The book of James is often misunderstood, even by church people. Whether reading James as a Pauline opponent, or simply reading the text as a string of disconnected paraeneses, readers today do not see the overall structure and theology of James. Christopher Morgan aims to correct this poor reading in his very lucid and focused Biblical theological text on the New Testament book.
As part of the Explorations in Biblical Theology series, this volume maintains that series’ overall goal: to provide solid content with accessibility and readability. Morgan does just that, introducing readers to the deep debates and discussions involving the textual and theological issues present in the book of James, but doing so in a way that the average reader can engage and from which they can benefit. This is solid Biblical theology, but accessible to non-seminarians and non-academics.
The book is broken down into thirteen chapters. Chapters 1-3 set the context of the letter as a whole, by introducing readers to the author himself, the historical context from which James was writing, the influence of both the Old Testament and Jesus on James’ writing, and the pastoral burden that prompts James’ letter. In these initial chapters readers are introduced to the main emphasis of James, which Morgan states as: wisdom for consistency in the community (40). The other themes that are developed in the letter are all tied to this overarching goal. So, Morgan writes:
“Wisdom for consistency in the community” works well as an integrating center because it makes sense of the obvious emphases of the letter and because it is intimately connected to and shapes other major themes in James: suffering, the poor and the rich, and speech. (42)
Reading the book through this sense helps to make sense of both the divergent themes that James develops and the overall structure of the book. Morgan sheds some great insight in his analysis and enables readers to see the letter of James more holistically.
Chapters 4-9 explore the various themes that James touches on as he writes this letter. Here readers will explore James’ development of issues like wisdom, consistency, suffering, the poor, words, and law. They will not only see something of James unique theology of each of these elements, but they will see how that theology is both connected to Jesus’ teachings and the Old Testament, as well as how it is interrelated to the major emphasis of his letter. Morgan does a tremendous job of helping readers connect the dots in James letter to present an overall theology.
Chapters 10-13 round out the book by exploring some of the broader theological issues at play in the letter. Most notably in these chapters is the relationship between Paul and James. Morgan does an excellent job of helping readers not to read James and Paul as opponents. He demonstrates how James echoes Jesus’ own teachings, and how both James and Paul are writing within certain historical contexts which prompt different emphases. In these final chapters he also provides a good summary of James theology, a demonstration of how practical James’ work is, and study in its relevance for twenty-first readers.
I absolutely loved this book! I found it to be incredibly insightful and encouraging. I have always known James to be a rich book full of practical application, but Morgan opened my eyes to aspects of the book I had never seen before. In particularly I appreciated the communal emphasis of the letter more after reading Morgan’s work. I also found the depths to which James references the teaching of Jesus to be stunning. While I knew there were parallels, Morgan shows just how many. Anyone who wants to understand the book of James more fully should read this book! It is not only accessible, it is insightful and inspiring! I highly recommend A Theology of James.