BA Books & Authors on the Web – July 15, 2016

Cover ArtJ. Gordon McConville’s forthcoming Being Human in God’s World recently received a starred review in Publishers Weekly. They called it “scholarly, accessible, and beautifully written,” and “a work of literature to be savored.”

The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, by Alan Kreider, was featured at the Mennonite World Review.

Nijay Gupta, at Crux Sola, reviewed Francis Watson’s The Fourfold Gospel.

Reformed Catholicity, by Michael Allen and Scott Swain, was discussed at Exploring Church History.

Western Seminary’s Transformed blog reviewed Gospel of Glory by Richard Bauckham.

Benjamin Gladd and Matthew Harmon, authors of Making All Things New, were interviewed at Books at a Glance.

Patrick Gray’s Paul as a Problem in History and Culture was reviewed at Exploring Church History.

Craig Keener was interviewed by The Aqueduct Project about his book Miracles and the credibility of the New Testament accounts.

Founder, Corrupter, or Defender? – an Excerpt from Paul as a Problem in History and Culture

The following is an excerpt from Paul as a Problem in History and Culture by Patrick Gray.

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While the notion that Paul founded Christianity should not be rejected out of hand as patently ridiculous, neither is it as self-evident as its proponents seem to think. Paul may be the earliest Christian writer, but he indicates that the movement was already up and running by the time he stopped persecuting it and became a member. He claims to be handing on traditions that he has received from others, not introducing novel teachings. Furthermore, as the ardently pro-Paul author of the Acts of the Apostles indicates, he is not the first follower of Jesus to reach out to non-Jews.

And it should not count for nothing that very few Christians—and even then, only very recently—have ever thought of Paul as the founder of their faith. That title is reserved for Jesus. It may not be found in Scripture or in any of the historic creeds, but most Christians of most times and places reserve that title for Jesus.

Cover ArtWho deserves the title? Answering this question is not as straightforward as it may seem. It may be the case that key terms in the debate, such as “founder” and “Christianity,” are not defined with sufficient clarity to yield a single correct answer. But this observation is hardly satisfying. Semantics are only one variable in a more complicated equation. There is something other than purely objective historical investigation going on in the various attempts to solve it.

When it is said that Paul is the founder of Christianity, much more is implied than that a particular name belongs in a particular box on an organizational flowchart. Neither is giving the title to Jesus free of historical and theological presuppositions. Because Jesus is the default choice, however, it is clear that Paul’s “advocates” are trying to say something more. Indeed, they are saying more, and usually more than they realize. To call them Paul’s advocates, of course, is a bit misleading since they are certainly not his defenders. Almost without exception, to refer to Paul as the founder of Christianity is to pay him a backhanded compliment.

This is just one of many ways to register one’s protest against the outsized impact Paul has had on the church and, through the church, the rest of the world. Criticism of Paul is almost as old as Christianity itself, but it can be found with increasing frequency over the past two centuries. The sources from which it issues can be surprising.

According to Adolf Hitler, “The decisive falsification of Jesus’s doctrine was the work of St. Paul,” who “used his doctrine to mobilize the criminal underworld and thus organize a proto- Bolshevism.” David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of the State of Israel, comments that while “Jesus probably differed little from many other Jews of his generation.” it was Paul’s “anti-Jewish emphasis” that “gave Christianity a new direction.”

According to Sayyid Qutb, who deeply influenced Osama bin Laden and has been called “the philosopher of Islamic terror,” Paul’s preaching “infected” Christianity from the beginning because it was “adulterated by the residues of Roman mythology and Greek philosophy.” And when Mahatma Gandhi explains, “I draw a great distinction between the Sermon on the Mount and the Letters of Paul,” he leaves little doubt as to which one he prefers.

Who would have guessed that a loathing for Paul is the one tune that this unlikely quartet would sing in harmony?

©2016 by Patrick Gray. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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For more information on Paul as a Problem in History and Culture, click here.

New Release: Paul as a Problem in History and Culture

Cover ArtAs one of the most significant figures in the history of Western civilization, the apostle Paul has influenced and inspired countless individuals and institutions. But for some, he holds a controversial place in Christianity.

From antiquity, Paul has been criticized for deviating from the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus. The nineteenth century saw an increasing number of thinkers give credit to Paul for assuming a formative role in Christianity—more formative, even, than Jesus. In the twentieth century, intellectuals and cultural leaders claimed to follow Jesus over Paul.

In Paul as a Problem in History and Culture, Patrick Gray explores why many people have been wary of Paul and what such criticisms reveal about the church, the broader culture, and ourselves.

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“Many scholars write only for other scholars, and some experts are adept at writing for more general audiences, but only a few can write well with both audiences in mind. Patrick Gray is one of those rare scholars, and his book on reactions to Paul through the centuries is a gem that merits the attention of all readers interested in early Christianity’s most controversial apostle.”—John T. Fitzgerald, University of Notre Dame

“With much erudition, eloquence, and wit, Patrick Gray sets forth a fascinating two-thousand-year history of anti-Paulinism. Citing both scholarly and popular sources, he exposes the various (and at times bewildering) attitudes, assumptions, and motivations that lie behind the virile dislike of the apostle to the gentiles. This book will challenge both friends and foes of Paul to reflect critically on the relationship between Paul and the one he proclaimed as Messiah and Lord.”—Thomas D. Stegman, SJ, Boston College School of Theology and Ministry

“Every Paul scholar knows that Paul has always been controversial, but I wager that few know the breadth and depth of the animus toward him surveyed by Patrick Gray….Sure to be a great discussion starter.”—Mark D. Given, Missouri State University

“An insightful and accessible overview of the negative reception of the apostle Paul, from the Corinthians to Kazantzakis. An important contribution is the way in which Gray steers a reasonable middle course amid choppy, polemical waters. This book has great potential for sparking lively discussion in a classroom setting.”—David L. Eastman, author of Paul the Martyr

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Patrick Gray (PhD, Emory University) is associate professor of religious studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. He is the author of Opening Paul’s Letters and has coedited several books, including Teaching the Bible through Popular Culture and the Arts.

For more information on Paul as a Problem in History and Culture, click here.

Interpreting Paul’s Letters as Letters

Interpreting Paul’s Letters as Letters

by Patrick Gray

With new technologies come new ways of breaking the law. Take email, for example. In 2010, a Michigan man was arrested for logging on to his wife’s laptop and reading her email. (She happened to be having an affair at the time.)  Prosecutors with the Florida State Attorney’s Office say that opening and reading someone else’s email without their consent is, in fact, a felony that can result in a five-year prison sentence. But relax: simply accessing someone’s email without permission is only considered a misdemeanor, punishable by a year or less in prison.

When I teach courses on the New Testament, I like to tell my students that, were it not for the expired statute of limitations, Christians and other Bible readers might be subject to prosecution by the federal government. Why? Reading the New Testament is, in no small part, an exercise in reading other people’s mail. Of the twenty-seven books in the New Testament canon, all but six are letters. And two of the six exceptions (Acts and Revelation) contain multiple letters embedded in them. Opening Paul’s Letters is intended as a reminder that Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, and all the rest were written and sent—as letters—to Romans, Corinthians, and Galatians, and that getting the most out of them requires different strategies and approaches from those one might use in reading texts belonging to some other literary genre.

Every literary genre has its distinguishing characteristics in terms of form and content. These “rules” may not be hard and fast, but they are sufficiently consistent such that competent readers can tell one genre from another. Poetry in English often (but not always) rhymes. Topics treated in verse typically include love, death, and nature but not economic policy or automotive maintenance. Country and western lyrics regularly mention trucks, trains, prison, and getting drunk. Newspaper stories are written at a fifth-grade level. Comedies end in love and laughter, while tragedies end in death and destruction.

Letters are among the literary genres from antiquity that are still in use today. For this reason, their literary form does not present the same interpretive challenges as some other genres. But modern literary genres are not identical to their ancient counterparts. Reading an ancient letter is similar to and yet different from reading a letter today. Letter-writing conventions have changed over time, sometimes quite radically. In some ways, the emergence of new communications technologies have caused the role of letters in society to change more in just the last decade than in the preceding century. Writers in antiquity, who frequently comment that speaking face-to-face is the ideal way to communicate and maintain relationships, only resort to letters out of necessity.

According to a recent poll, by contrast, only fifty-three percent of teenagers say that their favorite way to communicate with their friends is “in person.” Cell phones, instant messaging, email, and text messages are the preferred communication methods for more than one-third of teenagers.[1] Conspicuously absent from this list is the letter. Each new medium, while similar to the letter, has its own distinct conventions and typical uses. An email message, for example, is not simply a letter in electronic form. The role of email, moreover, has evolved substantially in its still-short history, with many now viewing it “as something you use to talk to ‘old people,’ institutions, or to send complex instructions to large groups”.[2]  As technology and society continue to change, it may be that in the not-too-distant future, making sense of yesterday’s online correspondence will present many of the same challenges as reading Paul’s letters from two thousand years ago does today.

[1] Dana Markow, “Friendships in the Age of Social Networking Websites,” Harris Interactive Trends and Tudes 5, no. 9 (October 2006): 1–5.

[2] Amanda Lenhart, Paul Hitlin, and Mary Madden, “Teens and Technology,” Pew Internet and American Life Project (2005): ii, http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2005/Teens-and-Technology.aspx.

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Patrick Gray (PhD, Emory University) is associate professor of religious studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. He is the author of Godly Fear: The Epistle to the Hebrews and Greco-Roman Critiques of Superstition and the coeditor of several books, including Teaching the Bible: Practical Strategies for Classroom Instruction.

For more information on Opening Paul’s Letters, click here.