New Wine into Fresh Wineskins: Contextualizing the Early Christian Confessions

Article excerpt

New Wine into Fresh Wineskins: Contextualizing the Early Christian Confessions. By Richard N. Longenecker. Peabody: Hendricksen, 1999, x + 207 pp., $14.95.

The previous works of distinguished NT scholar Richard Longenecker should already be well known to readers of JETS. In this volume Longenecker works out a thesis he first argued in a 1993 paper before the American Theological Society. He uses the new wine saying of Jesus (Mark 2:22 and parallels) as a metaphor for his thesis that the NT is both a contextualization of previously existing Christian confessions and a model for the contextualization of the gospel message today. There are three parts to the book. The first identifies the NT material Longenecker and others view as dependent on early confessions and presents a synthesis of that material. The second analyzes how the confessional material is contextualized in the NT. The third presents various models of contexualization today and makes suggestions as to how a contextualized incarnational theology should proceed. The book also contains endnotes, select bibliography, and indexes of modern authors and ancient sources.

Longenecker has produced a well-written work, one whose argument is quite clear. Introductions, summaries, and a concluding epilogue insure that the main point is unmistakable to the reader. Part 1 is a particularly helpful introduction to the widespread literature on the form-critical analysis of putative confessional materials in the NT. The survey and evaluation of various models of contextualization in Part 3 is also useful. Whichever model one adopts, it seems clear that contextualization of the gospel is necessary if the Church is to be faithful to the mandate of its Lord to disciple all the nations.

But perhaps some readers will agree with this reviewer that the case in Parts 1 and 2 for a plethora of confessional material throughout the NT is not convincing. One wonders about the reliability of the form-critical criteria which are utilized to isolate the three main types of confessional material. …