Review: Litfin’s Paul’s Theology of Preaching

Phillip Long who blogs at Reading Acts has posted a longish review of Duane Litfin’s Paul’s Theology of Preaching: The Apostle’s Challenge to the Art of Persuasion in Ancient Corinth. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015.

First, the abstract for the book from the publisher’s page:

“We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

When Paul preached about the crucified and risen Jesus Christ to the church at Corinth and elsewhere, did he follow the well-established rhetorical strategy of his day or did he pursue a different path? And what does that mean for the preaching of the church today?

Through a detailed analysis of 1 Corinthians 1-4, Duane Litfin explores the rhetorical context of Paul’s preaching and his own understanding of his task as a preacher. What is revealed in this investigation is a sharp distinction between Greco-Roman rhetorical strategies, which sought to persuade, and Paul’s theology of preaching, which was based on the model of an obedient herald.

This revised and expanded version of Litfin’s previous St. Paul’s Theology of Proclamation will provide insight to those engaged in Pauline and New Testament studies, rhetorical theory, and Greco-Roman studies. Moreover, by offering a better understanding of Paul’s method as well as the content of his declaration concerning “the power and wisdom of God” revealed in Jesus, this book will help preachers as they undertake the ongoing task to “preach Christ crucified.”

And the Table of Contents:

Part I: Greco-Roman Rhetoric
1. The Beginnings
2. The Goal of Rhetoric
3. The Power of Rhetoric
4. The Reach of Rhetoric
5. The Genius of Rhetoric
6. The Appraisal of Rhetoric
7. The Hazards of Rhetoric
8. The Rewards of Rhetoric
9. The Grand Equation of Rhetoric

Part II: 1 Corinthians 1—4
10. Paul and Rhetoric in Corinth
11. The Setting of 1 Corinthians 1—4
12. Paul’s Argument Introduced: 1 Corinthians 1:1-17
13. Paul’s Argument Begun: 1 Corinthians 1:17-20
14. Paul’s Argument Encapsulated: 1 Corinthians 1:21
15. Paul’s Argument Continued: 1 Corinthians 1:22—2:5
16. Paul’s Argument Completed: 1 Corinthians 2:6—4:21

Part III: Summary and Analysis
17. Paul’s Ministry Model
18. Final Questions
19. Appropriate Strategies
20. Conclusion: The Pauline Model
Appendix One: Paul, Apollos and Philo
Appendix Two: The Book of Acts
Appendix Three: Paul’s Epistemology
Appendix Four: Implications for Preaching
Appendix Five: Broader Implications
Works Cited
Author Index
Scripture Index

And an excerpt from Long’s review:

“In recent years interest in Greco-Roman rhetoric has exploded for Pauline scholars. Liftin is somewhat responsible for this interest since he published Paul's theology of preaching : the apostle's challenge to the art of persuasion in ancient Corintha similarly-titled monograph in 1994 (St. Paul’s Theology of Proclamation: 1 Corinthians 1-4 and Greco-Roman Rhetoric; SNTS Monograph Series). As he states in the introduction to this new book, prior to the twentieth century, interpreters understood “words of wisdom” in 1 Cor 1:17 as a reference to Greco-Roman rhetoric and philosophy. Due in part to growing interest in Gnosticism, the first half of the twentieth century understood “words of wisdom” in the light of Gnostic mythology. Paul’s opponents were “gnostic pneumatics” who downplayed the significance of the Cross. In this book, Liftin argues the earlier view was correct. When Paul describes his own mission as preaching the Cross “not with words of the wise,” he has Greco-Roman rhetoric in mind…. This is a stimulating and challenging book operating at two levels. On the one hand, Liftin provides an academic introduction to Greco-Roman rhetoric as a background for reading 1 Corinthians 1-4 in a proper cultural context. But at another level, Liftin wants to challenge the churches to be faithful to God in their preaching of the Gospel. His call is to reject the sin of the Corinthians who used their culture to judge the success of the Gospel. In the end, it is this topic which needs to be addressed more directly by Liftin.”

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