Book Plunge: Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul?

Is this book by J.R. Daniel Kirk worth reading? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

While browsing through a library of a local Seminary here, I came across the book “Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul?” by J.R. Daniel Kirk. It was a book that I had heard much about so I figured I’d check it out and find out if it was a book that I could really recommend, one that was just average, or one to be avoided like the plague.

My contention is actually the first of the three. I found this to be an excellent and scholarly book. While it is that, it has the advantage of being written for the position of the layman as well. You will not need to be well-read in scholarly literature to follow this and there is not difficult jargon to follow. The author has a wonderful style of writing that guides you through.

Kirk writes as one who grew up with an ambivalence about Paul. In some ways, it’s quite understandable. We can often hear about how Paul invented Christianity and Hellenized the Christian movement. We can hear about how Paul is silent on the life of Jesus. We can hear that Jesus said X, but Paul by comparison said Y. Paul also was sexist and pro-slavery of course. He was a prude who wanted nothing to do with sexuality.

Kirk understands this and says we need to realize Paul is fitting Jesus into the story of Israel and that this will appeal to our postmodern culture. We will not understand the Pauline view of Jesus until we understand how Jesus fits into the story of Israel as a whole. Otherwise, we are picking up a book right in the middle and then saying that this one part of it makes no sense.

In each chapter then, Kirk will start with what Jesus had to say about a matter. Kirk’s view of Jesus is quite eye-opening. As one who has been focusing on reading N.T. Wright lately, I saw a lot of that in here. The gospel is about a lot more than just the forgiveness of sins, although it certainly includes that. Believe it or not Christian, the object of the gospel is not you. The object is the glory of God through the spreading of his Kingdom. It is the good news that Jesus is King and you are invited to participate in that reign.

If Kirk was to take the slogan of JFK, it would be “Ask not what the Kingdom of God can do for you, but what you can do for the Kingdom.” Kirk thus not only presents new information on Paul and Jesus for the reader, but at the same time encourages them on the route to discipleship, which is something that makes this book exciting. This book speaks of the Kingdom powerfully and vibrantly. Something like this could get us beyond most of the shallow church services that we have going on.

This book does deal with many of the hard issues. What about slavery? Is Paul for it? Was Paul opposed to women? What about sexuality? In that area, what about homosexuality in particular? Are we missing something if we say “Justification by faith” and at the same time make it seem like works are absolutely pointless and play no role in the life of faith?

If the reader wants to know about any of these, Kirk’s book is an excellent place to go. I do think on some points he could have taken on other passages, which would be my only criticism. For instance, in talking about women, I saw no treatment of 1 Cor. 14 where women are told to keep silent, which is a key verse. I think 1 Tim. 2:8-15 has a section worthy of great discussion, but this one needed to be discussed to.

Kirk is a writer who takes Scripture seriously, Jesus seriously, Paul seriously, and the Kingdom seriously. He wants his readers to do the same and reading this book is an excellent way to do that.

In Christ,
Nick Peters