Book Notice: Paul Vs. James

Chris Bruno. Paul Vs. James: What We’ve Been Missing in the Faith and Works Debate. Chicago: Moody, 2019. 160 pages. $14.99 (paperback).

Numerous books have been written about the interplay between faith and works. Even more have been written on Paul’s doctrine of justification. There is also no shortage of books on James and his statements about the necessity of works. But fewer books have focused specifically on the relationship between the two biblical authors and their letters. Chris Bruno, assistant professor of New Testament and Greek at Bethlehem College & Seminary, has written a lay-level treatment of this topic in his book Paul vs. James: What We’ve Been Missing in the Faith and Works Debate.

The 156-page book is divided into three parts. The first section gives a biographical sketch of Paul and James; the second compares the theology of their letters (in Paul’s case, particularly Galatians and Romans); and the third covers practical concerns. Both the title and the subtitle stand as attention-grabbing misnomers. In actuality, Bruno does not pit Paul against James but rather describes a deeply imbedded symbiotic relationship. Justification (by faith) and sanctification (through works) are distinct but inseparable. Justification is the “causal condition” because it is both a condition and a cause of salvation. Sanctification is a “necessary condition” but not the ultimate reason for salvation. Bruno also retrieves key voices from church history to demonstrate that “what we’ve been missing” is not a new idea but rather a long-standing tradition that has rightly described the relationship between faith and works.

There is much in this book that is commendable. Its vocabulary is eminently accessible. The Judaizers are portrayed as “the bad boys” and the “works of the law” are described as “phony works.” Yet underneath Bruno’s playful vocabulary is a treasure trove of biblical theology. The historical investigation includes extensive biographical details from the book of Acts and comparisons with many Second-temple Jewish texts. Though the endnotes are sparse, they do cite pertinent scholarly treatments for those who wish to go deeper. There were times when it seemed as if the illustrations overshadowed the actual point. Also, a detailed section on the Spirit’s role in the life of the believer would have greatly substantiated Bruno’s message.

The concluding thoughts on homosexuality and racism make the book immediately relevant for many who are looking for an approachable guide to the Bible’s view on these tough subjects. Bruno rightly connects the necessity of good works with a call to engage with these key ethical challenges. This book would work well in a college or high school classroom as well as in a church small group setting. Bruno is to be commended for providing a simple and clear treatment of a complex issue.

CBS book notices provide brief descriptive summaries and assessments of new publications in biblical studies and biblical theology. The present book notice was written by Mark Baker, a Ph.D. candidate at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.


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