Monday, March 11, 2013

Write Like Paul Wrote!

You cannot overemphasize the importance of Paul for the New Covenant church. A central figure in the book of Acts and the human author of so many of the New Testament books, Paul uniquely takes the lessons from the Gospels, especially the cross and the resurrection, and puts them into both theological and practical applications for us. Without Romans, Galatians and Ephesians our understanding of soteriology would be incomplete. Without 1 and 2 Corinthians, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus our understanding of the church would be sorely lacking (in fact it still is in spite of having his letters!)

I think we tend to think of Paul as this towering intellectual, an academic, the ultimate "pastor-theologian", especially in some of the more academic minded  traditions in the church like the Reformed camp. The idea of the "pastor-theologian", the pastor as scholar notion, has a strong pull in much of the church where pastors are expected to emulate Paul and his academic offspring in men like Calvin, Luther, Jonathan Edwards and others. I often had in mind the image of Paul as he appears in this painting, poring over books and scrolls, wrestling with the text and in turn being an endless fountain of deep theological teaching. Surely men who want to emulate Paul, a noble aspiration, would need to devote themselves to studying and thinking and writing! Right? Maybe not. Check this out from Dave Black yesterday...

As a general rule, Paul's epistles were written when he was actively engaged in missionary work, moving from place to place in the midst of intense preaching and teaching. I wonder: Would he have written better -- or written more -- had he been, like many a New Testament scholar today, sedentary? Would he indeed have written anything at all had he not been, at heart, a missionary for Jesus? Would we have the great Love Chapter had he not missionized the Corinthians? Would we have the marvelous Pastoral Epistles had he not planted churches in Ephesus and Crete? Here's what I'm saying: For Paul, as for Jesus (Matt. 9:35-38), Christianity was a way of life, not merely a way of thinking or cogitating in the abstract. The experience of actually serving Christ was central in Paul's ministry and writing. 

 So I ask: Can one be a true student of the apostle Paul and not be a missionary?

Interesting question. Paul wrote his letters under great duress at times, certainly not on a paid scholarly sabbatical. He didn't spend his day in his study, he was out preaching, working with his own two hands. He was often in danger from the enemies of the Gospel, beaten and imprisoned. He worked with his own hands to earn a living and was often on the move as the maps of his missionary journeys in the back of your Bible will attest. He was far from sedentary but we expect the great minds of our time to be just that, academics locked away in their study or attending conferences with other academics. I wonder what writing in the church would look like if the people who did most of the writing were also the most engaged in mission? I doubt the books would be quite as thick or  heady but I think the writing would be more useful to the church rather than just something interesting to chat about in academic circles.

I am all for study and pondering and debating over theology but I fear that too many of our greatest minds are mostly engaged in discussions among themselves, discussions that are inaccessible and incomprehensible to the rest of the church. I would love to see more of the great minds setting aside their offices stuffed with books, ditching their suit and tie and getting out in the mission field where the Gospel is lived out.I find myself more interested today in the simple writings of men and women on mission than on the highbrow academic works. There are lots of very persuasive, eloquent writers who write absolute nonsense but do so convincingly. I am less interested in how well someone writes than I am with how well someone lives.

If you want to emulate Paul, live like Paul. Get a job. Get out in the field. Live among the church. That is how Paul did it and he is the greatest theologian the church has ever produced. Paul's writings were formed by his missionary experience and zeal, his thoughts were forged in the fires of persecution and hardship. We need to hear more from those who live like Paul because they have so much to teach the rest of us who will never be asked to present a paper at a theology conference.


Unknown said...

Pastor need to teach and model the gospel rubbing shoulders with their flock not peering down from the holy mountain called a pulpit and segregated by a communion rail..

Aussie John said...


Hear! Hear!