Book Review: Leslie T. Hardin, The Spirituality of Paul

Hardin, Leslie T. The Spirituality of Paul: Partnering with the Spirit in Everyday Life. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2016. 192 pp. Hb; $16.99. Link to Kregel

Leslie Hardin is a contributor to the Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care and wrote The Spirituality of Jesus for Kregel (2009). Like his previous book Hardin does not write a book on practice spiritual disciplines, but rather a series of short reflections on what Paul thinks is key to spirituality. Although this is not a “how to” guide for spiritual life, readers will be encouraged as they reflect on what Paul says about these topics. For Hardin, Pauline spirituality is a “practical partnership with the Spirit,” an expression of the Spirit of God already at work in the life of the believer (17).

Spirituality of Paul, HardinIn the introductory chapter, Hardin discusses Paul’s sometimes controversial commands to “imitate me.” Hardin expresses a common frustration with Paul’s somewhat arrogant view that he is worthy of imitation, especially in matters of spiritual discipline. After all, Paul seems opinionated and angry, perhaps even demanding of his congregations. Why imitate Paul, when Peter and John are original disciples of Jesus? In fact, why imitate Paul when we ought to be imitating Jesus? Like Randolph and O’Brien recent Paul Behaving Badly, Hardin wants to read Paul’s letters in order to answer some of these objections while focusing on the “shape” of Paul’s spirituality.

Hardin discusses ten themes in Paul: Scripture, prayer, disciple-making, proclamation, worship, holiness, spiritual gifts, edification and suffering. Some of these are certainly within the sphere of spirituality, but several are in the category of imitation. Disciple-making, for example, is not usually included in a list of spiritual disciplines. However, as Hardin explains, Paul’s missionary method intentionally sought out individuals to develop into disciples who were told to go and find others to disciple. This process of discipleship hands down tradition from Jesus to Paul, to Paul’s disciples and then to their disciples. Hardin’s discussion of spiritual gifts is good and approaches a potentially contentious issue with wisdom, but it does not always speak to the topic of “spirituality in Paul.”

Hardin discusses the shape of Pauline spirituality in his final chapter. First, Paul was faithful to Scripture. According to Hardin, Paul saw Scripture as a tutor leading to godliness through Christ. Second, Paul was an imitator of Jesus (1 Cor 1:11). Although he encouraged his disciples to imitate him, his eyes were fixed on Jesus. This is not a lame “year of living like Jesus,” but rather living out the lifestyle of Jesus in a way which impacts the world. Third, living life as an imitator of Jesus is, for Paul, a life of freedom. Hardin is clear imitating Jesus is not living exactly like Jesus in every single detail, but embracing the freed from guilt one has as a child of God. Fourth, imitating Paul as he imitates Jesus should result in glorifying Jesus. Paul sees glorifying Jesus as the goal of everything Paul says in his letters. Fifth, Paul’s spirituality is committed to unity. It is undeniable Paul desires his churches to be unified both in doctrine and practice. Finally, Hardin points out the basis of any talk of the spiritual of Paul is his emphasis on the activity of the Holy Spirit.

There are a few things missing in the book. For example, Hardin has consciously avoided interacting with any of the classics of spiritual discipline. Although the focus on Paul might have limit the use of some of these classics, I would have expected some interaction with Rodney Reeves’s Spirituality According to Paul (InterVarsity, 2011). It is also remarkable (or refreshing depending on your perspective) that a book on the spiritual of Paul does not use the work cruciform. In fact, there are only one or two citations of Michael Gorman in this book. Gorman’s Becoming the Gospel is likely too recent to have had an influence on Hardin, but certainly his previous books merit more than a brief citation (Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross, Eerdmans 2001 and Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology, Eerdmans 2009).

Conclusion. Despite this reservations, Spiritual of Paul is a good introduction to the several key areas of discipleship in the Pauline letters. Hardin’s style is inviting and will be appreciated by both layperson and scholar. The book would be ideal for a small group Bible study.

NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

 

 

12 thoughts on “Book Review: Leslie T. Hardin, The Spirituality of Paul

  1. Phillip,
    you wrote QUOTE:
    “Third, living life as an imitator of Jesus is, for Paul, a life of freedom. Hardin is clear imitating Jesus is not living exactly like Jesus in every single detail, but embracing the freed from guilt one has as a child of God.”

    Do you think if we imitate the voice of Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:9-11, this will promote “the freedom from guilt one has as a child of God”?

    You also wrote QUOTE:
    “Paul seems opinionated and angry, perhaps even demanding of his congregations. Why imitate Paul, when Peter and John are original disciples of Jesus? In fact, why imitate Paul when we ought to be imitating Jesus?”

    Good questions!

    Part of the Good News of Jesus is that
    Jesus never calls us out for what we used to be.
    To amplify what I mean,
    “Us” = Born again followers of Jesus
    “Call out” = confront us directly naming specific sins
    “What we used to be” = our specific sins before we started following Jesus.

    So should be imitate the voice of Jesus?
    or the voice of Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 ? (I will not repeat malicious gossip, but if you want to verify the evidence, there it is…..)

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    • What you are missing (and Hardin misses this too) is the fact imitation is a natural part of discipleship in the Greco-Roman world, so what Paul says is not at all out of line with typical mentoring relationships in the Greek world. I am preparing a paper on this topic for a conference in April, I will probably post the substance here.

      Since you hate Paul you naturally would not see his “imitate me” in a positive light, even if everyone in the ancient world would have understood exactly what he was talking about.

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      • Phillip,
        Two quick clarifications….

        .1) Are you affirming that Paul was in an intensive long-distance “mentoring relationship” with the Church in Corinth years after he left Corinth and was teaching full-time hundreds of miles away in Ephesus, (and Paul still retained all authority in the church, without delegating specific authority to anyone there locally)?

        .2) Should we imitate the voice of Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 ?

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      • One more quick point:

        Did any New Testament writer besides Paul ever write anything referring to himself like “imitate ME” singular, or “follow ME” singular? And did any other New Testament writer, or Jesus, instruct us to imitate Paul or follow Paul? I am not aware of any……
        The Apostle Peter did write about being “examples” (plural) to the flock.

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      • “Are you affirming that Paul was in an intensive long-distance “mentoring relationship” with the Church in Corinth”

        Yes – he exercised authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ and the founding pastor of the church.

        “Should we imitate the voice of Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 ?”

        When appropriate. You, for example, are often acerbic mocking in your comments on this blog.

        “Did any New Testament writer besides Paul ever write anything referring to himself like “imitate ME” singular, or “follow ME” singular?”

        Obviously not, but there are not really any other letters to churches quite like Paul’s. James, John and Peter all express authority over churches though.

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      • Phillip,
        You said we SHOULD “imitate the voice of Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:9-11”
        “When appropriate.” ???

        Why? Paul was accusing the redeemed people of God in Corinth, reminding them of their ugly sins before they started following Jesus.
        Why should we imitate the voice of an accuser?

        Jesus never reminded His followers of what they used to be before they started following Him. Would imitating Paul’s accusing voice promote “the freedom from guilt one has as a child of God”?

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      • Phillip,
        Regarding the Church in Corinth, you said that Paul QUOTE:
        ” exercised authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ and the founding pastor of the church. ”

        We agree that Paul was “the founding pastor of the church.” (Leaving aside for the moment the issue of “what is an apostle”, I want to clarify a couple more points.)

        .1) Do Paul’s instructions about Overseers / Elders / “Pastors” written to Timothy and Titus that they “must be hospitable” apply to Paul also- or is Paul the one exception in all the world?

        .2) Since Paul has “authority” over the church, with all the “rights” and the “credit”, doesn’t that mean that he also has to take the foremost responsibility for the long-term problems, and the responsibility to “be hospitable” as the leader ?

        .3) Could Paul “be hospitable” in Corinth, years after he left Corinth, while teaching full-time in his own school hundreds of miles away in Ephesus?

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      • Matthew – you really need to read the Prophets, Ezekiel and Jeremiah were quite bold (and shockingly crude by contemporary standards) in their condemnation of sin. If you were to read Paul in the light of both Greco-Roman rhetoric and the OT Prophets, the sorts of things which shock you in Paul make a great deal of sense. In Matthew 23 even Jesus condemns the Pharisees with rather shocking, bold language, he calls his disciples people of little faith on a number of occasions, and those who reject his teaching a bunch of vipers and even adulterous.

        Stop judging the books like 1 Corinthians by your contemporary standards.

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      • Phillip,
        While I agree with your observations in the last post about how God sees and confronts the CURRENT sins of both His followers and unbelievers, you are dodging the question. [Revelation chapters 2 and 3 are full of specific, direct rebukes, as well as encouragement to churches.]

        The point I’ve raised is,
        How does Jesus speak about the PAST PRE-CONVERSION sins of His followers?
        I see that Jesus NEVER calls out His followers for specific past sins committed during the time BEFORE they (and we) started following him. Never, not once in the pages of the Bible. If I’ve missed something, please quote me where.

        In contrast, Paul accuses the brethren in Corinth publicly for their specific, ugly, PAST PRE-CONVERSION sins in 1 Corinthians 5:9-11, even though they have already repented and God has already forgiven them.

        Do you want to continue imitating Paul the accuser in this?
        Or should we imitate Jesus instead?

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  2. Looking forward – Chapter 2

    “I am he who searches hearts and minds”
    says the Risen Jesus Christ
    “Repent and do what you did at first”
    Don’t be lazy since He paid the price

    Yes, Jesus sees our sins today
    Don’t think that He is blind
    But the words of paul the Pharisee
    Will put you in a bind

    Jesus washed away your sins
    Don’t listen to paul the accuser
    paul abandoned the Church in Corinth
    And then paul became an abuser

    When you put your trust in Jesus
    Yes, your stains were white as snow
    You didn’t need to wear a Scarlet Letter
    Everywhere you go

    “I will repay each of you
    According to your deeds”
    This is Jesus speaking to The Church
    Not a business selling felt needs

    For “those who claim to be apostles”
    Jesus said they must be “tested”
    Priscilla, Aquila, and Apollos
    Persevered and were not bested

    They exposed the false teachings
    Of paul the Pharisee
    So the Church in Ephesus rejected paul
    And had a chance to be free

    Bibliography
    All quotes are the words of Jesus, in Revelation Chapter 2

    Like

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