Book Review: How to Like Paul Again

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Conrad Gempf is the Lecturer in New Testament at the London School of Theology, and this represents a popular-level engagement with some key New Testament themes, centred on the person of Paul. Paul, in most Christian understanding, is an author of a significant chunk of the New Testament, and yet is not as universally loved by Christians as one might expect. Gempf desires to rehabilitate Paul for the modern ear, and in doing so, get us thinking about how we read and interpret the Bible.

The primary concern of this book, as you might guess, is that Gempf is trying to get us to appreciate and ‘like’ Paul. The crux of Gempf’s focus is on the fact that what Paul writes are letters. Not manuals, or systematic handbooks, but letters. From him to people. There is a memorable invocation of the great biblical scholar Charlie Brown, who notes that this is like ‘reading someone else’s mail‘. But there is more than theory here. The importance of epistles is borne out carefully and methodically as the reader is led by the hand through important chunks of Galatians and 1 Corinthians.

The secondary concern of Gempf in this book, in my reading at least, is to get us to rethink how we read the Bible. In true New Testament academic style, he is helpful at engaging us with a variety of useful facts, yet this is not overwhelming. There are important observations about context, particularly in relation to what Paul was doing, and to whom he was writing, that make this book a helpful primer on hermeneutics. I would add this to my list of books to get people considering theological training/study to read. 

In conclusion, then, this slim, readable little book is an excellent addition to your library. Equally helpful for those who have been doing New Testament for years (it reminds us of the basics, and challenges us about our perceptions and knowledge accumulation) and those just beginning, this is a book that actually (in this reviewer’s mind, at least) sets out what it intends to do. I’m lucky in that I’ve never particularly disliked Paul, but I do understand those who feel less rosy. Gempf has done us a service in providing an engaging, inviting little book to rehabilitate the Apostle Paul and challenge us gently to read the text, rather than use the text. Highly recommended!

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