Momentary confession, Jesus on the pages of the Gospels—the champion for the poor and marginalized, the healer of the diseased, the denouncer of oppressive structures, and the reconstituter of communities—“Have I loved.” “But Paul?”—the author of draconian household codes, impossible ethical standards, and authorial affirming dogma—has often left me living out a type of Christianity that osculates between Jesus’ baptism and Damascus road. It is precisely such a dilemma that J.R. Daniel Kirk’s latest book Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul?: A Narrative Approach to the Problem of Pauline Christianity sets out to solve through a narrative re-reading of the Pauline corpus. Kirk states, “Such a positioning of Paul within the larger narrative sweep of Israel’s history… frames the invitation to rediscover the apostle on the following pages.”
Kirk begins this narrative rediscovery of Paul with God himself as understood not in the abstract categories of omni-this or omni-that, but “as someone who is at work within and even bound to the story of Israel.” In other words, before we can demonstrate that Paul is in continuity with Jesus’ ministry we must first ground them within the story they both understood themselves to be playing a part. This methodology is somewhat characteristic of how the rest of the chapters are constructed: (1) the story of Israel’s God and his people, (2) the story of Jesus as it relates to this foundational narrative, and (3) how Paul’s life and teaching fit neatly within the two. Albeit in a more concise manner, this is asserted by Kirk:
“For now the important takeaway is that Jesus as we meet him on the Gospels is not living out a self-contained story. He is acting out a final, climactic scene in the ongoing drama of Israel that stretches back to creation and comes to its promised resolution with his death and resurrection. And we see the same claim with Paul (15).”
It is when we place the various topics that Kirk brings to the table to be examined within this narrative framework—“Christianity as Community,” “Judgment and inclusion,” and “Liberty and Justice for All,” just to name a few—that Paul, time and again, is proven to be in harmony with Jesus as portrayed in the Gospel stories. Thus, the very things that so often characterized Jesus’ ministry that we pre-Paulinists so cherish can finally begin to shine forth from beneath the caricatures of the Apostle: justice for the poor at Corinth, inclusion of the Gentiles at Galatia, and recognition of women’s ability to play roles normally reserved for males. All actions we’d expect from our beloved Galilean! Moreover, what I appreciated as Kirk teased out this storied-coherence between Jesus and Paul was that it was done with exceptional exegesis, honesty at points of contention, familiarity with first century culture, and an open willingness to re-assess some parts of our texts, inspired as they are, which may themselves need to be rethought in light of this cruciformed narrative. Particularly striking was the conclusion in the second chapter:
“What it means, then, for us to be followers of Jesus is to live into the full potential of our God-given humanness. Or, put differently, we come more and more to bear the image of God that is the image of our older brother, Jesus. And this means that, like him, we will be agents of God’s reign. We will anticipate that not only our hearts but also our bodies, our communities, our justice systems, and our use of the earth will all become increasingly conformed to the pictures of self-giving, restorative love by which God has made himself known to the world in Christ (52).’
Perhaps, what struck me most was Kirk’s willingness to take head-on difficult topics such as women’s place in ministry and homosexuality that are inevitable subjects that must be raised in a project of this nature. Moreover, the sensitivity that Kirk illustrates while navigating between the conflicting texts, gaps in cultural milieu, and the wider Israel-shaped narrative in which our stands must make ultimate sense is nuanced and well-articulated. I can only promise that he re-confirms some positions, challenges others, and proposes all new ones that may surprise many. Nevertheless, regardless of what side of the debate you stand, one thing is for sure, that if we live out a narrative of hatred we “may even be showing ourselves disqualified for the eternal life that comes to those who love God and neighbor.” Words that should be taken with all the gravity implied in them.
Overall, this book serves as a healthy corrective for those who, like myself, see a polarized relationship between the Messiah Jesus and the Apostle Paul. If allowed to have its intended impact, what we will see in our scholarship, teaching, and preaching is the great unifying theme that the one creator God has and is inviting us all to take our role within this redemptive narrative that Jesus fulfilled with pierced hands and that Paul’s beautiful feet proclaimed. And maybe, just maybe, having finally put the book down find yourself saying, “Jesus and Paul have I loved.” I know I did.
Yet another useful contribution to both fields of Jesus and Pauline studies. Too often, though there is a nod of the head to the fact that Paul certainly mentions Jesus, these fields are segregated, with isolated focuses applied to Jesus or Paul—one or the other. The reasons for this dichotomy abound, ranging from the fact that Paul provides his readers with no information about the historical Jesus, to the idea that Paul had no real concern about the historical Jesus and cared only for the advancement of the notion of the resurrected Lord, to the assertion that Jesus and Paul are actually polar opposites, with Paul the creator of a new and unfortunately complex religion that kept the name of Jesus but stripped out all of His compassion and concern. In a sense, Kirk deals with all of these ideas.
The question in the title of the book is provocative enough. Is there a tendency to pit Jesus and Paul against each other? Does Christianity play one off the other? Do their teachings actually militate against each other? Can I love and appreciate both equally (with due consideration of their respective positions)? The answer that comes out is, as we might expect, is “yes.” So why the controversy? There must be something that in the Scriptures that begs the question.
When you get right down to it, both Jesus and Paul, in their ministries, are attempting to do the same thing. Both were adamantly pressing the idea of the kingdom of God. More succinctly, both were attempting to put on display what it would look like when God becomes King. Jesus operates from a messianic consciousness, whereas Paul operates post-Resurrection, working out the implications for Jew, Gentile, and indeed the whole world. In some sense, minus the cross, Paul’s job was a bit more difficult, as he was tasked to take the message of a crucified Jew to the Gentile world, with their own set of ideals about their gods and they way they interacted with the world, and tell them that this crucified Jew, because of the Resurrection, was actually the King of the universe, while also inculcating them within the story that was told about the Creator God that raised Him up from the dead. Little wonder then that Paul has to take a different path to accomplish this mission. As we consider that path, we recognize that Paul did not have access to the Gospels as we have them, but we would be foolish to insist that the life and story of Jesus had no impact on Paul, especially since he was re-orienting his entire life and world and staking everything on this man being the messiah (which is best known through his life rather than his suffering death), and that he was not well aware of the stories about Jesus that would have been on offer from those closest to Jesus.
Paul was consumed with the idea that all people could participate in the life and Lordship of Jesus, and it becomes clear that he holds together the pre- and post-Resurrection knowledge of Jesus, with both of those modes of life defined by the cross, as the model and ideal for the community of believers. Naturally, the Jesus that we claim to love is the same Jesus that Paul came to love, and quite honestly, we are able to love Him all the more because of the diligent labors of the great apostle—thus, we love him as well.
So it seems to me that the ultimate quest of mankind, mostly scholars and theologians, is to understand the intimate details of the Apostle Paul. Was Paul for marriage or not, was he against homosexuality and if so did Paul want nothing to do with them and lastly did he hate women. First of all we must see if Paul was teaching the same gospel as our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It seems that people either choose Paul’s side or go in the direction of Jesus’ teachings. One example is Paul’s explanation of slavery and how men have used that as being ok with having slaves, while Jesus has a different approach. All this gets debated and answered in J. R. Daniel Kirk’s book titled “Jesus Have I loved, but Paul?”. Daniel goes into every detail to explain the reasonings of Paul, Paul’s point of view, and ultimately that Paul’s main goal is to teach and expand on Jesus’ way of life. A way of life that ultimately the goal should be to pursue the lessons, lifestyle, and love that Jesus our King showed us while He was still here on earth, something that Paul did. If you would like to learn and study more on Paul the Apostle then this little book written by Mr. Kirk would be an excellent source of knowledge to decipher within yourself.
In Kirk’s book titled “Jesus have I loved, but Paul?” There is a tension between the two, mainly when we read Jesus in the Gospels and we read Paul the Apostle he seems to fall short of the Master. What Kirk does for us is reconfere Paul’s writings by setting them in a wider narrative, Israel’s story and history. He says the reason for this book is to deconstruction some of what has been written about Paul and the need for further understanding, so from a postmodern view of Christianity Kirk will take Paul and place him within a “story” the story of Israel rather than on a “foundation—building from the ground up.”
He first tells us that Israel’s story and Paul’s letters should be held together from start to finish so that they bring to remembrance the promises foretold in the Old Testament about God’s Son. The God in Scripture should be known not only by his attributes, i.e.(Omnipresent) but what he is doing in Israel’s redemptive plan, that plan was to choose Israel as a people for himself to bless and save both Israel and the world through Jesus Christ. Though Israel failed to comply there was still a promise through the prophets to redeem them. This opens up with “Jesus acting out a final climatic scene in the on-going drama of Israel that stretches back to creation and comes to its promised resolution with the death and resurrection.” Paul in his letter to Corinthians includes Gentile churches in Israel’s story so that is adopts it and becomes its hope for its future. Kirk pinpoints the problem to a continued teaching of a “me centered and escapist system.” When one reads the Gospel it should lead to the intertwining of the story of Israel it should be holistic with a restored cosmos, where Jesus rules, Paul’s resurrection and new creation, “this is the Gospel”.
So those who do believe can live out the new creation in the wider world to play out our part in God’s story it’s more than what some theologians have made it out to mean. He says, it is more than a personal salvation it involves community. “As God’s purified renewed children pursuing holiness and obedience is taking hold of our future life and bringing it to expression in the present”. In order to rid the earth of as much injustice and evil will only be possible if God’s children understand that their presence is God’s only medium through which justice can enter the world.
There is a breach, a chasm between people and community that the Church must bridge because some have the idea that Salvation is independent instead of co-dependent. The church is called to bear God’s image in the world in service, esteeming one another, imitating Jesus become communally aware. We need to continue to keep Jesus in the world as imitators, “As the Church we should live authenticated, well played roles in the world.”
He rearticulated a viable Christian ethic “Justification by Faith in the Christian story alone,” If not careful we can create exclusions, (he gave the example of Gentiles becoming Jews by circumcisions) it’s not about who is in or out, it’s about following him or not following him, the Gospel is open to all who will listen. The view of Kirk is when we read Jesus and Paul we are to set them in the OT story of Israel in a narrative form. Only then we can see God’s overall plan for redemption, restoration and culmination.
The Title does depict the contents of this book I enjoyed it immensely all 10 chapters as he relates Paul, the Church and the Gospel of Jesus in Israel’s story. Setting Paul in the wider narrative was unique and timely within modernity and postmodernity. He teaches us to take a wider look– a look back and forward. I appreciate his work and writing. I believe that this book will help the Church better understand and explain Paul and our Christian role in the world.
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