James D. G. Dunn is without question one of the most significant New Testament scholars of the last 50 years. He is now retired (in theory), an emeritus professor of the University of Durham. His work has been diverse and has spanned from Paul to Jesus to Judaism. His writings are so encapsulating, so clearly written, that they remain some of the best starting places to dive into a great variety of issues. You may disagree with him, but his writings are the young scholar's friend.
Do you want to know about New Testament Christology and its development? Christology in the Making is a great place to start. Are you interested in the complexity of the early church? Unity and Diversity in the New Testament is a great place to start. His 2 volume Romans commentary in the Word series has to rank as one of the best, if not the best scholarly commentary on Romans ever written.
His main writing project currently is a series called Christianity in the Making. The first volume, Jesus Remembered, is Dunn's answer to the quest for the historical Jesus. I am waiting with bated breath for his next volume, which I think will come out next year. I'm waiting for it with the same anticipation I had 13 years ago for Wright's next volume on Paul--which has yet to come out :-).
Despite his many contributions on so many different topics, I decided last night that the book that represents his most lasting contribution to New Testament study, the book that is truly "Jimmy Dunn in a nutshell," is the recent compilation of his articles called The New Perspective on Paul. The first edition with Mohr/Siebeck (German publisher) was so expensive the best I could do was order it for the IWU library. Now three years later, I have finally been able to afford to buy Eerdmans' paperback revised edition for $23.76 :-)
What is new in this book is the 97 page introduction and a new final chapter on Philippians 3. The rest of the 490 pages consists of twenty scholarly articles Dunn published over the last twenty five years or so on what has come to be known as the "new perspective on Paul." Some of you will know that I tried to referee between John Piper and Tom Wright in a series of posts in the Fall on Piper's book, The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright.
But if you have a couple years of Bible training under your belt and want to dig into the real scoop, Dunn's book is the place to go. He has read everything and thus shows you the way into everything else that has been written (or has taken him to task) up until 2005. His analysis is razor sharp.
Unlike both Piper and Wright, he doesn't have some underlying theological or interpretive system driving his exegesis. He builds his interpretations from the ground up, not from the system down. And that's good exegesis. It doesn't mean he's always right. It means he's fair and honest with the evidence.
What makes this book the Dunn book, in my opinion, is that it is not just a book at a moment in time. It is twenty-five years of seminal scholarship on a trajectory, and the topic is the one for which I believe Dunn will be most remembered. You can relive the debate as Dunn experienced it, wrestled with it, lived it.
This book is a reflection of what biblical studies is all about when its aim is to determine the original meaning of the biblical texts. No postmodern sloppiness here, no shoving of pre-conceived theology down the text's throat, no confusion of a Christian reading of the text with the original meaning reading. I believe Christian readings are valid too--in fact more important for Christians than the original meaning ones. But most evangelical scholars, in my opinion, confuse the two, try to make the one the other.
Is there bias? Sure, "presuppositionless exegesis" is an impossibility. But here is an interpreter without guile, someone who actually tries to be objective, even when it requires a change of perspective or a retraction. It's why I wanted to study with him.
Here is the kind of scholar I aspire to be. Here is what one segment of biblical scholarship will once again become after it gets over its postmodern jollies. (The other segment, I believe, will self-consciously read the biblical texts in the light of Christian theology in a reader-response approach)