Paul vs. The Fundamentalists

Feeling rather guilty for not writing here for the last several weeks – and then (in Pauline fashion!) I realize that I do well not to make more of myself than I ought. Might I hear his voice saying: “Yeah, right: feel guilty, disappointing all those THOUSANDS of blog readers who have been dying of thirst these past few weeks, yearning to receive just a drop of your enlightened wisdom.”

Thanks, Paul, for keeping it in perspective.

And, so…Paul. There’s a random way to begin again. With Apostle Paul. But that is indeed where I’m headed these next few weeks. The beginning of a 3-part sermon series on Galatians. I’ll be preaching on Paul’s rant to the Galatians (well, officially, it’s an “epistle” – that literary form that was common in his time – namely a letter, read in public, by which a person wrote to a community to connect, correct, corral, and teach). But as we shall see, it’s really a kind of loving rant to people whom Paul dearly loves, but seem to have gone way off track.

There’s a lot there that’s abstract, but beneath it all is something of a real drama. We see Paul at his most ticked off – at one point wishing that those who are trying to circumcise folks among the new Christians in the Galatian church might have “the knife slip” in their circumcising…meaning…he wishes they would castrate themselves. Check it out. (Galatians 5:12)

Tell us how you really feel, Paul.

The first sermon, this Sunday, will focus on 1:11-24, but I really hope that anybody reading these words might simply pick up and read the whole book. Read a chapter at a time, or you can read the whole thing in about 20 minutes or so.

But, in this first sermon, I’ll be talking about the context of Galatians, which has to do with some teachers who crept in after Paul had established the church there and started preaching a “different gospel” than the one Paul taught them. Namely, one that enjoined the new Christians to think that what Paul taught was “Christianity lite.” These folks (called “the Judaizers”) were proclaiming that to be a “real” Christian, one had to become Jewish, and adhere to the rigorous and strict fundamentals of the Jewish dietary and purity laws.

The territory I’m going to explore this Sunday has to do with this: Paul is battling fundamentalism. A perversion of Christian faith that misses the point. In doing so, he is defending his authority as a teacher – and not one proclaiming “his” gospel vs. “their” gospel – but the gospel, one that is capable of transforming human beings from the inside out, making of this humble human flesh, beautiful new creations in God’s image.

So…think of Galatians as Paul vs. the Fundamentalists.

As I think of that theme, I think of one of my cousins with whom I grew up. Certainly one of my favorite cousins; maybe one of the funniest guys I have ever known. Like me, the son of a preacher (or PK as we were most commonly known). Then, when he went off to Brown, he met Jesus. In a big way. After that, I remember arguing with him over the Bible (and argue was the operative word). Instead of the lightness with which he had taken himself and others, I detected that he had become hard, heavy. The world was not seen in color, or even shades of gray – but black and white. There were the righteous and the damned. The good and the bad. There was the right way to behave, and the wrong way to behave. I did not find much grace in it at all, unless you believed in the very narrow version of reality with which he had come to make sense of an ambiguous world.

Not that what we do, or what we believe, does not matter (this we shall explore in the last part of the sermon series). But what’s at stake for Paul – and for us – is a Christianity that transforms us not via a set of rules and regulations, of thou shalts and thou-shalt-nots. What’s at stake is the preservation of a power (via a message)┬áthat re-creates people, such that they don’t need those rules. The rules become irrelevant, because what emanates from them is nothing less than the very love of Christ, which has not only claimed their lives, but the whole world.

So – read up, if you would. And if you do a little study – let me know if you see the same thing here. Would love your comments here, or along the way – O you thousands of readers out there.

Blessings!

Jeff

PS – hope you’re signed up for Revive! I think it will be a blast, and I suggest you not miss it….

Comments

  1. Obie Holmen says:

    You’re right, Paul was definitely p…d off! Galatians is Paul at his most autobiographical self, and the verses you cite have some fascinating implications. What happened during those 15 days with Cephas and James in Jerusalem? Why only 15 days? Why does Paul strongly imply that he learned nothing from the so-called pillars?

    As a novelist, I am free to imagine answers to these questions, and I have done precisely that in my recently released novel entitled, A Wretched Man, a novel of Paul the apostle. One of the 8 major sections of the novel is devoted to imagining these 15 days in Jerusalem. If you or any of your readers are interested in a provocative characterization of the man from Tarsus, which has received critical acclaim from historians of early Christianity, more info is available at http://www.awretchedman.com.

    Sorry for the blatant self-promotion, but your blogpost suggests a common interest and common themes.

  2. From ‘One of the Thousands’ – -
    Interesting view of Paul vs the Fundamentalists & how that might relate to Christianity today. Your family story reminded me of my relationship with my cousin, also a PK (grew up in a missionary family in Guatemala). I’ve always enjoyed being with her but also increasingly find that we have to stay away from the R topic. With the extreme religious positions in my family – both left and right(eous), I find it hard to discuss religion at all. It is great for me to have the support of, and share the viewpoints with, the diverse members of our congregation.
    Look forward to you sermon tomorrow.
    – Barb (not a PK)

  3. Apologies to Obie and Barb for taking SOOO long to approve their comments! I’ve been so busy with the Revive! event, I must not have noticed the…uh, notification. Thanks for your words, Barb. And wow, what an interesting slice of Paul’s life for a novel. I look forward to checking out your novel!

    Jeff

  4. John MacDonald says:

    Not buying it. I think Paul himself may have been more the Fundamentalist than you give him credit for. Remember his background – zealous convert (generally the most extreme). After his “conversion” he was ostracised – hardly surprising he would react strongly against attempts to “Juda-ize” the new faith. If he were walking amongst us today I think he would be more comfortable with the Fundamentalists than the Progressives. His views on gays and women are right out of Leviticus, so his inclusion of the goyim in the new faith probably had more to do with his ambition to “grow the church” than a desire to deviate from the core fundamentals. He was a fundamentalist (of his own new “fundamentals”). Cheers, JEM

  5. John,

    As I said – SO great to have you add your wisdom here. And…as I also mentioned to you live and in person yesterday: So great to see clan Mac two Sundays in a row!

    As we discussed – we may be in more agreement than is apparent. Paul WAS fundamentalist on certain points, I guess you could say. Might you say that he was uncompromising in his commitment to Christian freedom? In his absolute insistence on the dead-center in Christ’s grace, which instills in us a jazz-like approach to life (reflected in his nimble responses to the various problems he encounters in his churches): How does grace play here? Rules don’t capture it.

    And…he also is so insistent on how we come out if we’re living in this “center” in Christ: unselfish, pure in conduct, insisting on the well-being of the other. I suppose one could say he’s a fundamentalist in that sense too….

    And not sure which camp Paul would be more comfortable in. I trust he’d be blasting away at both progressives AND fundamentalists! At least, I’m imagining him that way.

    Last – I would also quibble about Paul’s views on women – much misunderstood. Many believe that several of the more odious (to us) statements are scribal interpolations….

    Anyway – ONWARD! Thanks for your comments, dude.

    Jeff

  6. John MacDonald says:

    Interesting, I think I see what you are getting at. BTW – as I mentioned to you Sunday, I think there are some interesting parallels between Paul and Luther on the centrist pont you are making. Both are ranting against rules/orthodoxy and focusing on grace over rules/deeds. In a way, Paul frees Christianity from tribal/ethnic “membership” requirements so anyone can “be” a Christian. Luther continues this emancipation by freeing Christianity from justification through deeds/rule compliance. Both men were formerly “company men” who had dramatic conversions and faced hostility/percecution by the “old” church. Were they both “anti-fundamentalists”? Interesting question… on the lesser points, they seems petty and fundamentalist – on the great questions, they are both audacious in their assertions of religious freedom from traditional rules.

    PS: not letting Paul off the hook on his mysogeny. Jesus had several women in his inner circle – now, there was a progressive thinker! Paul thinks there are unclean. He was a Neandrathal on this point, even for his time. My 2 cents.

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