Defence of Paul the misrepresented Apostle

the-crucifixionI have spent a good part of today reading Fleming Rutledge’s acclaimed book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015). So far, I have only read the Introduction and chapter 1, ‘The Primacy of the Cross’, but already I have been engrossed by the book. I have been particularly impressed by Rutledge’s clear and engaging writing, her commitment to orthodox theology even when it is not popular, and her engagement with a wide array of writers from different ages (from Origen to Anselm to Bonhoeffer to Beker).

As I have recently been encouraging my Pauline Theology students to read Paul carefully and sympathetically, I was pleased to see a section of her Introduction offering advocacy for Paul the Apostle in the face of frequent misrepresentation. She writes (p. 25):

The “theology of the cross” (theologia crucis) is rightly traced to the influence of Paul. Strangely, this in itself may be one reason for its neglect today. The great apostle to the Gentiles is widely misunderstood, impugned, or ignored. Many church members not only lack understanding of his letters, but often direct a distinct animus against Paul himself, personally, and read his letters through hostile lenses if they read him at all. His personal idiosyncrasies and liabilities have been magnified in the popular mind to the point he has become a caricature of himself. His confidence is regarded as conceit, his passion for the gospel as intolerance, his attitude towards the Jews as anti-Semitism, his views about women as misogynist, his teaching about sexuality as benighted, his preaching of Christ as obsessive. It requires some degree of effort to begin to understand that most of these characterizations are both unfair and inaccurate.

I will be reading this substantial tome for some time to come. Based on my reading so far, I expect to find it a rich learning experience (even-perhaps especially-where I see things differently). If you are interested to read another reader’s reflections on the book, I came across this review by Andrew Wilson on the Gospel Coalition site today. It is worth a look.

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