An Entirely New Way

In an extended section of Paul and the Faithfulness of God, N. T. Wright takes pains to draw out the significance of “religion” in the first century. It wasn’t a separate sphere of life, but pervaded everything, down to the details of day-to-day existence.

Because of the integral connection between “the gods” and the complex fabric of daily life, Paul’s proclamation of an alternative Lord and an alternative way of life was rightly understood as totalizing, subversive, and revolutionary.

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Wright sums it up this way: 

When Paul arrived in Ephesus, Philippi or anywhere else with his message about the one God and his crucified and risen son, he was not offering an alternative way of being ‘religious’ in the sense of a private hobby, something to do in a few hours at the weekend. He was offering a heart transplant for an entire community and its culture. If ‘the centrality of Artemis was part of what it meant to be an Ephesian,’ it is not surprising that Paul’s ministry there caused a riot (p. 255).

2 thoughts on “An Entirely New Way

  1. imaginewithscripture

    Thank you for this quote, Tim. It seems to me that Paul did not offer an alternative “private religion,” but envisions an alternative life-giving and missional community. There are so many implications to Christians today. Yes, we should rejoice in God’s grace and many blessings in the churches in the West, but there are many challenges as well. On the one hand, we need to re-think whether the outworking of our faith in the West is more influenced by the popular culture than we admit, and hence we fail to be the community that Paul envisions. On the other hand, do we export a “private religion” in our cross-cultural mission, one that is dramatically different from what Paul had in mind? In other words, are we creating communities of Christ-followers that transform lives and engender the flourishing of human beings? Or are we preaching a privatised religion that fosters individualism and a dualistic worldview that separates faith and the wellbeing of our neighbours?

    1. timgombis

      That’s the exact question churches must face. There’s a broad, macro-level syncretism that has taken place, morphing the Christian way into something ‘religious’ and privatized in the worst sense, rather than something holistic, communal, corporate, representing an altered and transformed cosmic reality.

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