April 08, 2009

Walter Wangerin Jr., Paul: A Novel

The well-known writer and Valparaiso professor Walter Wangerin lends his pen to this novelization of Paul's ministry years. Wangerin shows a thorough knowledge of the relevant scholarship, and especially of the New Testament text, as he weaves together the narratives in Acts and the relevant data from Paul's own letters to form a coherent story of Paul's post-conversion life. Starting with his journey to Damascus, we met Paul and a broad cast of characters that come alive off the pages of the New Testament. Paul is of course the focus of the book, and it is the compelling characterization that Wangerin gives him that makes this book work so well. Paul is a driven personality, captivated by Jesus Christ and single-minded in his pursuit of God's call.

Wangerin does, I think, a good job of portraying some of the tensions that beset early Christianity, especially relating to questions of the Law and Jew-Gentile relations, portraying the relationship between Paul and James as a genuine but rocky friendship. He also brings out Paul's displeasure with the pronouncement of the Jerusalem council (Ac 15), asserting that Paul was deeply disappointed that they didn't go far enough in breaking down barriers.

Paul is a well-written novel, and it follows nicely the outline of Acts. Wangerin also peppers Paul's speech with words right from his own letters, both enlivening the often familiar words and also keeping his characterization of Paul close to that found in the NT especially in Paul's own writings. There could of course be quibbles about various details large and small with regard to Paul and early Christianity (e.g., Wangerin relates Ac 15 to the visit Paul relates in Gal 2, certainly a legitimate interpretation, though not one I favor; or the depth of the rift between Paul and James), but these are certainly eclipsed by the value that comes with Wangerin's imaginative yet faithful writing.

No comments: