Book Notice: The Spirit and Relational Anthropology in Paul

Samuel D. Ferguson. The Spirit and Relational Anthropology in Paul. WUNT 2/520. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2020. 314 pages. 84,00 € (paperback).

It has often been noted that Americans come from a modern Western framework, whereas the Bible was written from an ancient Eastern framework. Our love for the rugged individual can often skew our reading of the Bible. Samuel Ferguson (Ph.D., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; rector at the Falls Church Anglican in Falls Church, VA) provides a needed corrective to our individualistic tendencies in The Spirit and Relational Anthropology in Paul, a revised version of his Ph.D. dissertation completed under the tutelage of Dr. Andreas Köstenberger.

Ferguson sets up his argument in the first two chapters, exploring the interplay between relationships and personhood and defining a specific kind of human existence called “relational anthropology.” For Ferguson, while personhood cannot be collapsed into relationality, relationality stands as an “essential feature” to personhood (54). He then outlines his view of personhood in chapter 3: Personhood is “aspectival,” meaning that the person consists of overlapping dimensions rather than hermetically sealed parts (e.g. the Greek trichotomy of body, soul, and spirit). He further explains that the “Pauline person” consists of three aspects: identity (who one is), agency (what one does), and heart (what one wants). In chapters 4 and 5, Ferguson applies his understanding of Pauline anthropology to several key texts such as Romans 8 and 1 Corinthians 12.

Two implications of Ferguson’s work stand out. First, a robust relational anthropology illuminates how a believer can participate “in Christ” yet still struggle with sin every day. The believer must fight vehemently against a “lingering Adamic-embodiment,” yet he does not have a “double identity”; his identity is firmly located in Christ (256–57). Second, Ferguson shows how each of the gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 is fully realized in relationship with others. Throughout the book, Ferguson’s careful analysis and explanation of anthropological categories provide key exegetical insights. Often commentators end up talking past one another because of a lack of shared vocabulary. As a remedy, this book outlines key anthropological categories for greater understanding of the biblical text. The one lingering question I had after finishing the book stemmed from the lack of treatment of 1 Corinthians 14:28. What does Paul mean when he says that an uninterpreted tongue-speaker should “speak to himself and to God”? How does this aspect of the Spirit’s work factor into relational anthropology?

This minor quibble aside, Ferguson’s work stands out as a first-rate published dissertation. Though the reader will encounter technical language and untranslated German, this work is not just for academics in a narrow field of scholarship. To borrow a phrase from C. S. Lewis, I hope that pastor-theologians who are up for a challenge will be willing to work through this “bit of tough theology” to gain new theological categories for thinking about the Spirit and anthropology.

Mark Baker (Ph.D., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as Professor and Assistant Director of the Scarborough College Darrington Campus in Houston, TX.


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