Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Paul: In Fresh Perspective

I really like to read, and turning off the tv for a month opens up the time for me to read a lot more. Last night's read was Paul: In Fresh Perspective by N.T. Wright. This is not an easy read. It took serious concentration and effort to get through this book in one night.

This book is about putting Paul in context, specifically context that many scholars overlook. Wright digs into the three realities in which Paul functions: Jewish second temple culture, the greek cultural influences, and living in a Roman world. Wright describes it this way: "As should be apparent, this world could profitably be described in terms of its multiple overlapping and sometimes competing narratives: the story of God and Israel from the Jewish side; the pagan stories about their gods and the world, and the implicit narratives around which individual pagans constructed their identities, from the Greco-Roman sides; and particularly the great narratives of empire, both the large-scale ones we find in Virgil and Livy and elsewhere and the smaller, implicit ones of local culture."

These narratives are important to understanding the writings of Paul because they would have been immediately apparent to his audience. If I use the phrase "Yes we can!" it has an immediate, and in many cases emotional, connection with my readers. I might utilize that connection to save myself a lot of time and writing because my audience has the same context I do. On the other hand, were this blog to be read in 100 years (unlikely, but bear with me) and I titled a post "Yes we Can!" it would be either completely meaningless to the reader, or it might have a vague familiarity along the lines of "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!" which is a phrase I know, but have no idea what it means.

Wright then digs into this contextual understanding of Paul, giving examples of how these shared understandings color the reading of Paul. He closes with a discussion of how we need to use this hermeneutical approach to fully understand our role as a church in a post-modern society.

I have mixed feelings about this book. I love the study of the meta-narratives in which Paul operates, and anytime we are working to understand things in proper context, I think we are doing good work. On the other hand, I felt a little bit like I wasn't quite up to the challenge of this book. Ironically there are United Kingdom cultural references in Wright's work that I don't "get" and without good internet at home, I don't have time to research them. Likewise, there are scholarly debates that he expects his reader to be well versed in that I have not studied.

On the whole I think this is a good book, but not a great one for me.


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