Few figures in Christian history receive more mixed reviews than the Apostle Paul. Many conservative Christians (and particularly Calvinists) revere him and his writings; plenty of progressives dismiss him as arrogant and sexist. Now the pastor of America’s most influential mainline Protestant congregation has jumped into the debate. Surprisingly, he finds Paul to be “an exemplar for the way in which God calls all believers to live.”
Adam Hamilton is pastor of Church of the Resurrection, a United Methodist Church in Kansas boasting more than 10,000 weekly worshippers. While many other mainline Protestants are theologically and politically progressive–and even Hamilton himself recently penned a book on Bible interpretation considered by many to be left-leaning–Hamilton holds the Apostle Paul in high regard. His book, “The Call: The Life and Message of The Apostle Paul,” details his own journey to walk in Paul’s footsteps in Turkey, Greece, and Italy while distilling modern faith lessons from Paul’s ancient existence. Here we discuss his ideas and why they matter two millennia after Paul’s death.
RNS: You say that no other human, apart from Jesus, has had a greater impact on the world than Paul of Tarsus. But TIME Magazine placed him at #34, ranking Muhammed, Plato, Mozart, and Adolph Hitler above Paul. What do you see that they missed?
AH: I think most people, as TIME Magazine has done, underrate the impact of the Apostle Paul. Paul had a greater influence on the development of Christian theology and faith than anyone but Jesus. Most Christians, whether they realize it or not, understand the significance of Jesus through the interpretive lens of Paul. Jesus left no writings, but Paul is credited with writing nearly half of the books in the New Testament. More people read Paul’s letters than read the writings of any other religious or philosophical figure in history. As Jesus’ primary interpreter, Paul has shaped the theology, spirituality and ethics of more than one third of the world’s population. His influence on our world far outpaces Hitler, Mozart and Plato (though Paul himself was influenced by Plato) and I would argue, by sheer numbers, Muhammed as well.
RNS: Your last book argued in places for a less literal reading of the Bible. How does this apply to your reading of Paul?