I’m a fan of books by Walter Wangerin. I read The Book of God while we lived in England and was moved by his portrayal of the Bible in a novelized form. Wangerin has the ability to take the familiar stories of scripture and present them in a way that breathes life into the characters. I found myself understanding the Old Testament more and falling more in love with Jesus as I read the Book of God.
That’s why I was excited to read a book Karen picked up in the 10c bin at the local library. Paul: A Novel is another one of Wangerin’s books, and as you can imagine from the title, it picks up the story of the Apostle Paul and dives deep into his life.
Wangerin’s signature method is to tell Paul’s story through the eyes of different “minor” characters, and so we hear from Timothy, Priscilla, Titus, and James. It provides for many different “voices,” which add to the richness of the story.
One thing this book highlighted for me was the deep divisions that were at play in the Early Church. The issues between Jew and Gentle ran as deep as the conflicts and controversies that we have today. Issues of “tradition” and “God’s new thing” were as heated and passionate then as the “reformed” and “missional” debates that we have in our day.
I also found the book challenging to my understanding of life in the first century. I was reminded of the overarching power that Rome had over everyone’s life. There was nothing that wasn’t touched by that ancient power.
I’m convinced that we live in a culture and society that has more in common every day with the world of the first century. Our influence as Christians is increasingly moving from the center to the margins, and we need to be continually thinking about how we can learn to minister in this new reality. All of us should be studying and reading about the early church to give us a glimpse into a way forward.
Pastor Rick Bartlett