My article on Paul in Christianity Today is now online.
I have heard evangelists talk about how Paul was the ultimate evangelist. Today’s doctrinal watchdogs portray Paul as one willing to drop the gloves over doctrinal minutiae. And popular preachers talk about Paul’s powerful proclamation. He’s become all things to all people in ways he never imagined or intended.
My target in the piece is our tendency to have Paul bear our hopes, dreams, and aspirations. Hope you enjoy it!
5 thoughts on “The Paul We Think We Know”
Great work! I’ve already shared this helpful resource with a few of my friends.
I don’t know if you take “requests” or not, but I’d love to hear your perspective on the New Calvinist movement, particularly why so many of them dislike the “pastoral implications” of the New Perspective readings of Paul. That was a concern among many people at Cedarville as you well know, and I guess I’m wondering your take on their reasons for thinking that.
Hope the move has gone well!
Thanks, David! What do you mean by the pastoral implications? In my mind, the pastoral implications are that pastors must do the sorts of things that Paul was doing — fostering unity in their church communities rather than haranguing their congregations about having the right formulae in their minds. Is that what you had in mind?
Well, I’ve heard it said that many neo-Calvinists think that the New Perspective readings of Paul do not rightly emphasize justification by faith enough to do away with the sinner’s inner guilt. For the neo-Calvinists, this reality has disastrous pastoral implications because people do not know where they stand before God and then fall into anxiety. Is that an accurate representation of that position? That’s what I’m getting at.
Got it, David.
It seems to me that the discomfort of such folks is caused by returning justification by faith to its biblical context(s). They had become comfortable with turning it into a de-contextualized doctrine and then using the doctrine for the purposes of salving the consciences of individuals, pacifying fears regarding individuals’ standing before God.
Now, I won’t deny that this is a legitimate thing to do. If we can assure hearts that we are loved by God, that is good!
This is not, however, Paul’s use of justification by faith. He is not confronting the thought that anyone has to earn salvation before God. He is confronting the notion that certain people have an inside track with God–those who ethnically Jewish. He marshals justification by faith in order to combat this notion. God shows no partiality and everyone is justified by their faith in Christ.
I guess I’d say to my neo-Calvinist friends that they ought to grow in an appreciation for the robust character of the gospel. It does indeed pacify our fears regarding our standing before God. But the gospel confronts a range of other human problems. In Paul’s case, he confronts ecclesial division with the gospel. He does not see church unity as a “by-product” or “implication” of the gospel. It is at the very core of the gospel. Construing the gospel as relevant to the individual and community matters as secondary is a distortion of Paul. I do realize we’ve grown comfortable with this vision of Paul, but that’s neither here nor there. Perhaps this is one way in which a neo-Calvinist vision has become far too anthropo-centric. Barth certainly seemed to think so.
Further, I’d say that emphasizing the “neo-Calvinist pastoral implications” has created some problems. Over-emphasizing assurance has prevented some people from really examining their lives the way they ought to. Paul seemed to think that some people need to really evaluate whether or not they are in the faith. Doubt isn’t always a bad thing!
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