In this month’s Christianity Today, Tim Gombis has a fantastic article orienting us afresh to the apostle Paul. He calls our attention to several ways in which contemporary evangelicals need to keep having our reading of scripture recalibrated.
First, he challenges the common perception that at his conversion Paul left behind a legalistic Judaism in favor of a salvation-by-grace Christianity. This is a nice, short summary introduction to the New Perspective: Paul’s problem with Judaism wasn’t legalism, but ethnocentrism. But Paul himself remained a Jew and never called other Jews to leave their Judaism behind.
He then makes a point of showing that Paul’s message was as communal as Jesus’ own proclamation of the Kingdom of God. I agree with the point generally, though I might want to work it out a bit differently. Is Acts’ summary of Paul’s preaching as “kingdom of God” historically accurate? Perhaps, but I’m not entirely sure. I am sure, however, that the call to see our Christian identity as inherently communal is spot on, and timely.
The third point is one I would like to see him camp out more on (and maybe you can do it in the comments, Tim, if you’re reading!). He says that Paul shatters our expectations of a powerful, attractive leader. I agree.
So, what does this last point have to do with how we do (and should or shouldn’t) conceptualize leadership in the church today? Is there something normative in Paul’s self deprecation?
It’s a great, short article with lots of potential for stirring up further questions.
One thing that I didn’t see so much there was whether there might be something that holds all of these things together. If evangelicals have tended to misconstrue these various parts of Paul’s life and teaching, is it because these are small indicators of a larger problem of reading Paul aright?
My own perspective on that question is that several of these issues come into sharper focus when we recognize that the Christ event, as Jesus’ death and resurrection, is what we are joined to when we are joined to the body of Christ, by the Spirit, and thereby enter the people of God.
The question of law versus union with Christ provides a better in to Paul than legalism versus grace [full stop]. The reality of union with Christ means being part of the body, which is inherently communal–salvation is in Christ, where all the other saints are. Life in Christ is an enactment of the story of the crucified Christ–so leadership is not about slick talk, beautiful appearance, and obtaining power, but about embodying the folly of the cross.
If you can’t get enough Gombis on Paul, I commend to you Paul: A Guide for the Perplexed and The Drama of Ephesians: Participating in the Triumph of God.