Recently I came across an article written by Tim Gombis, which was published by Christianity Today (22nd July 2011). It’s called “The Paul we think we know.” It’s a great article and here I will list a few quotes.
Evangelicals typically regard Paul as focusing on believers’ private spirituality to the relative neglect of the church’s communal character and social dynamics.
Paul, on the other hand, preached that God is saving individuals, taking up residence in their hearts, and giving them a heavenly destiny. His vision of the Christian life is one in which believers cultivate inner piety and practice private devotion.
This view of Paul is reinforced by our pietistic heritage and our individualistic culture. More recently, however, evangelicals have been awakening to the primacy of the church and its related corporate practices… Far from focusing on privatized piety, the apostle’s conception of salvation concerns the arrival of the kingdom of God—a fundamentally communal reality.
Paul does not, then, view salvation in individualistic terms apart from the arrival of God’s kingdom in the church. As individuals, we have been saved for life-giving relationships within kingdom of God communities, not merely for privatized walks with Jesus. We become our true selves only in community, exercising our gifts and learning to receive the gifts of others. Paul’s vision for the church includes the renewed social practices of forgiving and being forgiven, reconciling formerly alienated individuals and communities, learning to speak words of grace and kindness, practicing justice, and absorbing loss rather than taking vengeance for wrongs suffered. Social practices such as these suffer from neglect in our culture, especially when we orient ourselves by individualized and internalized conceptions of being Christian.
And the following is spot-on.
If we encountered Paul today, we might be disappointed to find someone quite unlike the strong and decisive leader we often imagine. In fact, many of our contemporary churches would hardly consider him a viable pastoral candidate. In this regard, as in so many others, the New Testament evidence resists efforts to re-create Paul in our own image.
(The article can be found here.)