Paul & Neo-Calvinism

Paul is one of the most familiar characters from the pages of the New Testament. Indeed, many Christians tend to read Scripture through a Pauline lens.

It’s easy to make him one of “us,” whatever group it is that is “us.” We all tend to shape Paul according to our own image and then read the rest of the Bible and speak of Christian faith from that perspective.

The Apostle Paul

For this reason, Paul is at the center of many controversies. Martin Marty hits this note in a recent column. He indicates that the Apostle has become a champion of the recent resurgence of a sort of Calvinism among evangelicals.

In looking to Paul as a main resource, this movement is certainly like many others that imagine that if Paul were to show up in our day, he’d encounter them and say, “finally, some Christians who are doing it right!”

I’ve always been amazed how revivalists can see Paul as the ultimate evangelist, theological pugilists see him as the exemplary contender for the faith, and para-church organizational leaders see him as the paradigmatic Christian executive.

I’ve written elsewhere on how we easily make Paul in our own image, and how he was different from most of our modern expectations.

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4 responses to “Paul & Neo-Calvinism

  • Tim Cole

    Herr Professor: Thanks for continuing to post in the midst of a rigorous schedule of teaching at the graduate level; I’m sure it is a challenge.

    I’ve had to wrestle with the so-called New Perspective on Paul in Ph.D. seminars some years ago; without commenting on the particulars, anyone wishing to hear both sides should read the two volume Justification and Variegated Nomism; especially pertinent is the exegesis of the relevant Galatian texts in the 2nd volume by Moises Silva re what constitutes ‘the works of the law”.

    But there is another issue that must be raised when discussing Paul and his relationships to believers. This issue has jumped to the forefront of my attention while working on a 2nd dissertation: He is only NT writer that urges followers of Jesus to imitate his life and faith. In 8 epistles and Acts, Paul claims that his life is the pattern that we should follow because his life and faith are patterned after Jesus. Not Peter, not John, not any of the original 12; only Paul and he urges it explicitly over and over again. He uses words like “example, copy, imitation, prototype.” Hmmmm.

    It’s no wonder that Luke uses Paul’s life–not Peter’s or John’s or James–as the mirror image of Jesus in Acts. As Windisch writes in Paulus und Christus, Paul is a ‘little Christ’, a carbon-copy of Jesus; his life is a re-enactment of Jesus’ life, from birth to the cross to the tomb to the ascension. The book of Acts from chapter 9 to 28 is a duplicate of Luke 2-24.

    Worth considering when evaluating Paul, to my mind. “Where have you gone (Joe DiMaggio) Paul?”

  • Andrew

    This whole idea exposes how lacking modern theological education is in rhetoric and logic, yet rich in polemic and fallacy.

    Calvin could have been Pauline, but Paul could not have been a Calvinist. Similarly Calvin was a Systemic Theologian, so his Institutes as a framework for understanding the bible, are ‘making thinking’ and extraneous to the bible. Paul was not a system Theologian (though some argue he was when they argue he ‘invented Christianity’) yet if you look at the bulk of his work it appears nothing less than an exegesis of old covenant scripture.

    There is a difference between simply explaining what a text says and extrapolating additional doctrine from it; in the former case one is an exegete, and in the latter an eisegete.

    Speaking of ‘Calvinism’ however, I once offended a pastor who asked me if I was Calvinist, by answering “I wasn’t for the simple reason Jesus wasn’t.

  • Daniel B

    I think you mean Neo-Reformed, not Neo-Calvinism. I believe there is a difference. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neo-Calvinism

    • timgombis

      You’re totally right, Daniel. The movement is being called “Neo-Calvinism,” though it’s neither that nor “Neo-Reformed.” It’s something more like “Evangelical TULIP-ian Neo-Fundamentalism.” Martin Marty certainly knows whereof he speaks, but the descriptive terminology doesn’t do justice to this movement nor others.

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