Sunday, December 19, 2010

Review: Paul

Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission and His MessageIntroducing Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message by Michael F. Bird

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a short and delightful introduction to Paul. I wish American publishers had followed the British publishers in naming it A Bird’s Eye View of Paul!

Bird’s objective “is to get people excited about reading Paul’s letters, preaching Paul’s gospel and living the Christian life the way Paul thought it should be lived” (6).

In studying Paul, the goal is not Paul; we study Paul because of what he can do for us in our pursuit of Christ. “To venerate Paul is to denigrate the Saviour whom he so passionately serves” (11)

“A fresh encounter with Paul will leave your assumptions shaken to their foundations, your theological world turned upside down, your spirituality revitalized, your faith quickened, your love for God and Christ renewed, and your labour in the kingdom refocused. This is Paul for the people of God.” (15)

Paul is not just an apostle to the Gentiles, “but among them as well” (19).

His theological centre is somewhere close to “the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ” (22).

I love the chapter on Paul’s conversion on the Damascus road. “That grace event killed Saul the Pharisee and birthed Paul the apostle” (37).

“The invitation to believe in Jesus and join the church was ultimately an invitation to identify with a certain story and to order one’s life according to the story, symbols and praxis of Jesus the Messiah.” (39)

In chapter 4 (Reading someone else’s mail) Bird provides a brief tour through Paul’s letters (which Bird calls “pastoral postcards”! [12]).

Chapter 5 looks at what the gospel is. The gospel is not a formula or a syllogism, but a story (77).

The gospel is about both the person and work of Christ. God promised in the Scriptures that he would renew creation and restore Israel. The gospel is the good news that God has made these promises good in Jesus, the Messiah and Lord. Jesus died and rose for the purpose of atoning for sins and through faith in him and his work believers are reconciled to God. The new age has been launched and God has revealed his saving righteousness in the gospel so that he justifies and delivers persons from the penalty and power of sin and death. (83)

Bird explores some of the concepts used by Paul in his thinking and teaching about salvation in chapter 6. Here is where justification is discussed by someone who appreciates both Piper and Wright, but follows neither: “In sum, justification is the act whereby God creates a new people, with a new status, in a new covenant, as a foretaste of the new age” (96).

Additional chapters discuss Paul’s teaching on eschatology, Christology, ethics, and spirituality.

Throughout the book Bird is unable to keep his humour and wit in suppression. He discovers a new position on the millennium (“‘pan-millenial’, the belief that it will all out pan out at the end” [116]!), and he composes the following ‘hymn’ in order to illustrate how strange the gospel would have sounded to those who first heard Paul preach it (please read the context before calling Bird or me disrespectful):

Carlos was there on that horrible chair
They tied him down with bolts and then zapped him with 40 000 volts
It was for you that our saviour fried and died
Despite the fact that his hair caught on fire, this one is God’s true Messiah.
The wisdom of the world has been refuted because Carlos was electrocuted
He is my saviour and my lamp, because he absorbed every deadly amp
Now I know that God does care, ‘cause he sent Carlos Hernandez to the electric chair.

This book is one of my favourite reads for 2010, and I know I’ll be picking it up frequently in the future.

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