Monday, August 17, 2009

Paul, the Spirit and the People of God

The other day I finished reading Gordon Fee's book Paul, the Spirit and the People of God. This is the book I recommended that you might want to read, if you are interested in sort of journeying with me during my sabbatical (which begins in 14 days, but who's counting!).

Some of you have asked me what book you might read that would help you connect with what I am studying while off, and this is it. I will actually be reading Fee's academic work on the Holy Spirit in the Pauline churches, called God's Empowering Presence, which records the biblical study that lies behind the summaries and conclusions found in Paul, the Spirit and the People of God. But God's Empowering Presence is a huge tome which includes highly academic language and assumes a working knowledge of Greek (at least to benefit most from the work). It has been awhile since I dove into something with this much depth (the day-to-day grind of pastoral work just does not lend itself to this kind of pursuit), and I know it shows how much of a nerd I am, but I am really looking forward to wading around in Greek syntax and the theological muck of pneumatology, in quest of that which is lacking in my own soul. I know that it will take more than reading the Greek New Testament for me to find what I need--there are things I need to experience--but believe it or not, such a study will be a breath of fresh air to my soul.

Some of you have already begun to read Paul, the Spirit and the People of God, and a few of you have shared that it is a bit difficult. And it is. First off, Fee tries hard to tone down his vocabulary to the level of where a non-theologically trained person can read it with ease. He achieves this goal with limited success, and so you will encounter some terminology that may be difficult. I think this is scant, but it will happen. Given that Fee is a world class New Testament scholar, I am impressed with his ability to communicate in a down-to-earth manner, and surprised at the ease with which his prose flows.

Secondly, the book may be difficult at places because Fee is dealing with some rather deep spiritual truths which are not for the spiritually faint-of-heart. And he occasionally deals with some difficult, and controversial issues. He does so with maturity and with balance, and comes out at places that simply bless my heart and, though they challenge me, they also usually affirm my own convictions. But, nevertheless, some of the concepts are deep and challenging.

So, basically, I want to encourage you to read this book. I think the most important parts of it for us as a congregation lie in the understanding it gives us of what it means to be a spirit-filled, spirit-led community of people--to be truly the church. I believe chapters 12 through 14 contain specific words to us as a church. But do not jump there and skip the earlier parts. The early chapters have really great teaching about how the NT has fulfilled the OT and about how the presence of the Spirit today fulfills the presence of God dwelling among his people in the OT. The early chapters contain solid teaching on the personal nature of the Spirit and on the difficult concepts of Trinity. Also, Fee's balance between power and ethics is foundational for the church today, as is his feeling that for the church to be vital in the post modern world in which we now live, a rediscovery of the vibrancy of the Spirit is essential.

We will have copies of the book available at church--for sale or to borrow--or you can purchase a copy on your own.
Paul, the Spirit and the People of God by Gordon Fee: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996. ISBN 1-56563-170-6