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. 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.
Take the Jesus approach. The kingdom of God, if one follows George Ladd's line of thinking (often called "inaugurated eschatology"), is defined as the "dynamic reign of God." It is grounded in texts like Matthew 12:28, where Jesus says that if he casts out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has (presently) come upon them. Or Mark 1:15: the time has been fulfilled, the kingdom of God has drawn near (so near that its presence is now being felt)—therefore repent and believe. It is not hard to fit "justification by faith" into the mold of the dynamic, personal, redemptive presence of God in the work of Jesus Christ. With some careful nuancing, the witness of Romans to justification and the witness of Ephesians to a cosmic redemption in Christ can be drawn into the ambit of the kingdom.
But a few problems always emerge. They have always given me an uneasy conscience about this kind of harmonizing. First, Paul doesn't talk about the kingdom enough to make me think his theology is really kingdom-shaped. His letters include fewer than 15 references to the kingdom. Fitting Paul into a kingdom mold is more by hook than it is by the book. Furthermore, Paul thinks more in terms of soteriology, justification, and ecclesiology than he does kingdom. So, if we are to be fair to Paul, we have to let Paul be Paul.
Monday, December 6, 2010
Jesus or Paul? Whose gospel do we follow? Scot McKnight suggests a way to bridge the divide.
One thing that anyone who studies the New Testament for any length of time comes to realize is that Jesus and Paul and can appear to be very different. Jesus seems to be all about the Kingdom of God, taking care of the poor and outcast and bringing justice to the world. Paul is more interested in justification, how one gets saved and the ongoing problems facing the order of the church. And for many, New Testament scholars in particular, it seems as if reconciling the gospels of Jesus and Paul is impossible.
But an article by Scot McKnight in the recent issue of Christianity Today suggests a way forward. Scot does not deny the challenges, but does suggest a different starting point than is traditionally taken. Below is an excerpt from, the article.
Also, here is the first of a set of video interviews with Scot on the topic. There are eight more on youtube.