Shuck and Jive

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Historical Paul

This summer I am doing a series of seven sermons on the authentic letters of Paul. I presented a powerpoint today during the adult forum to introduce Paul and preached on I Thessalonians. I am going to use powerpoint for the remaining six sermons in worship.

Paul has been accused of being...
misogynist, homophobic, a suck up to Empire, a prude, an oppressor (slaves obey masters), a braggart, anti-Jewish, and focused on death and resurrection mythology rather than the teachings of Jesus. Who was Paul and what was he really about?

My working thesis is that Paul was very much like the historical Jesus. He held the same basic values as Jesus did: equality (ie. egalitarian table meals, women as full apostles, abolishment of slavery and oppression), anti-domination (Empire), and that while he didn't quote Jesus very often his ethics were linked closely to those of Jesus (ie. love of enemy, don't return evil for evil, peace, and a profound hope in the renewal of humanity and the creation itself).

Paul, like Jesus, was a product of his time and world-view, but he also transcended it and invites us to do the same as we participate in the new way of being and living.

Quiz: In Acts, we are told of Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus. Was Paul on foot or did he fall of his horse?

Answer: Protestants think of Paul on foot. Catholics think of Paul falling off his horse. This depends upon whether one has learned the story through the text or artwork.

The Conversion of St. Paul by Parmigianino

Quiz: What did Paul look like?

El Greco, 1606

Answer: "And he went by the king's highway that leadeth unto Lystra and stood expecting him, and looked upon them that came, according to tbe description of Titus. And he saw Paul coming, a man little of stature, thin-haired upon the head, crooked in the legs, of good state of body, with eyebrows joining, and nose somewhat hooked, full of grace: for sometimes he appeared like a man, and sometimes he had the face of an angel." Acts of Paul and Thekla


  1. John,

    Out of curiousity, do you hold the same belief-set of Christianty as your congregation? Do their views go across the spectrum, from conservative to liberal? I know there have been some heated comments left here, on how you're leading them astray. But I'm assuming they're okay with it, or they'd leave to find another church.

    So how do they take the sermons such as the seven you're about to do on Paul? (Which I think is an excellent idea. He does have some wonderful concepts of God in his letters, and is an excellent example of how a life can be changed through grace).

    I ask because I recently read a book called 'The Dishonest Church' from Jack Good who said that mainline churches have to start changing the way they present the Bible. It can't just be simple statements as 'Jesus is the bread of life,' but engage the intellect in showing the various discussions as to the authors of the Gospels, or the origin of the Gospels.


  2. Hi Heather!

    Thank you for that question! I will tell you and the internet my story in a nutshell.

    I have been at ministry for 15 years, that is ordained in 1992. I served my first congregation in Lowville, NY for eight years. I shared with them honestly about my theology and such, as it was at that time. I was well accepted. Wonderful folks. I wasn't as outspoken there as I am now.

    My next congregation was a larger one...about three times the size in Billings, MT. That one had a great deal more diversity from conservative to liberal. I had an associate and fulltime youth director and it was an exciting time.

    Not everyone there liked my theology. But I think most did. I grew a great deal there. After four years I thought I would like to serve a congregation that was fully committed to inclusiveness (ie. glbt acceptance), fully committed to religious diversity, to social justice, and to scholarship.

    It was amazing to me to find such a one in one of the more conservative areas of the country, East Tennessee.

    It is a relatively small congregation, 250 members or so, 100-120 or so on a typical Sunday.

    The congregation advertised itself in looking for a pastor on Witherspoon Society, a website for progressive Presbyterians.

    It is an awesome congregation. Bright people from a variety of perspectives. This is do in large part to my predecessor who led the congregation for over 30 years. It is considered an "oasis" for free-thinkers.

    Those who think I am leading them astray on my blog are not church members.

    Few church members respond at all on my blog. I think they are mostly amused by just reading.

    I think they will like (if I am not too boring) my stuff about Paul.

    In fact, many of my parishioners are counselors whose clients are often "beat up" by Paul or Paul's fan club.

    That is one reason why I feel this series is important.

    I am glad you are here!


  3. I was interested to hear your story, John. Thanks for sharing that. I am often curious about how different congregations sit with respect to the views of their pastor.

    I was amused by this comment, though: "It is a relatively small congregation, 250 members or so, 100-120 or so on a typical Sunday."

    Admittedly, I have only attended about a half a dozen or so churches on Sunday morning, but your congregation is larger than any of those. Your conception of what constitutes a "small" congregation is quite a bit larger than mine. :)

  4. I personally like Caravaggio's depiction of Paul's conversion better, but then, I usually prefer Caravaggio's depiction of most religious imagery. Could you point me to some places where Paul speaks against slavery? Thanks.

  5. That sounds really nice, John. It looks like you all learn from each other, which in turn leads to growth. :)

  6. John,
    That is a nice story. Your church is about the size of mine. We average about 140-150 every Sunday.

    I thought you told me that your church was divided on some issues?
    It's great they worked out their differences!

  7. No Shelly,

    I didn't say we were divided. The denomination is divided, but we are doing quite well.

  8. Oh, excuse me. I must have misunderstood. It was a while ago. Certainly glad everything is well.