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Saturday, 10 December 2005

Preface to the Study of Paul by: Stephen Westerholm


What Ever Happens to Herbert?

Preface to the Study of Paul by Stephen Westerholm is a very unique book. It is short, easy to read. Yet it takes an in depth look at Paul the Apostle, his times, his world view, and how Moderns or Post-Moderns can relate to or apply Paul. I will be looking at this in relation to a few specific area's, firstly Herbert whom we are introduced to in the introduction, secondly "Bent nature" of minds and it as a definition of "Sin Nature". Finally, I will then look at the inconsistencies in the work. Does Westerholm open up Paul to the uninitiated?

In the introduction we are introduced to Herbert, "But one can well imagine an outsider - a Herbert, if you will-wanting to pose what seems an obvious question: 'Why Paul?'" (Page ix) Westerholm goes on to introduce Herbert's doubts, and Herbert will go his own way, unless he is drawn in by the Pauline Industry. Interesting there is a reference to "Herbert" in a Star Trek episode called "The way to Eden" that aired February 21st 1969, In the episode there are a group of space hippies who are searching for Enlightenment, for the planet Eden, which in their Mythology is the source of all life. To them a "Herbert" is any one who is an outsider, unenlightened, authoritarian, or oppressive. In sum, anyone who does not understand the way. In Both, "Herbert" just doesn't get it.
So the "Herbert" in out introduction is someone who doesn't understand Paul, or Paul's significance to Western Thought. So this book sets out to Give "Herbert" all he needs to make up His own mind about Paul. I believe in the first half of the book that the opening up of Paul to "Herbert" is well accomplished. Paul's view of himself is explained in the book. The world at that time. As well as situational applications of Paul today are well presented.

However from chapter 7 on the focus is on Paul's teaching. We lose "Herbert" here because we lose the situational examples of "Jack and Jill" p.11, "Bill and Barb" p. 23-25, and the "Modern Parables" and "abc, Ashely, Brandon, and Crystal" Examples on p. 41 and 51. These examples opened up "Herberts" (and our eyes) to Paul's intentions and directions. However "Herbert" appears to get lost in the fury of activity in getting to the end of the book of Romans.

We will now look at a term Westerholm uses for the "Sin Nature". Bent used on pages 75, 104 and else where. "Apart from a divine transformation, humanity's bent for
sin is incorrigible" p.74 "Paul never attributes humanity's bent towards sin to
divine action." p.104 This is similar to C.S. Lewis' description of fallen non-Christian men in "Out of the Silent Planet" as seen on p.77 "No, he had come with two others of his kind-bad-men ('bent' men was the nearest hrossian equivalent) who tried to kill him, but he had run away from them." and again on p. 91"Bent hnau (men) of his own kind from Thulcandra (Earth) are following him, he should go to Oyarsa. If they find him anywhere else there will be evil.". C.S. Lewis continues this though throughout this book and "Perelandra" it's sequel, on p. 188 "Where he gave up his will and reason to the Bent
Eldil (Angel)". In my extensive reading of Christian literature, I have only come across the term "Bentness" in Lewis and Westerholm. It fascinates me and also is a very good illustration of what sin is or of its effects. It communicates very clearly Paul's view of sin and how it affects our world and us. It is powerful and convicting. Westerholm does a good job of presenting Paul, his worldview and he breaks Romans down into digestible pieces. He gives a clear perspective on who Paul though he was and what his "Call" or "mission" in life was. He explains Paul's writings in terms of their relation to the Law, to Paul's thought, to the Greek world and even in sections to the modern world. These comparisons or contrasts between different views on subjects like goodness, faith, freedom, evil and sin, causes the reader to think, to reflect, and hopefully to act, change and grow. There are however faults with the book. Foremost is the lack of consistency of style. For the beginning part of the book, he uses examples or "Modern Parables" as he calls them to stress points. On pages 10-11, he stresses differing views of relationships that are in the process of development in the case of "Bob and Barb". Again in pages 23-25 he stresses character flaws, "sin nature" or "bent people" through examples of "Brandon, Ashley and Crystal". Then on page 41 he gives examples of real and false guilt through similar examples. And finally on page 51 -- Back on the topic of relationships-- This time, on the awakening of love and faith. The parable style is well written and works well.

But then it the next 6 chapters, half of the book, we never again have these examples that draw us into the discussion, and the author shifts his style. That makes the reader make decisions either in support of or in opposition to the teachings of Paul presented, and that which Westerholm is explaining.

This lack of consistency is confusing to the reader, who wants to get back to Herbert or to the examples which they can relate to. It seems as if the first 6 chapters were written for Herbert and to enlighten him, and as though the last 6 were written for a bible study group or theology class. This change of approach, lack of consistency, and methodology causes a break in the book and I believe a failure in it's purpose of opening up Herbert to
Paul's though world.

There are other inconsistencies as well. Chapter 12, on living the good life is a good summary of Paul's purpose, especially his letter to the Romans. However it is not a conclusion to the book. There is no wrap up, tying together of the Romans complete view, or of Westerholms own purpose in the introduction. It fails to reach the conclusion. The thesis is clearly stated: "The issue remains why. What (as Herbert himself would put it) is 'so big about Paul'? What have people seen in Him? Why did he make such an impact? Fair questions, all. To satisfy Herbert, we must dig a little deeper." p.x Though this starts out well, it fails to fulfill this goal. Herbert gets lost along the way and what starts off as "Paul for the Layman" ends us a theological discourse.

This book is facile to read. It is challenging of one's worldview and principles. For the Christian, or Theology or Religious studies student this book is a fun, quick read that can be revisited like an old friend to freshen up on the complexities of Paul and his world. For the non-initiated, however the book looses steam and probably interest and the end of the 6th chapter. Herbert who is mentioned by name 13 times and over 25 times including pronouns in the introduction; is lost and Westerholm never returns to him.

Unless of course is Westerholm view's all of the readers as "Herberts" in relation to Paul and Westerholm intends that by the end we are Non-Herberts. Therefore, Herbert is missing from the end. I believe that is the examples, "Modern Parables" were spread through the last 6 chapters and a 13th chapter returning to Herbert were added this book would be complete and achieve it's objectives.

(Originally written for RS209 Paul’s Life and Letters Spring Term 1998)

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