Truly, no evangelist had more impact on Christianity than Paul. Yet despite his prominence in writing and importance in gathering the early gentile church, very little is actually known about him. In his excellent book, Introducing Paul, Michael F. Bird attempts to piece together Paul, the man, looking at his theology, personal history, and ideals.
Over the course of ten chapters, Bird dissects what we do know about Paul. His style is crisp, readable, and thoroughly enjoyable. Bird begins by asking the question “What is Paul?”, pointing out how hard it is to pin the apostle down. He is our hero, truly, yet we cannot seem to fit him into any boxes. Bird looks at the different roles in his life; persecutor, preacher, missionary, pastor, apologist, and martyr before focusing on Paul’s conversion. Very importantly, a chapter is dedicated to the purpose of each of Paul’s famous letters, oft overlooked due to our familiarity with them. He also focuses on Paul’s moral views, his spiritual views, his ideals of monotheism, and his preaching. Many topics related to Paul are examined; the gospel, eschatology and morality from the Pauline stance. Current ideas and topics regarding Paul are also touched on, without smothering the reader in pointless trivia. Bird also directs the reader’s attention towards modern issues to which Paul’s opinion is still relevant, such as homosexuality and church unity. He closes with a final look at the legacy of Paul, summarizing his contribution to the church as we know it. The gentiles stand as a testimony to Paul’s work and Bird makes sure we are aware of how key he was in their conversions.
There are numerous things to like about Bird’s book. It has an extremely pleasant style that all readers should find both informative and engaging. It manages to convey quite a lot of information to the reader, without using confusing technical terms or gibberish. Several helpful diagrams are included within the text, which are both helpful and simply nice to have for breaking up the walls of text. However, there are two main strengths to the book that supersede all others; the attention given to the individual letters of Paul and the amount of theology included. The chapter that focuses on each of Paul’s letters, in turn, is an invaluable resource. Often, we get so focused on reading the letters we fail to comprehend them or remember their purpose. With each letter carefully analyzed and its message plainly spoken, it becomes much easier to understand Paul’s motivation and learn the point he wants to make with each. The other key point is the amount of theology the reader absorbs while traveling through the book. The reader will find his own faith strengthened as discussions of the Gospel and Paul’s theology are discussed; an excellent addition to the book’s already outstand presentation on Paul.
It is not without flaws, however. Bird spends far too much time discussing the political ramifications of Paul’s letters, ramifications of which we cannot be sure. These socio-political musings add nothing to the reading and, by the author’s own admission, should not receive too much attention. Sadly, a good chunk of the book is devoted to them. Still, it is hardly enough to mar the work.
For the professor or the student, the pastor or the layman, Introducing Paul is an excellent resource. The crisp readable style, the brilliant scholarship, and the theological soundness make this book a requirement for any student of the great missionary. While Paul himself might remain mysterious, Introducing Paul pulls back the cover just a touch so we can get a glimpse of the enigma within.