Saturday, January 26, 2013

Book Review: Paul, Apostle of Weakness

There is hardly a more cutting indictment of a man than to say he is weak. Being weak in our culture implies someone who cannot function as a man is supposed to function and likewise suggests an infirmity or femininity on his part. So for many men, especially Western men, the idea of weakness is abhorrent. How much more so when you are told that weakness is actually a source of strength? This apparent clash between the culture of our day and the Scriptures is one of the most perplexing for many people. In reaction we sometimes see one of two extremes, either an feminized church culture that is all kleenex and doilies and lillies or an overly masculinized church culture of belching, monster trucks and mixed martial arts. Neither captures what the Bible is talking about when speaking of weakness.

It is only when we study what the Bible, in particular the apostle Paul, has to say about weakness that we discover what it means to the follower of Christ. Into this study comes the revised edition of Dr. David Alan Black's work Paul, Apostle of Weakness. This is an important entry into the study of Paul's writing on a critical topic for conversation in the church.

A word of warning at the outset. This is not an easy book to read. Unlike many of Dr. Black's other, more accessible books aimed at a broader audience like The Jesus Paradigm, Paul, Apostle of Weakness (PAoW for short) is a meatier book studying a very specific concept and a particular word. As such it often had me bogged down as someone without formal training in the original languages. I would not hesitate to say that the casual reader would have a very difficult time reading PAoW. I know that in many places I did! That is not meant to scare you off, just give you a realistic view.

Dr. Black explores the use of the word astheneia in Paul's writings. We often run into the idea of "weakness" in the New Testament but likewise we often see it as part of a broader topic. What Dr. Black does is to pull together each of the different uses of astheneia and show the overarching themes that Paul is drawing from. The passages are familiar but when pulled together in this way they take on a new life and we see that weakness was not a passing complaint from Paul but a central reality of his daily living.

Perhaps the best part of the book is the concluding chapter where Dr. Black draws together everything he has written into a summary. I found it very helpful in making a broad application of how weakness plays into our understanding of the human condition, the preeminence of God's power and the often frustrating inter-relationships in the church. I have more thoughts on that topic, you can be certain!

All in all, a very challenging book both because of the counter-cultural nature of the topic as well as the more complex than average writing level but it is also a worthwhile use of your time. Weakness as a submission to God is not being a weakling but rather a discovery of the source of our truest strength, reliance on God who is all sufficient. Check out Paul, Apostle of Weakness to aid your study of this never ending fountain of true strength!


Anonymous said...

Arthur. I am so glad to hear there were parts you struggled with. I to am finding it meaty and struggle to keep up.

Your post has encouraged me to keep plugging away at it.

Arthur Sido said...

It is worth it, I will admit to sort of skimming some sections that were over my head. Don't tell Dr. Black!