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Seven Challenges That Shaped the New Testament

Understanding the Inherent Tensions of Early Christian Faith

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The New Testament writings reflect a sense of wrestling to understand what the world-shattering events of Jesus's life, death, resurrection, and ascension mean in the rough-and-tumble of daily life in a conflicted world. In this book, a senior New Testament scholar investigates seven critical areas of tension--historical, moral, political, material, social, perceptual, and temporal--that shape the "big ideas" discussed and debated in the New Testament.

This lively investigation explores the challenges that influenced the New Testament writings and how the writers responded to those tensions. The author shows that out of this upheaval came a remarkable set of creative, dynamic writings that have shaped and challenged millions of lives as sacred Scripture.

This accessibly written book offers a fresh way to learn about the world and content of the New Testament writings. It will help readers appreciate the rich diversity of New Testament thought cohering around commitment to the one Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Preface: What and What Not to Expect from This Book
Prologue: Creative Tensions of Mind and Heart
1. Old and New: The Historical Challenge of Innovation and Evolution
2. Right and Wrong: The Moral Challenge of Hypocrisy and Apostasy
3. Weak and Strong: The Political Challenge of Authority and Tyranny
4. Weal and Woe: The Material Challenge of Infirmity and Poverty
5. One and All: The Social Challenge of Particularity and Partisanship
6. Seen and Secret: The Perceptual Challenge of Skepticism and Gnosticism
7. Now and Near: The Temporal Challenge of Delay and Deferment
Epilogue: Streaming the Good News


"Studying the New Testament can feel like an excursion in a strange land. F. Scott Spencer provides an accessible and clarifying guide to the ideas that shaped and were reshaped by the New Testament. Most helpfully, these ideas are not simple binaries but complex tensions befitting the difficult and vital work the earliest followers of Jesus took up. This book is an ideal companion for those students seeking to understand anew both the historical significance and the contemporary significance of these important texts."

Eric D. Barreto, Weyerhaeuser Associate Professor of New Testament, Princeton Theological Seminary

"My students, especially students who are part of faith communities, tend to struggle with the humanness of the New Testament books. Spencer's Seven Challenges offers these students an invitation to grapple with the historical and cultural situatedness of the New Testament, understand why different books give different perspectives on key questions, and appreciate the New Testament as a record of the experiences of first-century Christians. This book will be an excellent resource for anyone who has wondered how to read the New Testament in its ancient context and how to hear its messages in our modern context."

Caryn A. Reeder, professor of New Testament, Westmont College

"With engaging and accessible style, Spencer provides an excellent introduction to seven interrelated challenges that have confronted Christians over the centuries. Through bringing New Testament texts into conversation with each other and with an eye to the cognitive and emotional upheaval early Christians likely experienced, Spencer provides an honest account of tensions within Christianity. This book does not seek to resolve these tensions but allows early Christian faith, love, and hope to speak into them."

Katherine M. Hockey, lecturer in New Testament, University of Aberdeen

"A creative and enlightening strategy for explaining some key trajectories in biblical thought. By treating the New Testament books as works-in-progress, Spencer explores how different authors deal with the 'big ideas' that engaged many people at the time. These authors do so in diverse and potentially contradictory ways that, Spencer demonstrates, contribute to the richness of Christian thought. This is a book that illuminates important aspects of what the New Testament authors wanted to convey while at the same time expanding our appreciation for the relevance of scriptural witness."

Mark Allan Powell, professor of New Testament, Trinity Lutheran Seminary (retired)

"Various dimensions of New Testament faith in Jesus as Messiah, Lord, and Savior are in creative tension--such as the tension between the new and the old, between the cross as victory and as humiliation, between wholeness in Christ and ongoing suffering, and between the hope of Jesus's imminent return and the reality of the delay of the parousia. In this wonderfully readable book, Scott Spencer shows how the New Testament is shaped by and responds to seven creative and productive tensions. In the process, he expertly illuminates the big ideas of New Testament faith. Highly recommended!"

Paul Trebilco, professor of New Testament studies, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

"Jesus was a game-changer of cosmic proportions for the earliest believers, but the lines connecting his death and resurrection to their beliefs, behaviors, and forms of belonging were anything but sharp, straight, or self-evident. The New Testament documents their attempts at drawing those lines in real time and in response to unforeseen challenges. Spencer is the consummate eavesdropper on their conversations, providing commentary that enables readers to hear more clearly voices that have been muffled or distorted in the intervening centuries."

Patrick Gray, professor of religious studies, Rhodes College

"Taking seriously the different genres and the occasional nature of the New Testament writings, Spencer brings the debates of these authors and their communities alive for contemporary readers. With his characteristic engaging style, Spencer takes readers on a journey into the diverse world of the earliest Jesus-followers and helps us see the ways in which their debates, questions, and emotions are not so different from our own."

Alicia D. Myers, associate professor of New Testament and Greek, Campbell University Divinity School

The Author

  1. F. Scott Spencer
    James Webber

    F. Scott Spencer

    F. Scott Spencer (PhD, University of Durham) is the New Testament general editor for The SBL Study Bible. He was a tenured professor at both Wingate University (North Carolina) and the Baptist Theological Seminary of Richmond (Virginia). Spencer is the...

    Continue reading about F. Scott Spencer