Paul In Fresh Perspective: Initial Thoughts

I made it through my first read of Paul in Fresh Perspective! Finally!  It took me a week and a half, but I did it!  Oh, I wish I had time to sit around and just read, but I always manage to find other things with which to occupy reading time (like Nintendo). Though I love Nintendo, I really should work on cutting back…but that’s not the point.  Let’s talk about Paul!

Since I pigeonholed this book a few posts back, let’s get right to the next part of analytic reading: x-raying the book, or looking at its structure. This one’s pretty easy, since Wright tends to lay things out very clearly in his table of contents, so I could have done this awhile ago, but I got busy reading it instead.

Wright lays out his book into two parts, each revolving around Paul’s writings in the New Testament: Themes, which discusses predominately what drives Paul’s writings, and structures, or how Paul sets up his arguments and subsequently shows how Christians and the church should behave and why.  Let’s take a look at what NT Wright considers to be the core themes of Paul’s writings:

  1. The three worlds of Paul: those being Judaism, Greek Culture and the Roman Empire, all of which play a significant role in Paul’s writings.
  2. Creation and Covenant.  According to Wright, Paul draws everything back to Judaism (and, if you read the Bible, this is very, very obvious) and the Jewish narrative of God’s creation, man’s fall and the curse that falls upon creation, and God’s covenant to restore it and mend it.  All of this, for Paul, culminates in Jesus the Christ.
  3. Messiah and Apocalyptic. For Paul, Jesus is the Messiah, the Servant of God come to redeem the entirety of creation.  Without this, Paul’s writings mean nothing.  This is doubly true for what is the future revealing of Jesus’ divine presence in all creation, or the Apocalypse.  I’ll talk more about what apocalypse means to Paul in future posts, but I can promise you now it does NOT mean what you think it means.
  4. Gospel and Empire.  To say that Jesus was Lord in Paul’s time was to say that Caesar was not, and this had some very, very dangerous risks that came with it.  Still, Paul carried the banner of the Lamb wherever he went, regardless of the risk he took to do so.

OK, here’s where Paul gives us structure for how we understand God and Christian living…

  1. Rethinking God.  Paul came from a Jewish,  monotheistic (one God) school of thought, but that came to whole new meanings with Jesus as the Son of God and the introduction of God’s spirit to His elect.
  2. Reworking God’s People.  The Jews identified themselves as God’s chosen people. Now, under Jesus as Messiah, it was no longer just about being Jewish, but about justification by faith and the faithfulness of God to His creation.  To Paul, the idea of being God’s elect looks a lot different now through the lens of Jesus and the Spirit of God.
  3. Reimagining God’s Future.  Now that the world has been redeemed through Jesus, this changes the direction of everything for all Creation, through Jesus and the Spirit, and where we all end up isn’t where we expect to, necessarily.
  4. Jesus, Paul, and the Task of the Church.  What does it look like to follow Jesus, and how should Christians act individually and in community?

Literally, that’s the full layout of this book.  I don’t want to just give it all away, or just have you take my interpretation of it, so I’m going to try to keep details to a minimum in future posts, but I”m also going to try to invoke new thoughts in you that get you curious about how we read Paul and whether or not NT Wright is onto something.  Let the active reading begin!

Sidenote: I’ll speak up more about Green Metropolis and On the Campaign Trail when I’ve had a chance to read them more. For now, Paul is my focus.

One more thing: apparently, 2012 is the year in which Volume IV of Wright’s Christian Origins and the Question of God comes out, and it is going to be called Paul and the Faithfulness of God! Depending when this comes out, I WILL be purchasing it regardless of the rules I’ve set forth for myself.  I can’t NOT purchase it; this is the book that finally will allow Wright to do justice to everything Paul wrote, and I cannot wait to read it!


6 thoughts on “Paul In Fresh Perspective: Initial Thoughts

  1. I look forward to hearing you rant a ton about this. I equally look forward to destroying you in MarioKart upon our next meeting. I triply look forward to drinking some fine Victory Storm King Stout with you upon our next meeting.


  2. Sound like an interesting read Pat. It was cool to be reminded that, in Paul’s day, the coming of Christ changed the direction of human history. Correct me if i am wrong but most of Paul’s contemporary Jews would have more or less been what we would call a “postmillenialist(spelling might be bad)” and would just be waiting for the consummation of history after things really deteriorated. Christ redeeming humanity changes the game a lot. I might just have to pick this up when the end of the semester allows me to.

  3. These summaries should prove interesting. I find it fascinating how heavily modern Christian theology rests on the interpretations of this one random guy. Had he not come along, a very different theology might certainly have developed. One might say that “Christianity” is a misnomer, or at the very least, an abbreviation: “Pauline Christianity” would be a better term to sum up most theological positions held by Protestants, Catholic, and Orthodox alike (the alternative name, Paulism, being rather unpopular). Something to think about…

    • I think Paul plays a super major role, sure, but to say it rests heavily on one guy may not be quite so accurate. For example: Paul didn’t write a Gospel (or, if he did, we don’t use it in canon) and some of the things Jesus talks about in the Gospels are actually different subjects than what Paul covers (e.g. justification by faith is something Jesus never talks about; Paul rarely, if at all, talks about the kingdom of God). We can’t forget also that men like Peter, James, the author of Hebrews and John were also very instrumental in the forming of Christian theology as well. Is Paul the predominant writer here? Absolutely, but I think to call our Christianity “Pauline” (as some have) would write off a lot of other theologians who probably helped Paul understand Christ all the more.

  4. Pingback: Final Thoughts On Paul | Reading To Live

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