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Saturday, April 20, 2013

"Charts on the Life, Letters, and Theology of Paul" (Lars Kierspel)

TITLE: Charts on the Life, Letters, and Theology of Paul (Kregel Charts of the Bible)
AUTHOR: Lars Kierspel
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012, (288 pages).

This is another excellent resource to help students, teachers, and laypersons to appreciate the study of the life, the literature, and the theology of the Apostle Paul. As a Professor and Chair of the Biblical Studies department in Trinity College of the Bible Theological Seminary, this work is a way in which Kierspel manages to incorporate the profound insights of Pauline theology into a professional framework of charts and summarizing tables. The purpose of the book is to provide helpful tips for readers wanting to learn more about the Apostle, his thought and his theology.  There are references to primary as well as secondary sources. There are also brief commentaries and summaries about the different aspects of the letters of Paul to help readers read, understand, appreciate, and to study the epistles with a critical eye together with a careful reverence. The book is structured in four parts.
  1. Paul's Background and Context
  2. Paul's Life and Ministry
  3. Paul's Letters
  4. Paul's Theological Concepts.
In Part A, we read an amazing description of the backgrounds of Paul, his life environment, and the culture he was in. Readers will know about the political, social, philosophical, religious, and in particular, the Jewish and Gentile relationships during his time. From Julius Caesar to the evil Nero, from the Praetorian guards to a full list of descriptions on the Roman military, from the list of philosophies in the regions to the whole potpurri of religions and beliefs, we catch a glimpse of Paul's big challenge when promoting the gospel to a multi-religious, multi-faceted society, that is pluralistic, polytheistic, and politically daunting. If Jesus has lots of opposition from the Pharisees and the Sadduccees, the challenges facing Paul is no less difficult. He deals with the Hellenists, the Zealots, as well as Jews and Gentiles. Kierspel even provides a 1-page summary of Paul's Jewish background.

Part B looks at the chronology of Paul's life from birth to death. Where appropriate, there are biblical references to help readers map out the stage of Paul's life. One helpful reference is how Paul's life in the book of Acts is cross-referenced frequently with his epistles. In doing so, readers are presented a treasure of information that is ready to use and to appreciate the context and circumstances of Paul. This enables any Bible student to better appreciate the reason, the context, and the thrust of Paul's writings. There is even a table that contrasts the life of Peter and Paul. This may not be exactly what the biblical authors would have wanted to highlight, but it sure gives modern readers a fresh incentive to see how the Holy Spirit uses the gifts of different individual for specific purposes. Even Paul's conversion has several different accounts, though I remain unconvinced how useful that table is.

Part C will be of particular interest to biblical scholars, with individual attention given to each and every of Paul's epistle. The full list of manuscripts are listed in chronological order and use. The letters are categorized according to disputed and undisputed, prison, pastoral, and major letters. Extra biblical letters are also listed, without the author being dogmatic about Paul's authorship of them. I find the calculation of words, vocabulary, and pages, less helpful as a theological tool, and prefer to see them merely as interesting information for the modern scientific mind. What is interesting is the way the different figures of speech, number of OT quotations or allusions, and the brief background of each biblical book most helpful from a teaching or preaching angle. The chart on the various interpretations of various key texts and verses is worth the price of the book. Listing down all the popular understanding, readers will begin to appreciate more of what it means to be open to discussion and not become too dogmatic too quickly about any one view.

Part D being the theological survey represents the culmination of any study of Paul. The theological significance of Paul's letters is the most important for any student of Paul. Kierspel gives us a fairly complete list of all the theological subjects like Christology, Soteriology, Pneumatology, Eschatology, Ecclesiology, Hamartiology, Spirituality, Cosmology, and many more. There are segments on ethics, household codes, gender relationships, modern Jewish views, as well as the "new perspective" of Paul.

My Thoughts

Theological books on Pauline theology or subjects about the Apostle Paul tends to be wordy and a little too heavy for the layperson. Sometimes, seminarians, preachers, and pastors find it challenging to summarize the life of Paul. This book is one tool that packs in a lot in a small footprint. I like the book for three reasons. Firstly, one sees the overview of the life and teachings of Paul in just one or two pages. Often, modern readers do not have the privilege or knowledge of the background of Paul in order to better understand and interpret the texts. Readers will be much better equipped with this book in order to do that. Secondly, this book can not only raise greater awareness of the importance of Paul, it can instill interest, even spur readers to want to do more research on their own. A good teacher is not one who dishes out everything for students, but is one who is able to whet the appetite of the student, and let the hunger and thirst of the student guide and motivate the student to want to learn more. Thirdly, personal comments and interpretations are kept minimal and as inconspicuous as possible. Commentaries are intentionally kept brief so that the reader can study the book for what it is. Moreover, Kierspel has delayed giving many of his comments toward the end of the book. This is particularly helpful as we are assured that facts are provided before interpretation. Having said that, one can also argue that the way the tables and charts are arranged and selected are by themselves interpretations in the first place. From what I can read, it is a valid argument but it is in no way crippling in terms of understanding and appreciating the life, theology, and teachings of Paul.

All in all, I enjoy this book and warmly recommend it to anyone desiring to study more about Paul's life, his teachings, and his theology.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Kregel Academic without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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