The First Christian. St Paul's Impact on Christianity , by Karen Armstrong (Pan Books, Channel Four Book, £2.50).
WRITING scripts for television screening seems to have introduced a new style of literature. Certainly in this book on St Paul, (designed as part of an awe inspiring programme of six episodes, each of 52 minutes, on Channel Four) there is a • vitality to match the life and movement on the screen.
The author has devoted considerable research to support her thesis that in some ways Paul was the author of Christianity. The resulting style seems to live on the screen more than on the printed page; even her "Acknowledgements", and still more her "Introduction", present the author as a living person, arriving to be a companion in the reader's room.
The subject of the study comes to life as well. We meet Paul as a man of flesh and blood. The disadvantage of this vividness is that, almost inevitably, the past is brought to live with us in the present, rather than taking the viewer-reader to live in the past. The present of course is brim-full of current experience which makes it difficult to bring to life a character with his own peculiar experiences. There is no room here and now for both sets of reality, and the present tends to win the struggle for presentation. So Paul appears with a touch of the modern charismatic evangelist, who deprives secular learning and to some extent church authority too.
The following passage will show how the apostle of the Gentiles comes to be walking across our screen or sitting room: "His attitude here (in Athens) flung Christendom into the Dark Ages, by denying human achievements of' learning and culture, even though it must be said that Luther's rediscovery of Paul helped pull Europe into the modern period" (pp 117118).
Orthodox Christian viewers or ' readers will be surprised • by many assertions, not least among them that the Church was founded by Paul rather than by Jesus. However, if they keep their seats and their heads clear, they may derive some enjoyment and instruction from Karen Armstrong's presentation of her disciple.
Conrad Pepler OP