The Apostle Paul has fallen on hard times in some sections of the academy and the churches, and for good reason. His apparent attitudes towards women, same-sex relationships and hierarchy are just a few areas where he has been judged and found wanting by contemporary readers.
As a recovering fundamentalist, however, I found in Paul’s writings a lot of profound and edifying truth. In particular, Romans helped me learn self-acceptance and I slowly withdrew from fundamentalism. When the offer of a free copy of Max R. King’s Irrevocable, a book on Romans, came to me from Speakeasy, I barely hesitated.
The title Irrevocable is from Romans 11:29, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” This is a key piece to the puzzle King explores, that God’s gifts and calling cannot be revoked, not by anyone, not at any time. For Max King this is a categorical statement, “close quote” but it is nowhere near “end of discussion.”
The first half of the book’s subtitle, Paul’s radical vision in Romans 9-11, is certainly accurate. These chapters do contain a “radical vision”, so radical that much of Christendom, per the last phrase of the subtitle, and why Christianity can’t handle it.
I will provide a thumbnail sketch of the book’s special contribution to theology, but first I will highlight a few things to put the book in perspective.
Max R. King is a full preterist. Most preterists are partial preterists, that is, they believe that some or much of what is called Biblical prophecy has already occurred. All preterists are specifically not dispensationalists. For partial preterists, some things are usually in the future, like the Millenium, but always yet to come are the Second Coming of Christ and the Final Judgment. As a full preterist, King believes that all these things occurred prior to 70 CE. Thus, in the preterist debate, King is not orthodox. He is outside the camp. To conservative Christians, Full Preterism is heresy because, according to Full Preterists, there is not another Advent nor another Final Judgment. King has been debating preterism and dispensational theology for roughly four decades. He was originally ordained in the Churches of Christ.
King is also a universalist, believing that everyone is saved. He correctly cites Paul in this regard, “For God has bound all people over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all” (Romans 11:32). King affirms universalism clearly and unapologetically (33, 73, 95, 96, 97, 182), and also uses the label “comprehensive grace” (p. 127, 145, 148).
The special contribution of Irrevocable seems to be King’s understanding of “Paul’s eschatological now time”. Where dispensationalists and others see distant futuristic prophecy, King sees something else. “Paul is speaking of events that were occurring in his present time…which we maintain is Paul’s eschatological now time.” King refers to “Paul’s temporally conditioned eschatology” (p. 15), “Paul’s now time” (p. 175), “Paul’s pervasive, imminent eschatology” (p. 11) and “the eschatological setting of Paul’s time, ministry and writing” (p. 92). King says the apostle discusses “the very heart of Israel’s unbelief in Paul’s time” (p. 62, italics added)
King lists six verses to illustrate this eschatological now time, five from Romans and one from II Corinthians: Romans 3:21; 8:18; 11:5; 13:11-12; and II Corinthians 6:2.
- But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.
- I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
- So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.
- And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now.
- The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
While King acknowledges Biblical inerrancy at one point, he also says, “While Paul’s eschatology cannot be aligned strictly with Christ’s, it nevertheless led the way to the goal that was central to Christ’s eschatology, namely, the coming of the kingdom of God in power in their generation” (p. 13).
King describes his own key tasks as follows:
Every interpreter of Romans is confronted with the task of reconciling that which appears to be mutually exclusive, namely, justification by faith (chapters 1-8) and the salvation of all Israel, which . . . consists of believing and unbelieving Israelites (chapters 9-11).
King thus describes his task, reconciling or explaining a paradox. I am undoubtedly oversimplifying, but his thesis seems to boil down to this: “Salvation by faith” and “the salvation of all Israel” are a paradox, but they compatibly coexistent in “eschatological now time” in Paul’s mind, but it doesn’t matter now. Paul is dead. That particular paradox was for then.
If that sounds extreme, I think it nevertheless distills the takeaway from Irrevocable. Max R. King joins the ranks of Harold Camping in the announcement in the following paragraph.
It should not be surprising that attempts to retain the particularistic institution of church are failing. It is impossible to continue re-forming ‘church.’ It was never intended to be anything other than an eschatological trans-formational action. Its role and function has (sic) been fulfilled. It stands as a first century model of faith, pointing toward God and away from the self, especially itself. (p. 182)
King doesn’t come out and say, “The church is dead,” but he comes pretty close. I was reminded of the early Marxist promise of the withering away of the state. I’m sure that smarter primates than me have discussed whether Marx’s predicted withering was intended to be taken serious.
King made one statement which had me shaking my head–at first. “This ‘truing up’ of theology and practice is long overdue, putting God and his world of humanity in proper perspective today” (p. 15). At first I thought he was claiming a bit too much credit. I thought of how, in America, the early Unitarians and Universalists were more rooted in careful Bible exegesis than most present-day fundamentalist Christians.
Far from overstatement, King’s “‘truing up’ of theology and practice” are in fact long overdue. This truing up occurs continually, many times before, but in our eschatological now time that truing up of theology and practice needs to happen again, and is long overdue.
Let me put this a couple of ways. In the Christian world there has been an “eternal procession” of spiritual primates emerging from logo-centric, dogmatic certainties in order to experience the glorious freedom of the children of God. In this historical moment, Emergent Church may be the attitude and movement most adaptable to a brave new world, and Max R. King’s full-preterist comprehensive grace easily works as the movement’s Enneagram 6 anchor.
In plainer English, a small segment of every generation in Christendom finds the received truths to be inadequate for its needs. That segment of the population perpetually leaves behind old doctrinal formulas in search of paradigms that have more utility for them and the threats they face. Right now the Emergent Church approach is, by design, flexible enough to embrace virtually any scenario in our immediate future.
Avoiding the problems of a bad conscience by means of sufficient discourse, the version of Pauline Christianity expressed by Max R. King achieves three things. First, he joins the chorus celebrating the death of an older iteration of the Body of Christ. He refuses to issue further updates or otherwise support the software. Second, he tackles one of Christendom’s main New Testament books, the book of Romans, and in scholarly fashion argues for an eschatology that places all futuristic prophecy where it belongs, in the past. King’s discourse addresses an issue which has been dead a long time, OT and NT promises of salvation for the Jews.
If you are a serious student of the Bible, enjoy a good old-fashioned academic presentation, reject the idea that only “true Christians” have a secure eternal destiny, but harbor suspicions that maybe the Bible actually teaches such doctrinal exclusivism, and you are still uncomfortable with the idea of contradictions in the Bible, then Max R. King’s book Irrevocable may be for you.
Paul’s radical vision in Romans 9-11, and why Christianity can’t handle it
By Max R. King
Available on Amazon
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.