Thursday, December 18, 2008

Paul cares about his own power, he’s such a jerk!

Written for the NT class on a hypothetical objection from a congregation member. The problem is that once you announce a sermon series on Paul, one congregation member states "I can't stand Paul! I gotta take the summer off because Paul only cares about his own power, he's such a jerk!" Stunned by the response, you later write a letter address this comment, what would you write?

Well, here's what i wrote:

When I announced my intention for running a sermon series on Paul, I was shocked by your comments about Paul; but you may be surprised why. I was shocked because I was hearing myself before seminary! I used to think Paul was a power hungry goodie-two-shoes who called people names and misrepresented the Gospel. Then I took a class and found some perspective on Paul.

Aside from Jesus, no other figure has proved to be more important to Christianity than Paul (Ehrman 260). I believe Paul is the greatest blessing and yet the greatest curse of Christianity. The greatest blessing as his writings are complex and cover a great many topic and provide a window to the historical setting of early Christianity; yet, he is the greatest curse as the church has really misinterpreted many key points; points I hope to cover during this sermon series.

The classic negative view of Paul is that he’s a guilt-ridden legalist who felt bound to follow a set of impossible to keep laws (Ehrman 269). He denounces the Jewish Law only to replace them with a more dire and pious set of laws. In this summer sermon series, I intend to show that Paul’s ethics is enabled by his theology, and his theology is in no way monolithic (Blount 150). Paul’s thought and language seem to be very fluid and flexible, I’d dare say contextual (Bassler 38)! Paul is not out to write a universal doctrine, but writes to each individual church with advice.

Plus you’d be very surprised that my view of the world (and if I may be so bold, your view as well) has some parallels with Paul’s view. Paul seems to be focused on a reality that lies beyond the reality of this world ruled by our senses, yet we can experience this mystical union with Christ in our every day, non-mystical experiences and struggles (Bassler 40,47).

Paul may seem like a jerk when he says things like “follow my example” in First Corinthians or when he seemingly butchers the story of Sarah and Hagar with his interpretation in Galatians or even all that stuff about natural and unnatural in Romans. What we have to remember is Paul is writing in the First Century and thinks that Jesus is coming back within his lifetime! His values are not our values, his world is alien to you and me, and he never thought that his letters would be kept this long! We’re supposed to be in Christ’s kingdom by now!

I think you’ll find Paul a little more endearing through this series. Come listen and then we’ll go out for lunch and talk about what you thought. You may be surprised to see how inclusive Paul and how he even has a universalist flavoring in his letters (no limited atonement here!). Looking forward to seeing you in service!

In Christ,

Pastor Luke

Works Cited
Bassler, Jouette M. Navigating Paul. Louisvill KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007.

Blount, Brian K. Then the Whisper Put on Flesh. Nashville TN: Abingdon Press, 2001.

Ehrman, Bart. The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.


Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be useful in our treatment of Paul to acknowledge first and foremost that he was a human being with needs, hangups, and the capacity to be mistaken. That sucks some of the certainty out the Epistles that so many Christians latch on to (present company innocent until proven guilty, of course) but perhaps that is a good thing, n'est-ce pas?

Cody said...

Thanks for the "AHA!" moment, Luke! The bit towards the end about the attitude Christianity in the first century makes complete sense. It would be interesting to think about Paul's theology and mysticism...

sally said...

FanTAStic! Now I really can't wait to take the class!!

Anonymous said...

I like Paul - I always have - he says some of the most monumental things in Christianity. Yeah, I have my beefs with his works at time (or the interpretations concerning him) - but they don't run toooo deep.

Anonymous said...

Which reminds me - we need to find a Paul for the canon at some point - maybe 2009 will provide that cue.