Anthony C. Thiselton, The Living Paul: An Introduction to the Apostle's Life and Thought. Downer's Grove, ILL.: InterVarsity Press, 2009. 190 pages. ISBN 9780830838813.
Thiselton's The Living Paul: An Introduction to the Apostle's Life and Thought sets out to provide an introduction to the life and thought of Apostle Paul in less than 200 pages. I assume that since it is an introduction it is intended for the beginning college or seminary student. Thistelton is a well-known theologian and is especially known for his work on hermeneutics. He has also written a major commentary on First Corintians. He is professor of Christian theology at the University of Nottingham.
The first two chapters look at possible obstacles to appreciating the work of the apostle Paul. In the first chapter he discusses how some see a difference between the apostle Paul and Jesus. Actually, some would even insist that Paul invented modern Christianity. Thiselton shows how the teachings of Paul and Jesus are similar. The second obstacle discussed in chapter two is how Paul experienced a radical conversion and how the idea of the new creation is prominent in Paul's writings. Many people have not experienced a radical conversion like Paul. Can his ideas speak to them? Thiselton states, "Whether they have experienced a sudden conversion or a gradual process of renewal, all Christians have shared together in God's act of new creation" (11). Some denominations emphasize an instantaneous conversion experience; while other denominations emphasize it as a gradual process. Which one is true? Probably, both is true. There is a moment when by faith we become new creatures in Christ. We might not recognize the exact moment when this occurred. We can equally overemphasize this instantaneous conversion experience and neglect the Biblical teaching that salvation is a life-long process.
Chapters three and four discuss the life of the Apostle Paul. Thiselton uses the timeline of acts and the undisputed letters of Paul to narrate Paul's life. He discusses the three missionary journeys and Paul's letter writing.
The meat of the book is chapters five through sixteen where he discusses Paul's theology. In chapters five through seven, Thiselton analyses Paul's understanding of Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit. Chapter five discusses Paul's teaching on Jesus Christ. He notes, "Paul's favorite term for Jesus is Lord. But, . . . what Lord means in practical terms is most clearly seen in Paul's correlative term slave or servant" (38). In other words, Jesus cannot be our savior if He is not our Lord. Chapter six presents Paul's teaching on the trinity. He admits, "We find admittedly no fully-fledged doctrine of the Holy Trinity in Paul, but Paul says enough about God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit to see that cooperate, and none is a created creature" (57).
Paul's anthropology is discussed in chapters nine and ten. In chapter nine he explains what it means to be created in the image of God. He also defends the importance of the body and voices opposition to gnosticism. In addition he explains different terms used by Paul: body, soul, and spirit. Paul's teaching on sin and separation from God is discussed in the next chapter. Chapter ten emphasizes the cross in the work of Christ. He writes, "For Paul the cross of Christ became the focal point of everything" (82).
Chapters eleven through sixteen discusses the Church, "the ministry of the word," sacraments, ethics, and end times. The author emphasizes the importance of the church and states that the church should be translated as the assembled ones instead of the called out ones. In chapter thirteen he discusses the ministry of women and states that Paul "gives prominent place to the ministry of women" (114). On the chapter on the sacraments, Thiselton argues "In a first generation church, it is as much an assumption to believe that infants of Christians would be excluded from the covenant, as to assume that 'households' did or did not include infants, as well as slaves" (122). This seems to suggest that there is evidence for both infant and believer's baptism. The last chapter on the "parousia" implies or teaches the necessity for ethics. We must live in expectancy of Jesus' return. Chapter seventeen discusses Paul and postmodernism. This should have been put in an appendix.
Thistelton's The Living Paul: An Introduction to the Apostle's Life and Thought does an excellent job of introducing the main lines of Paul's thought. He is a respected theologian and applies Paul's thought to modern times. He is knowledgeable of modern scholarship on Paul. This reviewer wonders if the reader needs some background in the Apostle Paul before tackling this book.