If you are looking for a top notch introduction to the life and letters of Paul, you’ll want to take a look at Thinking through Paul by Bruce W. Longenecker and Todd D. Still. Paul’s impact on the world is hard to overstate. The goal of this volume is to dig into what drove Paul to do what he did and write what he wrote. This well-written and attractive textbook moves beyond a superficial reading of Paul in order to engage the apostle’s thought in an exciting and transformative way.
What’s in it?
Let’s start with the overall structure of the book. It is organized into three major sections. The first section contains a single chapter that introduces the reader to Paul’s life and ministry. The chapter covers Paul’s life before Christ, his encounter with Christ, and his ministry.
The second major section is the longest and is devoted to the letters themselves. A single chapter is devoted to 1 and 2 Thessalonians. The “chief letters” all get a chapter to themselves: Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Romans. Then comes the prison letters: Philippians, a single chapter on Philemon and Colossians, followed by Ephesians. The section concludes with a single chapter devoted to the pastoral letters: 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus. Each chapter in this section explains key historical matters that impact interpretation of the letter and introduces its basic content and thought flow. Each chapter concludes with questions for discussion and review, a few other questions to stimulate theological reflection, and suggestions for further reading.
The third major section devotes three chapters to theological issues in Paul’s thought. These chapters represent the synthetic component of the book which give the reader a better sense of the patterns and concepts that run through all of Paul’s thinking. In my view this section is one of the major highlights of the book. Readers get chapters on “The Apocalyptic Narrative of Paul’s Theological Discourse” (chapter 11), “Paul’s Theological Narrative and Other Macro-Narratives of His Day” (chapter 12), and “Paul’s Theological Narrative and the Micro-Narratives of Jesus Groups” (chapter 14).
Each chapter has a number of inset pictures and text boxes with relevant artwork, pictures of archaeological discoveries, maps, and further information on key concepts related to the text and the background,
Who is it for?
Thinking through Paul will be well-suited for college students and introductory classes at the graduate level. Interested and motivated lay persons should find the text accessible. Pastors and church teachers will find it helpful for getting acquainted with points relevant to preaching and teaching in a local church. It contains a few footnotes, but they certainly don’t dominate the text. All of this is appropriate for a textbook. Advanced students and scholars will, of course, be interested in a variety of issues that do not (and should not) come up in this book.
All in all, I’m really quite excited about this book. There are a lot of books on Paul out there, but few pull the pieces together in an interesting and accessible manner like this book does.
*Thanks to the team at Zondervan for a complimentary review copy.