Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul?

From my piece at CT:

Many biblical scholars and lay Christians have noted that Jesus preached almost exclusively about the kingdom of heaven, while Paul highlighted justification by faith—and not vice versa. Some conclude that they preached two different gospels. Others argue that really they both preached justification; still others say it’s all about the kingdom. What gives?

Note: Clicking the “video” links placed in the article will take you to a segment from an interview with Scot McKnight about the implications of this story.

I grew up with, on, through, and in the apostle Paul. His letters were the heart of our Bible. From the time I began paying attention to my pastor’s sermons, I can only recall sermons on 1 Corinthians—the whole book verse by verse, week by week—and Ephesians. I don’t recall a series on any of the Gospels or on Jesus…..

But something has happened in the past two decades: a subtle but unmistakable shift among many evangelicals from a Pauline-centered theology to a Jesus-shaped kingdom vision. Sources for this shift surely include George Eldon Ladd’s The Presence of the Future, the rugged and unrelenting justice voice of Jim Wallis, perhaps most notably in his Call to Conversion, and a growing social conscience among evangelicals. (video) We can argue about factors, but what matters is that a shift has occurred.

Daniel Kirk, a young New Testament scholar at one of Fuller Theological Seminary’s extension sites, recently sent me a manuscript for review. The first suggested title was, Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul? That perfectly captures something I have observed in 15 years of teaching college students. Students love the Jesus part of the class, but their eyes seem to glaze over when we move from Jesus to Paul.

It is not exaggerating to say that evangelicalism is facing a crisis about the relationship of Jesus to Paul, and that many today are choosing sides. (video) I meet many young, thinking evangelicals whose “first language” is Jesus and the kingdom. Yet despite the trend, perhaps in reaction to it, many look to Paul and justification by faith as their first language. Those addicted to kingdom language struggle to make Paul fit, while those addicted to Paul’s theological terms struggle to make Jesus fit. I know the experience because I, too, struggled to make the Pauline message fit the kingdom vision, and that was after struggling to make Jesus fit into the Pauline message.

Evangelicals have offered two ways to resolve this dilemma—that is, to bring Paul and Jesus into a more perfect harmony. What stands out is that each approach imagines that it is articulating the gospel itself. One approach is to master Jesus’ gospel, the kingdom vision, and show how Paul fits. The other approach is to master Paul’s gospel, his theology of justification, and show how Jesus fits. Each approach requires some bending of corners and squeezing of sides but, with extra effort and some special explanations, each thinks it can show the unity of the messages of Jesus and Paul and that the gospel of the kingdom and the gospel of justification are one and the same…..

[Read the rest at the link above.]

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