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Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul? – Blog Tour

2012 January 9

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!

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4 Responses leave one →
  1. January 10, 2012

    I haven’t read this book yet, but you make it look interesting and important. What books (and sections within broader books) I have read in recent years are no doubt from a less orthodox perspective, and I’ve found it all very fascinating. There is no question we have been largely “clueless” on Paul and his relationship to other early Christians or Jewish followers of Jesus in both traditional orthodoxy and outside it. That’s begun to change with insightful scholars of the last half-century or so.

    I don’t know where Kirk goes with this issue, but one thing which SHOULD simplify things on one level (though complicate them on another, for the orthodox) is to accept the nearly unanimous judgment of NT scholars that at least the Pastoral Epistles, and almost as certainly Ephesians, Colossians and 2 Thess. were NOT written by Paul.

  2. January 11, 2012

    I also look forward to reading this book. You certainly touch on points which I firmly believe: redemption of creation, our role in the transforming work of Christ, etc.

    I find it interesting that you are dissatisfied with what you have seen so far on the reclamation of the Pauline message. Have you read Keesmaat and Walsh’s “Colossians Remixed”? That book really helped me see the Paul of the gospel of Jesus beneath the layers of “repressive apostle” shellac.

    When certain Pauline instructions are read as covert writing, e.g. Colossians 3:22-25. The censors, reading quickly through the letter before allowing it to leave the prison, would have caught the high point: slaves, obey your masters, but missed the deeper point. Your true master is Jesus, not the human who thinks he owns you. The radical, escatological message would have gone right passed them: you slaves will receive an inheritance from your true master. In the Roman world slaves never received any part of the master’s inheritance! For Jesus to give slaves a part of the inheritance — read like a Jew: the creation is the inheritance! — was utterly subversive. For Paul to claim such a radical idea was to be a disturber of the good social order! When Colossians is read like this, in depth and in both historical/social and literary context, no one needs to figure out why Paul did not write the letter: hardly a unanimous view.

    When my A Year in the Bible class at the Rochester, MN federal prison got to the prison letters I asked them to look for covert writing.

    “What?” they asked.

    “Well, like the way you guys write.”

    They all looked at each other with a sheepish grin. Then I showed them Eph. 1:19-22 all about how God had raised up Christ to a place of authority high above all things and any name which could be named…

    I asked the class, “Can you think of any names which could be, would be, might be named? Like Caesar, maybe?”

    Then they smiled. They knew what they were looking for. The next week I sat and took notes on what they had found in Ehpesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. These men, all well-practiced at slipping messages between the lines, found a good twenty-five such covert messages. Some I was aware of already but many were new me and I had to check them against the Greek.

    Yes, you can see Paul’s subversive kerygma, even in English, if you know what to look for, if you think and write like one who would worry if the wrong people read what you were writing and clearly understood it. If the parable was Jesus’ main method of saying it but keeping it vague, covert writing was Paul’s means of doing the same thing. How different Paul reads when we enter his world and realize what he was up against until the day he was finally poured out, like a libation (II Tim. ), guilty as charged: he had promoted another king, a subversive ruler, vastly more powerful than any Caesar, from whom he would ALSO receive a stephanos (an Olympic victory crown as was worn by the Caesars and which only they could bestow on others!). Paul is shot through with this stuff. We truly do need to re-learn how to read Paul.

    Looking forward to reading your contribution to this larger discussion.

    Thanks as always for your good words.
    Trace

  3. January 11, 2012

    As Howard pointed out, Trace, looking at something like “Colossians Remixed” may be a bit less than helpful since Colossians isn’t Paul to begin with. In agreement with Howard, parsing down the Pauline works to the authentic epistles resolves at least a few significant problems (the majority of the misogyny, for one).

    The irony, with people of my generation and Paul, and I am as guilty of it as anyone, is this impulse to throw Paul out for a few views we see as primitive. As Pete Rollins points out, Kierkegaard didn’t want women to have the right to vote, and that seems to hardly bother anyone, especially Christians, from disregarding his entire corpus because of that. With Paul, however, his percieved bigotry cause many to forget the “one big thing” in his work, that we normally value philosophers for (we hardly think anyone is right about everything!)

    Furthermore, if we are a “postmodern” generation, it’s also a shame that we aren’t reading more “Post modern” philosophy, where philosophers are much more interested and in favor of Paul than Jesus! Zizek and Badiou both have done significant work in reclaiming Paul (I especially love Badiou’s “Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism”), Gianni Vattimo writes on Paul, and Pete Rollins will tell you how uninteresting and unoriginal Jesus is, but Paul is a totally different story!

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