Is the Apostle Paul Outdated?

Paul’s Influence Today

Paul’s life was far from ordinary. His ministry was provocative, while his reputation was contentious, and throughout his ministry he suffered much for the gospel.[1] Paul’s letters continue to ignite heated debates concerning his remarks on “Israel, homosexuality, women, spiritual gifts, and the end times.”[2] Yet, he is also remembered as a Saint and is revered by many for his sacrifices in establishing the early church; while his teachings continue to shape contemporary culture and the church today. He suffered greatly during his ministry, having been thrown in jail, beaten near death, whipped, stoned, starved, and exposed to the elements (2 Cor. 11:25-27).[3] Still today, the message that Paul carried brings risk—risk that following Christ in an anti-Christian age will lead to the jeopardy of one’s “family, future, relationships, reputation, career, and comfort in this world.”[4] Despite the risk, Paul’s teachings are just as relevant today as they were 2,000 years ago.

Following the arrival of modernism and then postmodernism, Paul’s teachings on the Age to Come and salvation often fall on deaf ears. Since the Enlightenment, people hold that belief in the supernatural is nothing more than myth used to explain the unknowable or undiscovered. Making the truth of a living God foolishness. Postmodernism has added an additional layer of resistance to the gospel, denying that objective truth can be known. As Davis Wells highlights in the Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, postmodernism “denies that anything can be ultimate because ultimately nothing is there. There is no hub to hold the spokes; or if there is, we are unable to get our cognitive sights on it.”[5] Paul met similar resistance as he spread the gospel as it is “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:23).

However, people need an opportunity to hear the gospel! The Kingdom of God has arrived, and people needed to get ready through repentance and recommitting themselves to God (Phil 3:20). Yet, this may be the most offensive message in the gospel for the modern reader.[6] Most assume they are good people and question what they need to be “saved” from. As Paul admonished, “None is righteous, no, not one” and “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:10; 3:23). Worryingly, many Christians in the U.S. reflect the culture around them. A 2002 survey found that four out of ten Protestants accept a view of salvation “ensured by good deeds” and 52% of Evangelicals reject the doctrine of Original Sin.[7] Paul admonished both views in his letters, which is where the answer remains today.

Salvation is still offered through a saving faith in Jesus. Salvation is not “ensured by good deeds.” It is through faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 2:16). In Colossians, Paul faced an audience that is in many ways similar to the U.S. today. In the region where the Colossians church was located, the practice of blending belief systems had become common. For example, certain members of the church had formed a belief system where they had mixed Jewish, Hellenistic practices, angelic visions, and Christian beliefs. They did not reject Jesus, he became a God among many gods.[8] Similarly, in our culture today, 44% of adults believe, “the Bible, the Koran and the Book of Mormon are all different expressions of the same spiritual truths.”[9] Further illuminating the impact of modernism and postmodernism, 54% affirm “truth can be discovered only through logic, human reasoning and personal experience,” minimizing or rejecting the Bible as a source of truth.[10]  Fortunately, Paul provides an example and teaching to confront people with the truth in love. Not only did Paul confront pluralist practices in Ephesus, resulting in a riot (Acts 19:21-41), but he left us 13 epistles containing “instruction; advice; rebuke; and exhortation in theological, ethical, social, personal, and liturgical matters.”[11]

Notes


[1] Todd Still and Bruce Longenecker, Thinking Through Paul: A Survey of His Life, Letters, and Theology (Grand Rapids: Harper Collins, 2014), ProQuest Ebook Central, 10.

[2] Michael Bird, ed., Counterpoints: Four Views on the Apostle Paul (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 9.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[4] David Platt, Counterculture: Following Christ in an Anti-Christian Age (Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2017), Kindle, loc. 113.

[5] David Wells, “The Culture of Nothingness,” in The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, ed. John Piper and Justin Taylor (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2007), 40.

[6] Platt, Counterculture, 8.

[7] Barna Group, Americans Draw Theological Beliefs From Diverse Points of View (Ventura: Barna Group, 2002), https://www.barna.com/research/americans-draw-theological-beliefs-from-diverse-points-of-view/.

[8] Robert Stacy, “Paul’s Letters from Prison,” New Testament Orientation-II, Liberty University, 2019, video of lecture, https://canvas.liberty.edu/courses/147189/pages/watch-pauls-letters-from-prison?module_item_id=9332898.

[9] Barna Group, Americans Draw Theological Beliefs From Diverse Points of View.

[10] Ibid.

[11] David S. Dockery, “The Pauline Letters,” in Holman Concise Bible Commentary, ed. David S. Dockery (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1998), 539.

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