The Faith of St. Paul

Transformative Gift of Divine Power

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Roy A. Harrsville, III
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Pickwick Publications
    , March
     2019.
     134 pages.
     $18.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781532657832.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

In The Faith of St. Paul: Transformative Gift of Divine Power, Roy A. Harrisville argues that faith is a divine gift and that justification by faith and participation in Christ are complementary pieces of the same process. “Faith in Christ, therefore, is being in Christ, and Christ in the believer (102)”. Consequently, the faith of Christ is a transformative gift of divine power that involves the entirety of the Christian with the entirety of Christ (102). This thesis is worked out with various dialogue partners that include among others, Rudolph Bultmann, Richard Hays, Martin Luther, E.P. Sanders, Albert Schweitzer and N.T. Wright, in a book with an introduction and seven chapters running to 115 pages with indexes.

Harrisville begins with the assertion that “As one believes, so one lives” (xi). The faith within a person will determine how that person lives their life. For instance, believing that “man is the measure of all things” leads one to approach life from an anthropological perspective (xi). Believing in a “higher power” leads to living from a theological point of view (xi). However, life is not such a simple rule. Life confronts us with various forces at that buffet us along different paths other than what we set out on. Such was the life of Saul of Tarsus who was trained as a Pharisaic Jew but instead became a Christian missionary. What was the force at work that so dramatically changed and transformed Saul into an apostle of Jesus Christ (xi)? And was Paul’s newfound faith a product of the human will itself, a gift of God, or both (xi)?

Harrisville’s answer is that it is not just the beliefs that are transformed by the gift of faith but also the will and actions. Justification by faith and participation in Christ are necessarily mutual and together. The faith of Christ involves a transformation of the whole person, a life-giving power (95), “a continuous human action that follows from the word of God and determines how one lives one’s life” (64).

However, is it consequently a human work? According to the author, it is not a human work but a divine action, a gift from the Holy Spirit which comes to the individual. The object of that faith is ultimately God who has bestowed that gift of faith to begin with (81-82). It is faith that works through love as a power for good (94). It is the gift never disconnected from the divine giver (95). And as Harrisville quotes St. Paul, “it is not I who live but Christ who lives in me”, and this out of faith (95). “Faith as an act of the human being comes about because the human being is given that capacity, not because the individual produced that capacity oneself” (96). The power behind that is God (96). In short, “The faith of St. Paul is not a quality, condition or ability originating with the human being. It is a transforming gift of divine power. (98)” And the two emphases of justification by faith and participation in Christ are unified by the gift of faith, the divine power to live a new life (101).

What Harrisville does not address sufficiently is the central claim over what ‘participation in Christ involves’. Although “Faith in Christ is being in Christ, and Christ in the believer (102)” may provide a succinct summary it doesn’t spell out all that faith in Christ entails, for instance, the meaning of participation in Christ’s life, death and resurrection. This appears to be an unfinished project.

Now this is not a new doctrine but the author’s exposition of St. Paul. Even so, many have not been so explicit as this author in making his point. One reason may be that some may want to insist that something needs to be a product of the human will to insure human responsibility. Harrisville position joins people such as Augustine of Hippo, John Calvin, Karl Barth (not using  them as major dialogue partners) and Martin Luther (whom he does use) in asserting that the gift of faith is a work of God, not by our own works of righteousness that no one boast. Yet it is a human action too, in the respect that it is an authentic response to the word of God, a Word which is life transformative (43). Some may think Harrisville fails to give the ‘human will’ its’ due, while others agreeing with the author would say, Amen.

About the Reviewer(s): 

John Mauger is a doctoral student in Religion at Claremont Graduate University

Date of Review: 
September 19, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Roy A. Harrisville III is Pastor of New Life Lutheran Church in Menomonie, Wisconsin.

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