nuance

Can Paul Be Redeemed?

“Jesus was a radical who welcomed everyone and criticized powerful leaders who oppressed the poor. Jesus was crucified because he was a political threat. But the Apostle Paul was a conservative missionary who misunderstood Jesus and was anti-woman, pro-slavery, and anti-gay.”

That seems to sum up how many progressive Christians view Paul. But are such views justified by the biblical record? Or are there other ways to understand the zealous Pharisee who became an apostle to the Gentiles?

IN THE EARLY 1970s, I came across an article on Jesus’ women disciples in the Christian social justice magazine The Other Side. I was shocked. I had attended church all my life; how come I never noticed those women disciples?

What I didn’t know then was that a renewed “search for the historical Jesus” was underway. Applying the ever-developing insights of sociology, anthropology, and archaeology, scholars were investigating the socio-economic and political aspects of life in first century Palestine. How did Jesus fit into his historical context? As a peasant healer, how did he challenge the Roman occupation and their clients, the chief priests at the temple in Jerusalem?

It takes a while for new insights from biblical research to reach lay Christians. This is further delayed if church leaders are suspicious of intellectual elitism and fearful some of their parishioners might “lose their faith.”

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Learning to Love Complexity

Blue vintage globe map photo courtesy Shutterstock.
Blue vintage globe map photo courtesy Shutterstock.

Tumult in Egypt reminds me how complicated the world can be, especially for a culture like our own that is shaped by good guy vs. bad guy dramas.

Who are the “good guys” in Cairo? Is the ousted president a good guy for being democratically elected or a bad guy for pursuing isolationist Islamic policies? Is the military saving Egypt or preserving privileges?

It isn’t just the inherent complexity of any human situation. It’s the complexity of societies that have rules and histories quite unlike our own.

Unresolved ... Like Jazz

Still from the film, "Blue Like Jazz," via www.bluelikejazzthemovie.com.
Still from the film, "Blue Like Jazz," via www.bluelikejazzthemovie.com.

As a progressive Christian in my mid-20s, it'd be safe to bet I might be a fan of Donald Miller. And I am. Miller's Blue Like Jazz and Searching For God Knows What are among the books that have significantly affected my faith journey.

And, like many others in my demographic, I met the news of an adaptation of Blue Like Jazz with both hope and apprehension. Like Miller himself, “at first, I didn’t understand how it could be a movie. I couldn’t see it on a screen.”

My own anxieties about a big-screen adaptation fell into two categories. First Jazz is, for all intents and purposes, a memoir. And memoirs — or the biopics they often become onscreen — are, in my opinion, rarely great films. They are usually little more than a path to the Oscars for actors who are pining after an ego-boost (but I guess that’s another story).

What saves Blue Like Jazz, thankfully, is that it is a memoir with a difference. It isn’t a rose-tinted, romanticized account of some historical or celebrated figure. It is the memoir of someone who is very much like me — just a little bit funnier. That’s where the appeal comes from and I'd expect that's what will make Blue Like Jazz (the film) a success both here and abroad.

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