Today we live in a revisionist culture, where the past is viewed through the lens of today. So no matter what the historical event, progressives, radical feminists, and too many academics (who should know better) look at the past via what we know right now. But historian David McCullough reminded students of Dickinson College in 1998: “Let us not look down on anyone from the past for not having the benefit of what we know.” That’s why when it comes to the writings of The Apostle Paul, scholar Sarah Ruden has done us a great service with her 2010 book “Paul Among The People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in his Own Time.”
Every pastor and Christian leader wrestles with what Paul says about women’s roles in the Church, his view of slavery, the Christian’s relationship to the government, and more. But in “Paul Among the People,” Ruden takes us back to the cultural context Paul was writing in to illuminate the meaning of those difficult New Testament passages.
Today, a wide range of identity groups either criticize or co-opt Paul’s writings – mostly incorrectly. That’s why from an apologetics perspective, this is a powerful antidote to current misconceptions that Paul was puritanical, homophobic, misogynistic, or reactionary. Read in light of the world he was addressing, Paul’s message was a liberating force for freedom and love.
As she said in an interview with Christianity Today: “He [Paul] was an educated man. He could quote the pre-Socratic philosophers. He knew about rhetoric. His language is really quite sophisticated, but he is writing in part for people who are not so sophisticated, and he is having to deliver concepts that would have been exceedingly strange to everybody in Roman Imperial society, at every level of education.”
Because of that challenge, it’s sometimes difficult living in the 21st Century to understand what Paul was trying to convey. But in the context of his time and culture, it becomes remarkably clear.
If you’re tired of the constant criticism of Paul from today’s cultural progressives, then you need to read this book, especially if you’re a pastor and leader. Now, you can have the confidence to respond to the challenges and make a difference when it comes to engaging today’s secular culture.