For heaven’s sake, this is a great new book!
In the definitive Paul: A Biography (HarperOne, $29.99)renowned Bible scholar, Anglican bishop and bestselling author N. T. Wright offers a radical look at the apostle Paul, one of the most important figures in Christianity. The book illuminates the humanity and remarkable achievements of this outstanding intellectual who largely invented Christian theology—transforming a faith and changing the world.
For centuries, Paul, the apostle who “saw the light on the Road to Damascus” and was transformed from zealous Pharisee persecutor to devoted follower of Christ, has been one of the church’s most widely cited teachers, Paul is responsible for the earliest writings from within the Christian movement. While his influence on Christianity has been profound, Wright argues that Bible scholars and pastors have focused so much attention on Paul’s letters and theology that they have too often overlooked the essence of the man’s life and the extreme unlikelihood of what he achieved.
To Wright, “The problem is that Paul is central to any understanding of earliest Christianity, yet Paul was a Jew; for many generations Christians of all kinds have struggled to put this together.” Wright contends that our knowledge of Paul and appreciation for his legacy cannot be complete without an understanding of his Jewish heritage. Giving us a thoughtful, in-depth exploration of the human and intellectual drama that shaped Paul, Wright provides greater clarity on the apostle’s writings, thoughts, and ideas and helps us see them in a fresh, innovative way.
In Paul, Wright reveals:
- Why we think of Paul as a “religious” figure, but this is a modern mistake. Of course, worship, prayer, and spirituality were central to his life, but he was a public intellectual with an agenda to transform the world and a philosophy to back it up.
- Paul was thus a figure much more like Rousseau, or Marx, or Vaclav Havel, than Billy Graham. He had glimpsed in Jesus a new way of being human together, and he worked tirelessly to make it happen.
- How for Paul there was no such thing as “Christianity” in the sense of a “religion” different from “Judaism.” What mattered was that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead had shown him to be Israel’s Messiah and the world’s Lord: a Jewish message for the wider world.
- How Paul stood at the confluence of three great cultures: the Jewish world with its passionate monotheism; the Greek world with its subtle philosophy; the Roman world with its all-powerful empire. Paul believed that Jesus, not Caesar, was “Lord”; he saw that in Jesus there was a new way to think; he believed that, in Jesus, the One God of Israel had done what he’d promised, rescuing his people and the world. He held these together in a powerful, radical new combination.
- Some of Paul’s philosophical contemporaries believed that the point was “to go to heaven when you die.” That was never Paul’s position. He believed in new creation, a new world of space, time, and matter formed by God’s spirit rescuing and transforming the present world.
- Paul’s message to individuals was that they could become part of this new world here and now – if they gave up worshipping the non-gods of the pagan world and behaving accordingly (“sin”). As Messiah, Jesus had died on behalf of Israel and the world, and whatever “past” anyone had could be forgiven.
- Paul founded communities of forgiven sinners whose only membership badge was “faith”: faith in “the son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” This meant, shockingly, that people of all sorts and backgrounds were on exactly equal terms, supporting one another in living the new-human way.
- What drove Paul above all was the sense that in Jesus the One Creator God had revealed his utter, radical, unbreakable love. For Paul, this meant a debt of love which only love could repay, love for God and practical, resourceful love for people.
Paulis a compelling modern biography that reveals the apostle’s greater role in Christian history—as an inventor of new paradigms for how we understand Jesus and what he accomplished—and celebrates his stature as one of the most effective and influential intellectuals in human history.