St Paul was an ‘extremist’ who would despair at our church disunity

Source: CT

What should the modern world make of St Paul? It’s one question the world-leading biblical scholar NT Wright has sought to engage in his latest book Paul: A Biography (SPCK, £19.99).

Wright spoke with Christian Today about why westerners recoil at Paul, why he’d would despair at the church today, and what the ‘extremist’ apostle had in common with Osama bin Laden.

He’s a towering figure in western intellectual history, but the apostle Paul is off-putting to many today both in and outside the church. He was passionate in his beliefs and rarely minced his words in declaring them, even when they made him enemies.

Some want to contrast Paul and Christ – the latter imagined as an inclusive, pastoral preacher of the Kingdom of God, the former austere and aggressive, more interested in sin, doctrine and judgment after death.

Of course, Wright will have none of that – he’s spent much of his career as a biblical scholar setting the record straight on Paul. Just see his titani opus Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Now, after friends asked for a take on Paul fit ‘for mere mortals’ (their words, not his) Wright has completed a biography of the apostle, an engaging ‘drama’ of his journey from the Christian-persecuting Pharisee to the travelling tentmaker who transformed the church.

Visiting Wright at his academic home at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, I see amid the books and countless academic awards a dramatic artwork showing Paul pitted against the Roman Empire, a piece inspired by Wright’s work on the apostle. Paul is ‘one of the most formative public intellectuals in history of the world’, Wright says, an ‘extraordinary’ fact given the small corpus of letters he left behind.


1 reply

  1. You can’t give one line answers to the so-called moral dilemmas of our day, because you need to take several steps back and say that the way the early Christians approached this is so different from how we do moralism in the early 21st century, and if we want to learn wisdom we have to do the hard work of going around that stuff, and not assuming we can either say, “Silly old Paul, we don’t need to take him seriously” or “Oh yes, it’s in the Bible therefore bang, end of question.” It’s the Pauline point again: we have to learn not only what to think but how to think.’
    Interesting. However Holy Quran said so in one line: Purpose of creation of mankind is “To worship the Creator and to be good with fellowbeings”. Easily said in one line however very very difficult to practice in toto. The day mankind understood this message all moral and ethical problems will be solved. However to achieve this mankind has to turn to the promised Messiah of this era. For whom all details are available at

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