My primary goal in going to seminary and further onto a PhD is to learn the truth so I can communicate it to the average Christian. For a long time there has been a disconnect between those who understand and those who teach. The Bible scholars are in their ivory towers thinking great thoughts while the rest of us are in the trenches trying to do Christianity. However, more and more Bible scholars are starting to write books that are accessible to the general public. Michael Bird is one of those scholars.
As the letters of Paul loom so large over Christian theology I’m always on the lookout for introductions to his thought that are accessible, accurate, and which hit the high points. My previous favorite was Stephen Westerholm’s Understanding Paul: The Early Christian Worldview of the Letter to the Romans, which is excellent, but I now have a new favorite. Michael Bird’s Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message is exactly what I have been looking for. It’s short, only 171 pages. It’s easy to read. There are many helpful diagrams to illustrate his points. He hits the high points without getting stuck on the debatable issues.
There are eleven chapters in which Bird covers:
Paul and his conversion
The Biblical Worldview
The Gospel and its results
Monotheism and the Messiah
One of my favorite parts of the book is his table in the gospel chapter that compares the Old Testament and Greco-Roman meaning of several crucial terms: gospel, Lord, parousia, and savior. He summarizes the cultural understanding of each and then gives examples of the Greco-Roman meaning which are very instructive.
For some strange reason I almost always agree with Michael Bird. Normally that makes me uncomfortable because usually that means I’m not thinking critically, but in this case I’ve normally come to my conclusions before reading Bird. I think his view of justification is correct. He gets Romans 7 right. He is a premillenialist. One of the reasons I’m so excited about this book is that it is almost exactly the book I would write if I knew more and was a better writer. I would change the Spirituality chapter a bit, me being Charismatic and all, but even there he briefly mentions the continuation of the gifts as result of the resurrection. He just doesn’t unpack it further. That is a question of space and priorities as opposed to an error.
Back to my goal, for me this book is the first book church leaders should turn to (besides the Bible) on the journey for the church to have understanding, perfect for an introductory Sunday School class or Bible study. If will invest the few hours it takes to read this book we will understand the gospel, the Biblical worldview, eschatology, and how these apply to our lives. Surely that’s worth the price of the book.
PS. See Michael Bird and Joel Willitts’ blog http://www.patheos.com/community/euangelion/ for many interesting articles.