It would be undeniable and a VAST understatement to note that the Apostle Paul's letters in the New Testament have not only changed lives but also history. As a person who has grown up in mainline Protestantism, I have been steeped in Paul's thought and ethos. I am forever grateful for his encouragement and teaching. Yet, there's always been something missing for me in many of the expository writings on Paul. Yes, I am "into" justification, grace, law/gospel," etc. But what about transformation? In other words, are Paul's writings more than just a summary of what one must do to have a restorative relationship with God through Jesus? Is there more? Is that sufficient? In other words, who and what is a Christian?
David deSilva at Ashland Theological Seminary has a new book called Transformation: The Heart of Paul’s Gospel (Lexham, 2014) that pretty much answers the question in the title. I'm so excited to jump into deSilva's work. Just to give you a taste, here he opens with a realistic assessment about how we understand Paul’s gospel:
What was this “good news” that he announced throughout Syria, Turkey, Greece, and eventually even in Rome and possibly in areas further west? “You can be sure that, if you were to die tonight, you would go to heaven”; “If you trust Jesus, all your sins will be forgiven, and you’ll be guaranteed a ‘not guilty’ verdict at the Last Judgment”; “Jesus died in your place, so now you don’t need to be afraid of God, of judgment, or of death”; “All you need to do is to confess Jesus as your savior and believe in his name, and you can be sure that you’re saved. There’s truth in each of these statements, supported by one or more passages from Paul’s writings….
God offers you the means to become reconciled with him and to become a new person who will want and love and do what is pleasing to him because the Spirit of his Son will live in you and change you. The result of God’s kindness and activity is that you will live a new kind of life now and, after death, live forever with him. As I have come to understand Paul’s message, it is all about change. The good news is nothing less than that God has set in motion the forces and factors that can transform all of creation and make it new, good, and right once again—including us. This transformation remains from beginning to end a work of God’s favor or “grace,” for it begins at God’s initiative; it transpires through the working and the power of the gift that God has given, namely the Spirit; and it is brought to completion because of God’s commitment and faithfulness. But the accent remains on transformation as God’s goal for God’s gifts and as the result in our lives and churches if we have not “received God’s grace for nothing,,” to borrow a phrase from 2 Cor 6:1, or if we do not “set aside God’s grace,” to borrow a phrase from Gal 2:21.
As I make my way through the book, I'll keep you posted!