I, like a lot of progressive Christians I know and read, have had a difficult relationship with Paul and his writings. Letters genuinely written by him, and mistakenly attributed to him, make up a majority of the New Testament, and a good chunk of the Bible. Yet some of his theology can be quite dense, or downright troubling. Some of the ideas I believe to be the most destructive and hurtful to come from Scripture-condemnation of homosexuality, the subjection of women just to name a couple-have rationales drawn from Paul’s writings.
Yet so much Christian thought and theology is drawn from Paul. Ideas we take for granted-the universal church, justification by faith-aren’t teachings of Jesus, but in fact were first articulated, as far as we can tell, by Paul in his letters to the various churches he pastored. Yet, as I alluded to, we progressives have such a tendency to marginalize Paul, in order that we might not have to grapple with the difficult and sometimes uncomfortable things he wrote. This is a grave mistake, and we are missing out on a vital part of Christian tradition if we aren’t intimately familiar with the writings of Paul.
This is why I am so excited to be taking part in the “30 Days of Paul” reading challenge being hosted over at the Westar Institute. Blogger Cassandra Farrin is guiding us through a day-by-day reading of the seven authentic letters of Paul (1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Philemon, Philippians, and Romans) through the month of July. She will be writing daily reflections over at the Westar Institute, and I aim to do the same here. I encourage you to join in the reading at least, and the reflection if you feel led to. (Be sure to use the hashtag #30daysofPaul to promote your stuff!)
You can find a PDF of the reading guide for easy printing by clicking here.
So without further adieu, here is the first entry: 1 Thessalonians 1-3.
What a selection to start with. We are engaging in 30 days of reading some of the deepest, most interesting theology in Scripture….and this is what we get on day one. Greetings, some stuff about how cool the Thessalonians are, a little timeline of what Paul has been doing, and a prayer that the Thessalonians stay cool.
Way to hook you, huh?
I know I’m being a little flippant. Basically, what’s happening here is, Paul has gotten word that the church in Thessaloniki has been freaked out because they haven’t seen or heard from Paul since he planted the church, and they really just a little TLC from Paul. Paul sends Timothy to check on things, who reports back that the Thessalonians are doing a great job at being the Church. So Paul writes to tell them he thinks of them often, and more good is coming their way, but things will also be tough at times. He references his own difficulties and struggles, and the difficulties the church in Judea is having. Then he offers a prayer for them, that they will keep the faith and keep growing.
So not the most exciting stuff. But still important, none the less. First, we are setting up the drama of Paul’s final years across these seven letters. A lot will happen to Paul before we get to the end of Romans, things that will be alluded to, and things won’t often be this cheery and upbeat. But it’s a good starting place, to hear Paul’s voice being so positive and uplifting and encouraging. We all need that encouragement from time to time; we all feel forgotten from time to time, like we need a little acknowledgement of the things we are doing in our lives, and a reminder that others are thinking of us.
Exciting? Not so much.
Don’t give up on Paul this easily. Let’s do this 29 more times.