Q & R: Isn't Paul the Problem?
Here's the Q:
Fantastic book and I almost feel “great, I’m not alone!” when reading it, but to my mind you’re stopping short of what we need. You do a masterful job of trying to continue the Genesis-Exodus-and-forwards narrative into the epistles, but the fact is that they were written by someone who believed that Jesus was coming back in his lifetime (i.e., his framework was wrong) and who did focus a great deal more on justification by faith than on the kingdom (and insisted on dogmatic correctness, something Jesus never even alluded to). The problem with “road to Damascus” epiphanies is that they don’t necessarily give the ‘convert’ time to really sort their through [stuff]; I think Paul needed to get himself into some 12-Step recovery program before becoming a leader of something else (and in that he would have learnt how God-focused fellowship actually can flourish without leaders, rather than become the role model for the evangelical obsession with leadership as foundation stone of mission).
To really embrace a new Christianity which takes us back to the essence of Jesus’ life, ministry and mission, don’t we need to have a Bible that stops at the end of John’s gospel? Why did anyone feel the need to add anything after God had come among us and spoken Himself? The epistles (and the bizarre hallucinations of Revelation) made it into a religion, and the seeds for all the disasters that followed were thus sown.
I would be profoundly grateful for your insights, if and when you could share them.
Here's the R:
Thanks for your question. A lot of people feel as you do - they love Jesus but feel Paul messed things up. I don't see it that way.
I think the problem isn't Paul but rather the conventional interpretations of Paul - along with faulty approaches to the Bible in general.
I think it's not Paul's fault - but our own - that we have tended to read Jesus in light of a bad interpretation of Paul. It's our responsibility to understand Jesus on his own terms, and then to forge a better interpretation of Paul in light of Jesus.
I tried to deal with this in some detail in A New Kind of Christianity.
If you were to take chapters where I engage with Paul's writings from my books since Secret Message of Jesus, I think you'll see a different way of reading Paul - where he doesn't subvert the teaching and way of Jesus, but is learning - as a human being like the rest of us - to live in that way. Another resource on the subject would be Sylvia Keesmaat and Brian Walsh's excellent book, Colossians Remixed. I also find Michael Gorman's reading of Paul to be extremely helpful. Hope that helps!