Responding to Recent Reviews, Part 4: Gupta, Tilling, and Review Introductions

This is the fourth post in a series of responses to recent reviews of Chris Tilling’s Paul’s Divine Christology. Roughly seven months ago I began the series but as it happens, life got in the way of blogging, and I’ve had the skeleton of this post sitting in my drafts folder since last August. Those interested in the first three posts of this series, which were in response to Matthew Novenson’s Expository Times review, can view them herehere, and here.

We now turn our attention to Nijay K. Gupta’s “Review Article: Tilling’s Divine Christ in Paul,” Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters 3/1 (2013): 123-27. Whereas Matthew Novenson was hindered by a 600 word limit in his Expository Times review, Gupta (Assistant Professor of Biblical Theology and Exegesis at Northeastern Seminary in Rochester, New York) has roughly 2,200 words spanning 5 pages to work with. It would seem that serving as an associate editor of the journal has its advantages! But in all seriousness, this lack of restraints affords Gupta the space to offer both a lengthy summary of PDC and to flesh out some of his points of criticism.

In this post I’d like to briefly touch on something in Gupta’s introduction that I found a bit unsettling. The introduction to a book review, especially a review article, is very important because it sets the stage for what follows and influences how a reader will digest the body of the review itself.

Gupta begins his introduction by pointing out how the subject of Paul’s Christology is “hotly debated” in the field of New Testament studies, while asking a series of questions (Is it “low”? Is it “high”? Did Paul understand Jesus Christ to be “God”? Was he a true monotheist? [123]) in order to help the reader understand just how the subject is thought about. Well and good; this is all very helpful. But then he introduces Tilling’s work in a way that almost seems to trivialize it. He says,

If a young, enthusiastic theology student were to approach me and tell me he or she wanted to study Paul’s Christology (in general, looking at a wide variety of letters, arguing that practically everyone has missed what is right before their eyes, namely, the evidence that Paul’s Christology is “Divine”) I might laugh out loud thinking this is either a joke or an endeavor that would consume one’s whole life. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I picked up Chris Tilling’s Mohr Siebeck monograph with the elegantly (and provocatively!) simple title: “Paul’s Divine Christology” (123).

Now perceptions differ, but to this reader, it seemed as if Tilling is being painted as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed theology student who has delusions of grandeur. Almost like a small child who comes to his parents with dreams of ruling the world before being patted on the head and told to run along and play. As Gupta’s review continues this image is put to rest, but first impressions can be difficult to overcome. It’s sort of like sending an insulting text message and then concluding it with “lol” or “jk” as if that erases the initial reaction.

For what it’s worth, I have my doubts that Gupta meant anything intentionally malicious with his scenario, but I also don’t believe it brings anything helpful to his review. It doesn’t tell the reader anything significant about either Tilling or his monograph, and that’s what an introduction is there for, isn’t it?

Immediately after this Gupta confesses to being a long-time reader of Tilling’s blog and to having heard him speak at SBL conventions so this gave him the confidence to “suspend [his] disbelief and give [Tilling’s] argument a good and fair hearing” (123). Subsequent posts in this series will evaluate how good and fair a hearing I believe Gupta gave Tilling. More anon…

B”H

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