Final Thoughts On Paul

OK, as I said in my Monday post, at this point, I’m sick of just spewing back content I’ve read to you the reader. The book itself is really good, and there’s no reason you can’t support the author and go buy it, but let me just go ahead and give you an overview of Wright’s goals, whether or not he achieved them, and whether or not I agree.

I’ve already given you an outline of the book here, so let me just jump right in. From what I can tell, and I’m sure I’ve stated this as well, NT Wright’s aim with PiFP (and previous publications such as What Saint Paul Really Said) has been to put Paul in proper context with his writing and reclaim his teachings to their true meaning in Second Temple Judaism, just as the rest of the New Testament should be. Understanding that context gives new meaning to how we understand Scripture and often challenges current understandings and interpretations.  However, Wright’s goal isn’t to be controversial and obnoxious.  He obviously understands that by allying himself to some extent with the New Perspective on Paul means being challenged by more traditional thinkers, but he makes it clear that is mission is more to provide a fresh understanding while remaining orthodox.

One of the things that made me think a lot was chapter four, which talked about the language regarding God and the Empire.  Not to get all political on everyone, but something has always bothered me about how Christians relate to government. Some seem to be OK with what seems like an unholy matrimony, some engaging in full tilt rebellion with the government.   Paul, in my opinion, sets a good example for how government and church should exist.  He openly acknowledges that governments are appointed by God(and uses his Roman citizenship as he needs to throughout Acts), yet almost gleefully proclaims that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not, preaching Jesus right in Caesar’s face all the time and being blatantly subversive.  I guess this means that, while we must pay our taxes, and use of our government rights isn’t wrong (Paul even knew Christians in public office), Jesus will always, always be the authority over man, and proclaiming this will very, very much anger the powers that be (though, as Ephesians tells us, our fight is not with the human beings but the powers of our dark world).  I would love to go into how Jesus (and Paul) acted in response to government, but that would be another post in and over itself.

One more thing: the end of the book featured an interesting overarching statement regarding Paul’s view of the self, summed up like this: Amor, ergo sum. Playing off Descartes Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am), because of Paul’s placement of Jesus as the Messiah, and our status as a new creation through belief in Him, Wright claims that Paul would have preferred to have said “I am loved, therefore I am.” Therein is the heart of the gospel: love.  God has triumphed over death and sin and set things to right through His Son, Jesus the Christ, because of His love for us.  It is love that created this world, and love that recreates it and rights all the wrongs.  We are reconstructed, reborn, through this love.  Amazing stuff.

I don’t know if I ever said it previously, but the purpose of my reading this book was to find out why John Piper got all excited about it, enough to write an entire response of it.  In reading this, I think Wright accomplished his objective to prove Paul’s proper context in First Century Judaism, and I agree with the need to do so.  Now, it’s on to Piper’s book to find out what all the fuss is about.  I don’t have a physical copy of it, but, fortunately for me, Piper put a whole bunch of his books online for free (respect, Mr. Piper. Respect).

Until Tuesday, folks!

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3 thoughts on “Final Thoughts On Paul

  1. Isn’t Ephesians referring to rulers, powers, and authorities of this darkened world? Fighting against the powers reflects a different perspective than is heard in Pentecostal circles – instead of a demon behind some certain person, the structures of calcified evil are recognized as influenced by the observer as subject to the prince of the air. When looking at Christianity and politics, I feel such a view brings to the fore the struggle between the kingdom that is now but is not yet. As the church becomes powerful, it too often is shown subject to the powers as the writer of Ephesians might have anticipated.

    Piper? Don’t waste your eyes.

  2. Already started on the intro to the Piper book; already not too pleased. Probably comes as no surprise.

    Good points on Ephesians, too. I think Paul did anticipate the church growing subject to the powers that be, which is why he didn’t encourage political revolution. Still, there’s something delightfully defiant about how Paul stands in reference to Rome. He knows what they’re good for, and uses them for just that, but he’s not going to go overthrowing them, either, because such an action would, as you say, place the church as the power of the dark world as opposed to Christ.

    It almost makes me think that the worst thing that could have happened to the church was to make it legal. People held themselves to God’s word before then, and those churches which are illegal spread the Gospel that much better, ironically.

  3. I rather agree with you here – my own readings brought me across Romans 13 (and as I think that Ephesians is Pauline but not Paul, I’d tend to lean more on this as his political philosophy) – where the state is God’s tool (i.e. the state is subject to the powers and the powers are subject to God). Certainly Paul made use of the state when it fit his purpose but boldly and loudly held to his views.

    Historically I think the church has flourished whenever it wasn’t in power. Whenever power is available in the form of status, it tempts the will to bow to another ruler.

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