Book Review: The Spirituality of Paul

Known for his previous release The Spirituality of Jesus, Leslie T. Hardin has provided another character survey titled The Spirituality of Paul. Published by Kregel, this book is an aid for students of the New Testament seeking better understanding of Paul’s spirituality. I have read several introduction books on the apostle Paul, and have grown familiar with how these character surveys are typically laid out; Some have focused on the Biblical Context of Paul’s letters, others have focused on Paul’s offices of ministry (Pastor, Missionary, Apostle, Church Planter, etc…), but most have been introductions to Paul’s theological corpus covering all contexts of study—Historical, Literary, Rhetorical, Cultural, Sociological, Political, Pastoral, etc…

This book, however, is very different in that it focuses exclusively on Spirituality. Obviously there is tons of literature out there about the spirituality of Paul, but this one still stands out in how it is not exclusive to the academy, yet theologically deep. This is fitting to one of the book’s focuses being Paul as a disciple-maker. Observing this in the book will surely help in one’s understanding of disciple-making from the perspective of both the mentor and pupil.

Another thing to highlight about this book is its faithfulness answer questions that are exclusive to spirituality/spiritual formation, and bring them to the contemporary surface for teaching and understanding any and all willing to receive. What were the Apostle’s spiritual practices and disciplines? How did these spiritual disciplines help him? How did Paul view Christ in light of these practices? How does suffering affect Paul’s spirituality? How do we apply these to our lives today?

Each chapter, titled to fit well-known verses, engages these questions in a thorough and concise manner. The chapters are—

  1. “Imitate Me”: Paul and the Practice of the Spirit
  2. “It Is Written”: Paul’s Devotion to Scripture
  3. “For This Reason I Kneel”: Paul at Prayer
  4. “Entrust These Things to Reliable Men”: Disciple-Making
  5. “We Proclaim Christ”: Proclamation of the Gospel
  6. “When You Come Together”: Corporate Worship
  7. “Holy and Blameless in His Sight”: Holiness
  8. “We Were All Given the One Spirit”: Spiritual Gifts
  9. “As a Father Deals with His Children”: Building One Another Up in the Faith
  10. “The Marks of Jesus”: Paul and Suffering
  11. The Shape of Pauline Spirituality

Hardin is not shy with his inclusion of personal anecdotes, nor does he neglect of surveying the backgrounds of the text as is appropriate. On top of that, this is filled with helpful footnotes and thorough bibliography. I found this book to be very enjoyable. For $16.99, it is affordable to the seminarian on a budget and readable to the new believer seeking a deeper understanding of Paul’s spirituality. This would make a great small group or Sunday school lesson book as well. All in all, I give this book a thumbs up and am thankful I took the time to read it! You can purchase this on Kregel’s website here. Special thanks to Kregel and their blogger program for providing me with this review copy of the book!

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from Kregel in exchange for an honest review. This did not have any influence on my reviews. All of the thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

 

Advertisements

If being lukewarm is bad, what of hot and cold? Re-evaluating the misunderstood contrast taken from Revelation 3:15-16

           Lukewarm picture

 “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I am about to vomit you out of my mouth!

Revelation 3:15-16

Most of us have heard this passage preached to professing Christians and living a different lifestyle. It is an urgent warning to their fellow believer to go all-in with their faith, and avoid being a Lukewarm Christian. If you haven’t heard the term lukewarm before, you’ve probably heard one of these verses preached with the same underlying warning…

Matthew 6:24- Man cannot serve both God and money, just as man cannot serve two masters

John 15:9- If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

Romans 12:2- Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind

1 Peter 1:16- Be Holy as I am Holy

1 Peter 2:9- But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

All of these point to the same “fence-riding” lifestyle many have assumed of Revelation 3:15-16; God would rather you be a non-believer bound for hell than a lukewarm, fence-riding Christian. This is a message that encourages moral integrity, and more importantly, an authentic faith/relationship with the creator God.  

Though virtue, integrity, morality, and authentic faith are thematic throughout all of Scripture, I am more than skeptical that this traditional understanding of the passage is the author’s intent. That is, does God really prefer people be unbelievers entirely rather than what so many have called lukewarm Christians? What really needs to be considered are the metaphors hot and cold: which of them is entirely good and which of them is entirely bad? How are we supposed to tell the difference? If there even is one…

For example, I prefer cold water over hot water to drink in the summer time, however, I’d prefer hot tea over iced tea in the winter. What about when hot and cold are used to describe a person’s character? We call bitter people cold and superstars hot. Which is supposed to be negative, and which is supposed to be positive? 

I think its fair to say it depends on the season and circumstance which we prefer. In order to understand the how lukewarm is an antagonist to them, the relationship between hot and cold needs to be distinguished, at which we will investigate in two areas: Literary Context (use of language) and Historical Context (social/cultural conditions of the author and recipients). 

Literary Context

The Greek word for “hot” is ζεστος (zes-tahs); the use of this word never has the connotation of being an “all in” Christian who is full of fiery passion. It is always used to describe temperature. Similarly, the Greek word for cold” is ψυχρος (psoo-krahs), is never associated with those lacking faith or fiery passion; its use in the NT always refers to temperature without nuances of character like  “bitter” or “angry”. 

What if the metaphors for temperatures are both good? We are so used to reading these verses to mean that hot and cold automatically mean good and bad because they are opposites, but what if that’s not the author’s intended message? What if the understood contrast between hot and cold really isn’t as black and white (pun intended) as we’d perceive? What if the passage were read “you are neither apples nor oranges, you are radishes” instead, would we still interpret it with the same connotations? Understanding the context of the passage will help verify what an appropriate application for this passage is. 

*Disclaimer: I am not arguing against morality or virtue that comes from the traditional understanding of this passage. I am pointing out that the application of the text is different from the traditional understanding of “be all in, or not at all”, because of the assumed antagonistic relationship between hot and cold. 

Historical Context

Laodicea was centrally located between several cities. Two of these surrounding cities were known specifically for their water sources–Heirapolis and Colossae. Heirapolis was had several natural hot springs it was known for. In fact, many traveled to Heirapolis because of these infamous hot springs; kind of like how people travel to the Mayo Clinic today. These natural hot springs provided healing qualities to those immersed in the water, similar to taking hot shower or hot tub for healing or relief. Twelve miles east of Laodicea was the city of Colossae. Like Heirapolis, Colossae was also famous for their water source. The difference, however, is Colossae’s water source was cold, refreshing and life-giving. It came from the snow caps of Mount Cadmus located behind the city and fed the Lycus river, from where they would obtain it. If you were standing in Laodicea and were to look towards Colossae, you would be able to see this mountain clearly. It is doubtful to think that John would not have known this when writing this letter. He certainly was well aware of Laodicea’s location being between two water-sourced cities, and it is doubtful that he would have used this metaphor with the church of Laodicea otherwise. He knew of the healing hot springs of Heirapolis, the live-giving cold water of Colossae, and Laodicea’s centrality to both.  

There is an underlying problem one may not immediately see; The city of Laodicea did not have a natural water supply. With the city being central to the landmarks of Hierapolis and Colossae, it was naturally a prime trading route, as well as a frequented stopping point for travelers. Their solution to this agricultural hurdle was to develop an aqueduct system to bring water into the city. The system was too far from Heirapolis or Colossae to be their water source. Instead, the aqueduct system was set up from what is now Denizli, a city closer in proximity to Laodicea. Denizli had hot springs as well, from which Laodicea funneled in their water. The hot water would be exported through this aqueduct system from there to Laodicea, and naturally the heat of the water would cool to a less desirable temperature. The Laodiceans put the water in the shade until it became desirably cool enough to drink. This custom was common. Below is an excerpt from the Greek historian Herodotus (484 B.C.-425 B.C.), which Stanley Porter included in his article I listed in my bibliography. He says:

            “And they have another source of water, a spring, which in the morning is lukewarm, but as market time comes becomes colder. And at noon it is its coldest. At this time they [the Ammonians] water their gardens. When the day draws to a dose the coldness declines, until when the sun sets and the water becomes lukewarm. It is at its hottest when the time draws near to midnight, and at this time it boils and bubbles. When midnight passes, it becomes colder until dawn. This spring is called the spring of the sun.” –Description of the Ammonians of Northern Africa (4.181.3-4)

From this it can be seen that both cold water and hot water were desired. Neither was bad, but both were only attainable at certain points of the day. For the Laodiceans, the water’s desired temperature needed to be controlled. It was not going to be as hot as it was in the natural spring, and it took time afterwards for the water to reach it’s coolest. As Herodotus indicated earlier, the coldest temperature was achieved at market time. Market time would be when more people are awake and active in the city, which in turn means there would be an increased demand for water that was cool and refreshing. 

This brings us to the understanding of lukewarm and how we apply it today. If Hot water is healing, and Cold water is rejuvenating/life-giving, then what are we to make of lukewarm?  We know lukewarm is bad, but how does this apply to the church as a whole? 


Conclusion

Personally, I think this passage should be considered in light of the collective church body more than the individual alone. The passage begins with, “I know your works” and is a letter written to the Laodicean church about their actions; works that are neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm. The church needs to be both hot and cold, spiritually healing, life-giving, and refreshing. Just as Colossae and Heirapolis were known for the healing and refreshing effects of their water, the church should be known as a place that is healing, refreshing, and life-giving. When we gather together as a community of faith, our desire should be to preserve our faith in a way that is desirable to others. Just like those who would get sick from drinking the lukewarm mineral water, there are many people who have been incredibly hurt by the church. They came to practice their faith with a community they expected to be life-giving, healing, and refreshing, and instead they experienced something vomit-worthy. The church has left a bad taste in the world’s mouth, which does not portray us as a loving community. The church has too often signed God’s name on bigotry, hateful, exclusive practices, and given it an undesirable reputation. To several, what we offer is nothing like the waters of Heirapolis or Colossae as it ought to be, all we’ve given the world is lukewarm water… bland, disgusting, bath water that nobody is drawn to…

Am I saying we need to be “seeker-driven” churches? No, not at all… I am saying that the world’s perception of the church didn’t come out of thin air. Many perceive it as a social-club exclusive to the well-behaved because that’s how many believers have carried themselves. What we need to do is be both Hot and Cold to all in need of a community that is spiritually refreshing and healing. The church should be known for these characteristics, and now is an excellent time in the world to take a step forward in practicing this so that we can be the community that.

What does it mean to be lukewarm and how do you avoid it? Cultivate spiritual healing and be the love of God to all you encounter. Foster a life-giving community, so that all who are thirsty and hurting may find healing, nourishment, and a family in the church just as God intended for it to be. 


Bibliography

Hemer, Colin J. The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.

Keener, Craig S. Revelation. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000.

Osborne, Grant R. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary of the NT. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002.

Porter, Stanley E. “Why the Laodiceans Received Lukewarm Water (Revelation 3:15-18).” Tyndale Bulletin—vol. 38, 1987: 143-149.*

*Click here if you’d like to read this article. It is an online PDF of Porter’s article alone, so there isn’t access to this volume of the Tyndale Bulletin.   

Book Review- Urban Legends of the New Testament: 40 Common Misconceptions

UrbanLegends-headerMore times than not I see many people misapplying scripture to aid them in their present context.  I’ve encountered several instances where a westernized reading of scripture has fogged the context of the Biblical author’s intended understanding of the text which, unfortunately, consistently leads to misapplication. Optimistically speaking, (or as a pessimist would detest- unrealistically speaking) that the progress of technology continues to make tools and resources easily accessible and readily available to prevent future interpretive errors such as this. Be that as it may,  misapplying scripture, whether innocent or intentional, should be addressed with a plethora of grace in all circumstances. Urban Legends of the New Testament: 40 Common Misconceptions is a book seeking to alleviate some of the misunderstanding developed from misinterpretation.

Written by David Croteau (PhD, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Professor of NT and Greek in the Seminary and School of Ministry at Columbia International University), this is book is both fun and easy to read! Each common misconception is given a chapter, and each chapter is laid out to consist of no more than 5-8 pages. Some of the misconceptions discussed are

  1. Was Jesus really a carpenter?
  2. Was Paul a Tentmaker? (should ministers/pastors be paid for ministry?)
  3. Did Jesus die at age 33?
  4. Did Jesus really sweat drops of blood?
  5. Is money evil?
  6. Was there really no room for Joseph, Mary, and Jesus in the inn?

There were a few things that stood out to me about Croteau’s work, the first being the unique emphasis on the subject of hermeneutics. I have never read, let alone seen another book out there like this in that the hermeneutical emphasis is ironically subliminal (if that’s possible). By this I mean that Croteau provides historical and cultural understanding to each misconception without marketing the book as a “How To…” book on hermeneutics. The list of misconceptions aren’t new ideas in the world of evangelical scholarship (you could probably find all of them in any commentary, introduction, or survey book); this, however, looks over misconceptions throughout the New Testament, so it isn’t exclusive to a topic, idea, character, or genre as one might find in a commentary or introduction. Additionally, the book’s format provides the reader with an easy way to navigate the arguments of each misconception. To obtain this from commentaries, even the cheapest and most basic of commentaries, the total cost would still be right around $100, whereas this book is only $14.99 from B&H Publishing’s online store, here is a link.

I also enjoyed the annotated bibliography at the end of each chapter. Dr. Croteau provides further resources pertaining to each passage, and comments on each of them so you know if they’re worth purchasing or not. The annotated bibliography is also what led me to further research for my Lukewarm Blogpost (click here if you’d like to read it). B&H does this in their Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament Series as well, which was even more helpful with those considering they deal with the Greek language exclusively. I hope this is something they start including for all of their academic works because the diversity of resources is incredibly beneficial for further Biblical/Theological study.

Conclusion:

I found Croteau to be very generous and compassionate towards those who have fallen privy to these misconceptions as well as an exemplar of scriptural integrity. This is the most affordable book I’ve reviewed, and would love to see many engage with its principals. Honestly, I would love to have this book be in the Recommendations section of my blog (if I ever install the menu button for it). Whether you are preparing a sermon, writing a devotional blogpost, or just looking for a passive aggressive gift for your pastor, this book is a very fun read I highly recommend. I am certain you will enjoy it!

***Disclaimer- I received a review copy of this book from B&H Publishing in exchange for an honest review. The views expressed are my own, and were not influenced by their provisional review copy.