Book Review: Paul: An Outline of His Theology, by Herman Ridderbos
Synopsis: Paul: An Outline of His Theology is perhaps the most comprehensive evangelical introduction to the theology of the Pauline epistles available today. Herman Ridderbos is an outstanding and meticulous scholar who fairly engages conflicting viewpoints, and consistently appeals to the careful exegesis of scriptures as the final authority in any dispute. But his primary intention is not polemical; it is nothing less than a detailed and systematized enquiry into the doctrine of Paul the Apostle, as preserved for us in the letters of scripture. This is a rich and thought-provoking read.
After a brief history and analysis of recent trends in understanding Paul’s theology, Ridderbos develops his own belief that the theology of Paul is grounded in an all-encompassing christological and eschatological perspective on the present world. The entire scope of Paul’s doctrine, as rich and manifold as it is, is really only an explication of these days as “the fullness of times,” in which Christ, by his death and resurrection, has ushered in the power and promises of the Messianic age. Paul’s gospel has a solid foundation in certain, redemptive-historical truths; and yet it still has a definite future, in which those already accomplished realities will be finally and fully displayed. This is the mingling of two ages, in which the “already” and the “not yet” exist side by side. And the various teachings of Paul must all find their proper place in this all-encompassing perspective, which is firmly-grounded in the objective events of Calvary.
After laying this foundation, Ridderbos examines various facets of Paul’s theology, under the broad headings, “The Life in Sin,” “The Revelation of the Righteousness of God,” “Reconciliation,” “The New Life,” “The New Obedience,” “The Church as the People of God,” “The Church as the Body of Christ,” “Baptism and the Lord’s Supper,” “The Upbuilding of the Church,” and “The Future of the Lord.” In all of these studies, he is careful to explain how every element of Christian doctrine is under-girded by the great redemptive-historical events which ushered in this christological-eschatological age. His work throughout is characterized by an exhaustive treatment of the relevant Pauline passages for the topic; a readiness to acknowledge and engage conflicting viewpoints; and a profound depth of insight and sharpness of critical reasoning. The result is both intellectually stimulating, and, for the true believer in Christ, deeply edifying.
Ridderbos is a scholar of immense learning and profound insight. He is also a true Evangelical, with a deep love for Christ and a humble willingness to submit his reasoning to the authority of scripture. His Coming of the Kingdom is the most helpful introduction to the teachings of Christ in the synoptic gospels that I have ever read. And now, in his Paul: An Outline of His Theology, I have encountered the most helpful introduction to the Pauline epistles that I have ever read. For the reader who will not be intimidated by length or academic tone, Paul: An Outline of His Theology may prove to be one of the most richly edifying volumes he has happened upon in quite some time.