Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Reclaiming Paul

The Bible may be one of the most read and least understood books in the world. One of the writers least understood is Saul of Tarsus, whom most of us know as Paul the apostle to the Gentiles. On a regular basis people come up to me and ask me a question about Paul. Most of those questions--though not all--are based on certain misconceptions or misreadings of his letters.

A decade ago I spoke for a seminar here in Houston on Paul. Before I spoke, one of the gentlemen at table with me said: "I hope you get Paul, that SOB [his exact phrase] ruined the Christian faith." I tried to listen to his concerns but found that he, like a lot of people, had been fed a lot of bad information. In the few minutes I had I couldn't undo the damage. I don't think he liked what I had to say.

The problem is not with Paul but with Paul's interpreters who have read him against the backdrop of their own guilt, their own introspective consciences (Krister Stendahl), and their own sense of cultural supremacy (our culture is so far advanced compared to the biblical culture). They can't grasp the world in which Paul lived, the problems he faced, the ecstacies he experienced. They insisted, wrongly I believe, that Paul answer to us and speak to us on our terms.

In a few weeks I'm headed to a conference entitled Reclaiming Paul. It will be held in Kansas City. The website, if you're interested is It's billed as "a conversation among emerging church leaders & biblical scholars, pastors & educators." Michael Gorman, Andy Johnson, Tim Keel, Doug Pagitt will be some of the speakers. I'll lead a conversation on my work for THE VOICE New Testament (published by Thomas Nelson) on the book of Romans.

So far I've written three books on Paul. I know a good bit about him, I suppose, but there is still much for me to learn. So I'm going to listen with humility. I expect to agree with some and disagree with others. But I want to insist that we all listen to Paul on his own terms and not on ours.

If you know of others interested in Paul, please tell them about the conference. I hope to see some of you there.

1 comment:

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