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Paul for the Perplexed 2

Paul.jpgIf you’ve ever taught Paul’s letters you know the challenge: How does one put Paul together? Or the teacher asks, Where can I begin that makes the whole become clear? Where do I tap to make this diamond fall out?  

Tim Gombis’s new book, Paul: A Guide for the Perplexed (Guides for the Perplexed)
, does this so well.
For instance, in a sketch of Paul’s letters, Gombis asks this question: Is Paul a theologian, a missionary or a pastor? Which of these would be your first choice? And what order would you put them in? How do you explain Paul to those who don’t know him?
Frankly, many of us resort to teaching Paul as if he were a theologian — which he’s not since his letters are not “theology” but theologically informed and rooted pastoral guides — and that means we get to the core of his theology and then teach that. Thus, we focus on soteriology or ecclesiology or Christology, do a good job of sketching the depth of those themes, and then … well, then, we get to a letter like Philippians and it takes a good long while to get to where Paul’s soteriology really starts digging deep.
In short, there’s a way to approach Paul that conforms to how Paul does things.
So, Tim Gombis is saying “let Paul be Paul.”

Chp 2 of this book sketches the substance of Paul’s letters, and I want to say this chp is a fresh description. Take Romans. How does one say something about Romans in just a few pages without walking well-worn(out) paths.

Gombis knows the issue with the emperor Claudius’ edict that banned Jews from Rome, and then a few years later they returned when he died — and then issues arose in the church of Rome that had for five years been led by Gentile Christians and then Paul wrote, and he sees that context as significant for a constantly-ignored dimension of Romans: the appeal to unity, to Jews and Christians getting along, etc. Yes, Paul does theology but what he’s doing first and foremost is pastoral work. He’s heralding the kingdom for the church at Rome. He’s showing that the gospel brings Jews and Gentiles together.
It is about Christ and about faith for “all” who believe, Jew or Gentile. Well, you get a taste of what Gombis does in this chp: he shows each of Paul’s letters is pastorally focused by an apostle of Jesus Christ who is heralding the kingdom of God.
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David Brush

posted August 30, 2010 at 1:30 am

So, this has me wondering if this line of thinking puts Paul’s admonition of the female teacher/preacher archetype in question from a Paul as pastor or missionary perspective. Namely if he is approaching this pastorally a compelling case would have to be made that the upstream theology is complimentarian, vs one of ethical and pastoral peacemaking and administration.

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Scot McKnight

posted August 30, 2010 at 6:30 am

I know I, and I’m confident Tim agrees with me on this, don’t want to assign discreet statements of Paul to the “pastoral” or “missionary” line. All of it fits under Paul’s gospeling work, and what is stated theologically in a pastoral situation will have significance at the theological level.
But I know I would agree that the condition-specific contexts are the precise location Paul makes a point and those conditions can change and, therefore, one would have to be more circumspect in assuming Paul’s pastoral point is always and forever the same.

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Tim Gombis

posted August 30, 2010 at 7:33 am

Yes, while each issue would have to be examined separately, the larger point is that Paul?s task entails counseling communities that are attempting to enact and embody the Kingdom of God. Each and every situation is going to be slightly different, with different challenges and different possibilities. It helps to make sense of Paul to rightly envision just what he?s doing in his letters.
This actually puts Paul in a different situation in relation to the Gospels than is typical of much of Protestantism. No longer does Paul trump the Gospels nor make them narrative illustrations of his theology. Kingdom communities attempt to inhabit, enact, and embody the Kingdom of which the Gospels speak, and Paul is on hand to help provide counsel for when things go off track, when communities are discouraged, confused, alarmed, etc.

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K. Rex Butts

posted August 30, 2010 at 9:46 am

I get why people today might be hesitant to say Paul was a theologian but perhaps saying Paul is not a theologian says more about the current practice of Christian theology. I realize it is hard to place Paul in a particular box which is why it might be best just left said that Paul was a gospel/church leader who wrote with theological, missionary, and pastoral concerns without so compartmentalizing those categories as if one can be done without the other.
Grace and peace,
K. Rex Butts

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Kevin S.

posted August 30, 2010 at 11:48 am

I would say he was a pastor first and theologian second, but I would argue that he was both, and a missionary as well. It is no coincidence that he was among the most studied of the Pharisees. Insofar as his goal was to mete out compromise, he would certainly have done so in accordance with the scriptures and the teachings of Christ.
I agree that his purpose was not to trump the gospels, and his books are rightly regarded as templates for how to build community. However, understanding Paul as someone well equipped to handle theological paradoxes lends gravity to his teachings.

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posted August 30, 2010 at 8:13 pm

This approach to Romans sounds vaguely like Mclaren’s approach in ANKOC. Am I off base in that or is that accurate?

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posted May 3, 2012 at 7:18 am

Another great book that helps makes sense of Paul’s pastoral emphases is “Pastoral Ministry According to Paul” by James Thompson. (Baker Academic)

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posted September 19, 2014 at 7:43 pm

Greetings! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out
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Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that deal with the
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