Cobb & Lull discuss the various ways to translate and interpret Romans 1:16-17. And there are many. Which is interesting, because pretty much everyone agrees that it is the thesis statement of the letter.
Romans may be the most influentional Christian theological writing, and yet there is no solid consensus on the translation, much less the interpretation, of its thesis statement. Ponder that for a moment.
Of course the interpretation of this verse is one of the causes of the Protestant Reformation and all that followed from it (good and bad). It may be one of the most influential sentences in human history. Many contemporary writers think Luther actually got it wrong.
I would suggest Romans in Full Circle by Mark Reasoner which surveys the history of Romans interpretation. One thesis of Reasoner's book is that the new perspective has much in common with Origen (thus the "full circle").
Cobb and Lull take Romans 1:17 to mean, "In the gospel, the righteousness of God was revealed through Jesus' faithfulness so as to evoke faithfulness in others."
Part I of the commentary closes with some concluding reflections which they have drawn from Romans 1:1-17. Here are a few that stood out and should spark some conversation:
"Through participation in the faithfulness of Jesus, others can share Jesus' status as a child of God."
St. Athanasius said "God became man in order that man might become God." This deification model is Christian orthodoxy, though it doesn't sound like it to most people. Once I said this line of Athanasius' without attribution at a youth ministers retreat planning meeting and was met with the accusation of new age-ism. Aghast, I proclaimed that I had just quoted St. Athanasius and that you could find this phrase uttered by St. Augustine and others and that it was and is orthodox Christian teaching.
I also come at this phrase with the influence of John Howard Yoder and his politics of Jesus and particularly the chapter "The Disiple of Christ and the Way of Jesus."
"Paul certainly saw God as working in and through Jesus in a unique way, but he knew nothing of a 'divine nature' in Jesus that was not also present in all other human beings."
I posted at length about Christology the other day and wrote my preferred way of talking about it. But I thought this sentence was provocative enough to merit inclusion here. You may also find it interesting that this sentence follows immediately upon the one I discussed above.
I do think they have gotten closer to early Christian understandings of Jesus and the spiritual life. I, for one, am not completely against later theology and formulations. I am against thinking that any of these formulations are anything more than metaphors grasping at mystery.
One outcome of this understanding of Jesus and his work is a repudiation of Luther's understanding. However, they try to build some bridges with Luther as the chapter concludes:
"When one participates in Jesus' faithfulness, God treats one in terms of that faithfulness, not in terms of the limitations and failures of one's participation."
They state that either emphasis ends up leading to the other emphasis.