In a recent interview about his book Paul: An Apostle’s Journey, which Eerdmans kindly sent to Theology Forum for review, Douglas Campbell said, “This book is out to make disciples.” Lord willing, the book might do just that. I can say, with certainty, the book challenged me to be a better pastor.
As a student at Duke, I took Campbell’s “Life of Paul” class. He writes the way he speaks, with clarity and wit. The book is intended to introduce Paul’s life and theology to “people who have not been shaped by a seminary experience” (xi). Campbell has done a fine job of writing accessibly, with chapters broken into manageable subsections and concluded with review questions. He keeps his writing fresh by including metaphors and, the true heart of Campbellism, humor. (Even now, I can hear him laughing at himself after the “whole hog” pun on p. 127.) Though I was introduced to much of the content throughout his class, I found myself thoroughly engaged by the prose.
The book follows Paul’s life, but according to Campbell’s unique method.* Campbell starts with Paul’s letters in order to reconstruct the narrative according to Paul’s own account. This stands as an alternative to the conventional approach, which reads Acts first to discover the narrative of Paul’s ministry and then fills in blanks with Paul’s letters. Campbell assumes the details of the stories in Acts are mostly solid (he mentions only two minor details that Paul’s letters seem to correct). The trouble lies in the timeline (p. 5-6). From an inter-Gospel comparison, we know the author of Luke-Acts is willing to adjust the order of events. Why shouldn’t we assume he’s done some shifting in Acts? This way of reading is exciting. Like reading a mystery novel, the reader joins Campbell as he pieces together fragments into a cohesive story. What most readers see as inconspicuous remnants of a lost community, Campbell sees as answers to puzzles left unsolved. Continue reading