Paul: A Novel | Walter Wangerin Jr.

The cover of Wangerin's Paul: A NovelWhile setting the category for this book review, I hit an impasse. Do I consider this a work of literature, theology, or spiritual formation?

When I was a young minister I bought Wangerin’s The Book of God. His novelization of the Old Testament made an impact on my study of scripture. He reminded me of the reality of these ancient stories. In Paul, he picks up the story where he left off. Wangerin combines an intimate knowledge of scripture, thoughtful exegesis, and a literary pen to create a work that will help the reader understand Paul more completely than before.

You could consider this a work of literature. The point-of-view shifts between the various characters (framed by the pseudo-musings of Seneca) are a profound way to revisit a well-known story.

Alternatively, it could be considered a work of theology. Many exegetical decisions had to be made about issues such as the purpose of the Gentile offering, the nature of Paul’s “thorn in his flesh,” and the circumstances and letters to the church in Corinth. Wangerin chooses wisely.

For me, this book was primarily a work of spiritual formation. Wangerin has enabled me to imagine what it would be like to live Paul’s life. You can almost feel the sweat and taste the dust of the ancient cities. The conflict between Paul and Jerusalem was profoundly disturbing yet moving. It helps me to place modern church conflict in perspective.

There were times when the action slowed and the detailed description started to feel excessive. As a whole, however, Paul: A Novel, is powerful work of Christian imagination.

—Walter Wangerin Jr., Paul: A Novel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000).

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