Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Can I Learn To Love (Or At Least Like) St. Paul?

I am not a fan of the Apostle Paul.  If you know me at all, this is not suprising news.  The ways in which Paul's writings have been used (some would say-and I might agree-misused) to attack women, gays, inter-racial marriage and the disenfranchized has turned my stomach on more than one occasion.  I remember listening to a woman minister of color talking about how her grandmother (who had been a slave) would not let her read to her from Paul because those were the scriptures 'that the white man preached to us every Sunday.'  Using scripture to enforce oppression runs against everything that I believe about the work of God in the world.  The bitter taste Paul's writing left in my mouth that was just too much.

But recently I met someone who has challenged me to take a second look at Paul and turned me on to some scholarship that may be (and I stress may be) changing the way that I think and feel about his writing.  Dr. Carla Works teaches New Testament at Wesley Theological Seminary in D.C.  She and her husband are fast becoming friends of Carole and me; and she introduced me to two theologians with very interesting perspectives on Paul and his writing: Sarah Ruden's Paul Among the People (given to me as a gift) and Our Mother Saint Paul by Beverly Roberts Gaventa.  Reading these two books made me blink a couple of times and think, "maybe I need to take another look at Paul."

So I've jumped into the deep end.  Since reading these two I have begun reading N.T. Wright's huge tome Paul and the Faithfulness of God (it's going to take me a while, and I'll do it in bite sized chunks over time) and ordered James D. G. Dunn's The Theology of Paul the Apostle.  I am going to continue to ask Professor Works to aim new readings at me; and if you have other recommendations to add to the mix, please jump in.

Here's my plan.  I am going to spend much of 2014 focusing on coming to understand Paul as best I am able; particularly understanding him from the social and historical perspective from which he was writing.  This, in my mind, is a primary protection against imposing my historical context on the original writing instead of letting the intended meaning speak to me where I am.  I will continue-it would be impossible not to-to bring the problems that I have had in the past to this study.  I will continue to measure everything I read against the understanding I have of the teaching and life of Jesus....the standard against which I  believe everything must be measured.

When all is said and done I may still have difficulties with Paul....and frankly I would be suprised if I didn't have some continued issues.  But it seems to me that as a Baptist who believes in the Priesthood of All Believers, I have a responsibility to seriously study scripture as I come to those conclusions.  These fresh (or fairly new) pieces of scholarship call for me to take this new look and make an intelligent, prayerful response.

So what does this really say besides that I'm a "theo-geek"?  It is an invitation for you to join me in the following weeks on this journey.  I'll be responding here to a lot of what I read; and it will, of course, impact my preaching.  I hope that you'll jump into the discussion and help me as I grow in my own understanding of what Paul might actually have to say to us now in 2014.  I'll try not to go all theo-geek and maybe we can have a good time together.

Happy New Year and Shalom,
Stephen