In this quest to discover Paul, it’s worth assessing who I thought Paul was in the first place. That is, what picture of Paul did I carry whenever I approached any of his letters? Who did I think was writing them and how did that color my perception of Paul?
Towards answering that question, JR Daniel Kirk provides a pretty great list of caricatures that I’ll basically quote entirely (these are taken from the introduction of Kirk’s Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul?):
- Paul the angry Reformed theologian, who delights in the God who takes pleasure in sending huge numbers of people to hell
- Paul the promoter of internalized Christianity, who leaves saved individuals with little motivation for faithful work or life in community
- Paul the Neoplatonist, who despises embodied life and the good things of the earth
- Paul the exclusivist, who undermines Jesus’s missional ministry of indiscriminate embrace
- Paul the oppressor, who lends his apostolic credentials to narratives of enslavement and domination
- Paul the judge, whose whole life is lived in contradiction to Jesus’s admonition against judging articulated in the Sermon on the Mount
- Paul the chauvinist, who doesn’t want anything to do with women–especially not in the ministry of the church and, preferably, not in sexual relationships either
- Paul the imposer of order, who effectively squelched the Spirit-led worship and life that had characterized Jesus’s first followers
Sound familiar? I found myself nodding my head at more than a few of these portraits. It’s no wonder nobody likes Paul! Yet all of these, writes Kirk, are distortions, which he assures us do not accurately reflect the real apostle.
What about you? Who is your Paul? And would you like to find a Paul who looks a little more like Jesus? That’s what I’m looking for too.