William M. Greathouse with George Lyons, "New Beacon Bible Commentary: Romans:" (Kansas City: Beacon Hill, 2008). 2 volumes. 572 pages. ISBN 978-0-8341-2362-5 and 2363-2
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 2. Fall 2009. Volume 27.
It was with some hesitancy that I spent $60 to purchase this two-volume commentary set. The fact that the commentaries were printed in paperback form was one concern. The second question I had was whether this commentary on Romans by Dr. Greathouse was anything more than updated type set of his previous works on Romans ("Romans" from the 1968 Beacon Bible Commentary and the 1975 devotional commentary Beacon Bible Expositions). This concern was dispelled by the first paragraph in the author's preface.
Greathouse claims this work is a fresh commentary, not merely a revision of his earlier works. It seems the need for such a fresh work on Romans has been necessitated due the rise of the "new perspective" scholarship on Paul. The new perspective comes from the writings of Ernst Käsemann, E. P. Sanders, and the most prolific writer today N. T. Wright. One major position of the new perspective is de-emphasis on imputed righteousness, as taught in the Lutheran and Reformed understanding of justification. While the new perspective has much of the Protestant world scrambling, it seems to open the door for the long held Wesleyan perspective of the "optimism of grace." This grace of God is a righteousness and holiness which is genuine, ethical, and is available in the life of the Christian today.
The commentary is broken down into three parts: 1) Behind the Text, 2) In the Text and 3) From the Text. Each section of Scripture has these three parts: background and overview of the passage; verse by verse commentary; and general application. Overall I felt like the background was helpful and not too long and drawn-out; the verse by verse section again was not too difficult to understand or to find helpful for someone without an expertise in Greek; and the final section repeatedly points the reader to the teachings of Wesley and other important church scholars on that particular section. The reader is left with little doubt that he is reading a commentary from a Wesleyan perspective.
Throughout the commentary there are a number of helpful sidebars and excursions: Luther on Alien Righteousness, Wesley on Justification and Sanctification, Paul's Interpretation of Scripture, Wesley as Catholic Theologian, and The Enigma of Israel. Most of these are only a paragraph or two, but they do contain helpful insight.
I love his treatment on Romans 7. Greathouse makes a clear case that this chapter does not refer to a frustrated believer. Greathouse states the description of chapter 7, "ardly sounds like a Christian, at least nothing like the Christian life described in chapter 8. This also challenges the interpretation of nineteenth-century Holiness movement preachers and writers who understand chapter 7 as a description of the justified but unsanctified believer. This 'I'hardly seems a fit candidate for entire sanctification."
I found his treatment of chapter 12 very beneficial. In one concluding paragraph on 12:1-2, Greathouse writes,
Paul's appeal to self-surrender for sanctification was not simply an optional matter of personal piety for an elite minority of believers. More is at stake than the individual holiness of isolated exceptions. The life of holiness can never be experienced in isolation from the world, whether in a monastic conventicle or separatist sect. Refusal to be conformed to this world must not be confused with reluctance to engage the world on its turf. Paul considered the holiness of the church the necessary validation of the lordship of Christ in this present world. It cannot await the world to come, for then his lordship will be obvious to all.
This is a commentary that is unashamed to be in the Wesleyan tradition. There is a continual dependence upon Wesley's interpretation which was refreshing. I was also glad to see no compromise to authority of God's Word, no compromise to the call to holy living, and no apology for being optimistic on the grace of God.