Book review: Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul?

by J. R. Daniel Kirk


This one gets off to a bit of a slow start, but finishes strong. With an enigmatic subject like Paul, and a provocative title like this one, I expected a more pointed discussion. It’s only when we reach the midpoint that the really controversial topics emerge: women’s role in the church, slavery, homosexuality, marriage and divorce, etc. 

Kirk begins his book by confessing his early ambivalence toward Paul. Only after much study, and by recognizing that Paul’s teachings and Jesus’ teachings do steer toward one another, did he come to appreciate Paul’s slant. This acceptance appears to have come at a cost: Kirk began to realize that not only did Paul tend toward Jesus in his teachings, but Jesus tended toward Paul! 

For example, Jesus says we should not judge one another. But is that the whole story? Worry about the log in your own eye, and ignore the speck of dust in your neighbor’s? Hardly. Jesus says get the log out of your eye so that you can see to help your brother get rid of his problem. If we condemn Paul for encouraging what looks like strict judgment of others (1 Cor. 5:12-13), we should remember Jesus’ admonition to recognize others by their fruits and beware.

Paul may best be understood under the lens of Storied Theology. By telling the story of mankind, from Adam and Eve through Paul’s day, he fits the Gentiles into the cosmic plan of God. He brings non-Jews into the fold, makes them feel like they belong, and defines their role as full participants.

Kirk writes as a studied believer, meaning his perspective is most definitely that of a practicing Christian, yet he’s been around the block long enough to realize that every question about the Bible has a dozen scholarly answers … half of them legitimate. For example, Kirk acknowledges that many of the Pauline letters may be pseudonymous, and he focuses more intently on the universally recognized authentic letters, yet he doesn’t press the issue.

Kirk doesn’t sit on the fence when it comes to interpreting the words of the Bible, though. Paul doesn’t pull punches, and neither does Kirk. Still, this is a respectful and thought-provoking book.

1 Comment

  1. Definitely sounds interesting.

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