Friend Paul: Letters, Theology, Humanity by Neal Flanagan (Geoffrey Chapman, £7.95).
"IF YOU love Paul, you can hate him; you can feel uneasy in his presence. The one thing you cannot do is ignore him . . ." writes Neal Flanagan as he begins his engaging study of the Pauline epistles.
Flanagan's passionate feeling for Paul is irrepressible and he sweeps his readers along with his own enthusiasm.
Furthermore, Flanagan has a vivid style. He describes Paul's vision as "a thumbnail sketch of the newness of life". Paul's row with the Corinthians he explains in terms of "super apostles entering the church".
He admires Paul's "great oneliners" and referring to the letter to the Colossians comments "we get the uncomfortable feeling of reading someone else's mail."
Neal Flanagan OSM was professor in New Testament Studies at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley from 1972 until his death in 1985. This book grew out of lectures given to men and women studying for the priesthood. The diagrams and clear thematic arrangement of the text all point to a gifted teacher.
"Friend Paul" is clearly intended as an introduction to Paul, hence the first chapter contains useful background information including the dating of the epistles and graphic descriptions of the conditions under which the letters were written and circulated.
The rest of the text is concerned with detailed analysis in which the same format is followed for each epistle. First the historical and literary background, an outline of content; a discussion of any controversial material and finally Flanagan's personal insights and observations.
Flanagan makes no attempt to side-step those problems that Pauline theology poses for twentieth century Christmas. He reminds us that if Pual's demands "hardly satisfy our 20th century world," they have no need to, for they were aimed at Paul's society and not ours. On the other hand Flanagan finds much that is relevant to the twenthieth century.
He is also at pains to illustrate Paul's affectionate relationships with many women and points out that Paul paid public tribute to the contribution made by women to the young churches.
So this is a book packed with valuable information and comment. Each chapter concludes with a long list of additional recommended reading. Given Flanagan's enthusiastic, vivid style the book is easy on the intellect, but he persistently refers his readers back to the Pauline text.
Furthermore this book would be of particular use to study groups. Flanagan frequently suggests that the text to be studied should ideally be read aloud in a group — Groups undertaking Bible studies for Lent, sixth formers, novices, seminarians would all find interest and profit in these pages.
If I have a regret it is that the map entitled "The World which Paul Knew" is so condensed and poorly printed as to be indecipherable, while a more serious lacuna is the lack of an index. However these criticisms, valid in their own context, can in no way seriously impair this witty, scholarly contribution to the understanding of Pauline theology.
Frances Makower rsci