Scot McKnight has a post up calling on us to “Bring Back Paul!” He begins with a plug for the Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters, which is still fairly new but is, nevertheless, an important academic publication. He then goes on to address the matter of why we must read Paul. I’ll say that my reaction to this post went in two rather different directions. My initial thought was simply that I didn’t know Paul needed to be brought back. I’m presently writing a Ph.D. on the apostle and, as a result, have him constantly in mind. I’ve spent the last couple of years sorting through volume after volume on Paul. Tons of stuff has been written, some better than others, but in terms of New Testament scholarship, Paul is ever with us.
But that’s the knee-jerk reaction of doctoral student neck deep in monographs written primarily for scholars, and it’s not really what McKnight is getting at. He is calling on the wider church to listen more attentively to Paul’s letters. He is right that the Reformed tradition has a focuses more on Paul than others and that Paul’s theology has often been reduced to soteriology and then often to justification. McKnight is calling on the wider tradition to read Paul and to delve into his theology more broadly.
One massively important point that McKnight raises is that of Paul’s passionate work to bring Jews and Gentiles together into a unified church that is the one body of Christ. I cannot agree more. The more I study the New Testament period, the more I am amazed at Paul’s work in pulling Jews and non-Jews together to sit at one table and worship the one God who raised Jesus from the dead. Paul was trailblazer in matters of ethnic inclusion. If you think racial reconciliation and justice matter, then you cannot do without the apostle Paul. Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians are largely about getting diverse ethnic groups together in a single community. That’s a very big deal. Paul was exceedingly passionate about pulling together a single people of God from every tribe, tongue, and nation. If that’s not relevant, I don’t know what is. So, I’ll echo McKnight: Let’s bring back Paul!