Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Letter to Paul

I asked my students to write a letter to Paul as part of an extra credit. 

Below is a letter written by Amie McLain:

Dear Paul,

        I bring you greetings on behalf of the STVU students in Dr. Kim’s Intro to New Testament class.  I must say it’s an honor and privilege to write you.  It’s been nearly 2,000 years since you walked the earth, but you have made a huge impact on Christianity and those who are called to minister the gospel.  Over the past 10 weeks, I’ve had the chance to learn more about you and study the letters you wrote to many churches as you began your mission work throughout modern-day Europe and Asia.

        First, I admit that I misunderstood you.  Growing up, I thought you were a hypocrite.  In Sunday School I was taught that you persecuted Christians, until you met Jesus on the road to Damascus, changed your beliefs, and became a passionate Christian.  But suddenly, you seem to go from criticizing Christians to criticizing non-Christians.  Although I heard all of these great tales about you, I got the impression you were stubborn in your views and very harsh with some of the churches you came across.  After studying your works in my Intro to New Testament class, I realize you are just a very passionate man who wants to please God.

        Please tell me about this “Damascus road” experience.  It intrigues me.  What really happened on the road?  Did you hear a voice? Did you see a light?  Do you remember anything at all?  This experience clearly altered your life in a major way and changed your view about God and Jesus.  Then, what happened next?  There are two very different accounts in the Bible.  One story says you went straight to Jerusalem to consult with the apostles, while the other says you did not go there right away.   The book of Acts presents a very different narrative about you.  Did you stretch the truth a little bit to convey a specific idea?  Or did Luke inaccurately describe those events in your life and how well does he know you?  If I had a close friend who lied about things in my life, I’d be pretty upset.  Do you guys still keep in touch.  If so, you’re a real friend.

        Can you also clarify which letters listed in the New Testament are the ones you actually wrote.  Many Christians believe you wrote 13 letters, but many Biblical scholars argue you only wrote 7.  They say the style, word selection, and even the themes are different in the 6 other letters called the “Deutero-Pauline Epistles” and the “Pastoral Epistles.”  I know I have a lot of questions, but I would rather get the answers straight from you, than speculate like so many others are doing these days.

        The more I learn about you, the more I like you.  As we can see from your 7 undisputed letters, you are a passionate, bold leader who taught by example.  We share something very in common in that I use my work environment as a focal point to minister to others.  I had no idea you evangelized while on the job.  I imagined you were like Jesus, proclaiming the gospel on street corners where huge crowds gathered and listened.  While reading Bart Ehrman’s book, The New Testament:  A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, I was excited to learn you preached while on the job.  I even took a pen and wrote the words, “Me too” next to the sentence in Chapter 21.  This realization gives me the sense that you’re a practical guy, who sincerely wants to share the love of God with everyone you meet.

        We both agree on another interesting characteristic.  I feel it is important to first share and teach the love of God before preaching the love about Jesus.  From what I can tell, you dealt with converts in the same way during the first century.  Since many of them worshipped idol gods, your first goal was to get them to understand that there is only one true and living God.  Once they understood this idea, you pressed upon them that Jesus was God’s son and the key to salvation.  I think this method makes a lot of sense.  It’s difficult to tell someone why they should love Jesus if they don’t have a clear understanding of who God is and why God sent Jesus to die on the cross.

        One thing that troubles me is that you were so quick to tell the church at Thessalonica that Jesus was coming back soon.  It reminds me of the false prophets who go on television or the radio and tell people the exact date in which the world will end.  None of knows when that will happen.  Why did you do that?  I see it as a cheap tactic to incite fear.  People should come to God out of love, not fear.  I believe tomorrow is not promised to any of us, but I don’t think that should be the basis of persuading someone to give themselves to Jesus Christ.  Behavioral changes based on fear, are usually only temporary.  Jesus didn’t preach fear.  He preached unconditional love.  And, speaking of what Jesus preached.  Some scholars argue that you don’t preach the same message of Jesus.  He taught people to care for the sick, feed the poor, and love their neighbors.  Yet, your theology seems to deal more with our faith in God.  Our professor, Dr. Kim, has written two very interesting books about your theology.  Have you had the chance to read them?  I’d love to get your thoughts on his “three-fold theology” concerning your beliefs about God’s righteousness, Christ’s faithfulness, and the believer’s “Body of Christ.”

        Another issue we addressed in class has to do with your ideas about the Jewish law and whether or not Gentiles have to follow it.   I can see why the church of Galatia presented these questions to you.  Before you came along, the people believed God created the Jewish law to show them how to live righteously in his eyes.  Therefore, it surprised me that you were so vehemently against their questions.  Rather than simply addressing their concerns, you seemed to condemn the “super apostles” and others who may have influenced the church of Galatia. 

        I had the chance to discuss some of these ideas with my classmates and we presented our thoughts about your theology on righteousness and faith through a courtroom dramatization.  We focused on the conflict presented in the church of Galatia and put you on trial.  In the skit, you face a first-degree charge of “misrepresentation of God’s Law.”  The church of Galatia argues you misrepresented the Jewish law by claiming that Gentiles do not need to be circumcised or follow other particular Jewish laws according to the scriptures.  Meanwhile, my classmate playing you says everyone is justified by faith in Jesus Christ.  It would have been nice if you could have seen the play.  I think you would have been impressed with his portrayal of you.

        I’d like to receive your honest and heartfelt answers to some of my questions.  If there’s any way that I can be of assistance as you continue in ministry, let me know.  I’m sure I can learn a lot from you as I prepare to answer my own call to ministry.  Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.

All my best,

Amie McLain

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