Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul? – Blog Tour
So I’m honored to be part of the blog tour for Daniel Kirk’s latest book Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul? The premise of the book intrigued me – for those of us in the postmodern era who admittedly have issues with Paul (as he’s been presented to us at least), the book explores if we have any other options than to just deal with that unease or abandon Paul altogether. It’s a question I wrestle with and so far have been dissatisfied with the ways I’ve seen it answered. So I was grateful to be sent this book and given the opportunity to interact with it. I’m officially blogging on Chapter 6 – “Women in the story of God” for the blog tour (look for that next Monday), but there were a few ideas that I wanted to bring up about it at the start of the online discussion.
I’m a fan of Daniel Kirk’s writing. After meeting him at the 2009 Emergent Theological Conversation, I’ve enjoyed following him online. He is one of the few academics that Tweets about all aspects of life – from theological questions to what he’s making his family for breakfast. As a good postmodern who values authenticity, that’s something I admire. I like the questions he asks and his way of presenting possible answers. I don’t always agree with him, but I always respect how he engages in the conversation – which also sums up my reaction to his book. There are places in the book where I have quibbles (and a few outright objections), but on the whole I appreciate his overall vision that Paul is presenting a narrative theology of how the identity of the people of God gets formed which very much holds together with both the story of Israel and Jesus’ teachings.
Growing up as an evangelical, I received heavy doses of Paul (and little of Jesus), but the Paul I received was a Paul who was both quick to criticize and dismiss his Jewish roots and offer the hope of escaping this world soon by shuffling off the despised mortal flesh. But once I started paying attention to the Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus, this Paul no longer made sense. I was one of those that the book suggests needs “a healthy deconstruction of their understanding of Paul” (5). And this book does that and does it well. In rescuing Paul from his forced isolation by demonstrating how he contributes to the ongoing narrative of God working to redeem the world, it transforms the often uncomfortable dogmatic statements and rules into vital (albeit often contextual) parts of that story.
What I appreciated most was how Kirk interpreted Paul’s writings on the hope of the resurrection. He straightforwardly demonstrates that this hope has nothing to do with escape from or rejection of creation, but instead is all about living into the new creation. This hope means that the kingdom of God is now and that Jesus is reigning over it putting it in order. As Kirk writes, what this means is that “The kingdom of God is at hand in the undoing of all the sin and death and brokenness and disorder that mar the very good world of God” (39). The advice that Paul gives in his letters is not about perfecting oneself so that one day one might be worthy of heaven, but practical advice for how the community of God lives in the kingdom here and now as part of God’s work restoring creation.
I appreciate this eschatological interpretation of Paul’s narrative theology that values the present as much as it does the future. It is hard to love the world enough to desire its transformation (as Jesus and the Old Testament prophets did) if one simply desires to escape it someday. But as the book argues, Paul is presenting a vision for how people continue in the way of Jesus and live transformativly in the present. And this is possible because “new creation is not simply something that we look forward to; it is something in which we already participate. The culmination of the story is exerting a sort of backward force, such that the future, by power of the life-giving Spirit, is intruding on the present and transforming it” (47). As one who has had Paul imposed on me as apology for why I shouldn’t care about seeking justice in the world, this rescuing of Paul from his escapist captivity is refreshing. For those who have been uneasy with the Paul they were taught (who seemed to have little to do with the Jesus they love) and who respect the Bible too much to simply reject Paul’s writing, this returning of Paul to the larger narrative context of scripture is a blessing making the book well worth the read. I will be engaging specifically the books’ perspective on Paul’s writings on women next week where I will address a few of my minor concerns with the book, but I wanted to highlight here the book’s exceedingly helpful presentation of Paul in light of the rest of scripture. I encourage readers to follow the blog tour and engage in the conversation as it unfolds.
Be sure to stop by the Blog Tour Hub for a chance to win a free copy of the book!