Testament. Not only is Professor Dunn a model scholar, a paragon of contextual interpretive method, but he is a Methodist lay preacher. While I was doing my doctoral studies in Durham, England, Professor Dunn wrote commentaries on 1 Corinthians and Colossians, and some of the insights of this current volume on 1 Corinthians come from the weekly New Testament Seminar sessions where he was working through that letter of Paul. For me, his greatest “new perspective” insight has been that “works of Law” in Paul are not so much good works in general, but aspects of the Jewish Law that separated Jew and Gentile. Paul is not anti-works, but he is opposed to Jewish individuals thinking they have an advantage before God in salvation simply because they are circumcised...