Paul — who was he?

I’ve just finished reading Eckhard Schnabel’s Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies, and Methods. The next several posts will be some of my reflections on this rather large work (though much smaller than his two volumes on similar themes!). There are many things I want to affirm, some others I am trying to give him the benefit of the doubt, and perhaps a few  debatable themes in the book–particularly regarding the role of historical reconstruction in missionary hermeneutics. Before I begin listing my criticism, let me first provide a brief summary of the work:

(You can find Dr. Schnabel’s bio here)

Schnabel, Eckhard J. Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies, and Methods. Downer’s Grove: IVP, 2008.

Eckhard Schnabel’s global ministry along with his educational and scholarly background has enabled him to compose a masterpiece for both Pauline and Missiological studies in Paul the Missionary. Schnabel served with both Mobilisation in Latin America and the Overseas Missionary Fellowship in Asia; he has also taught at Asian Theological Seminary in Manila, Philippines, in addition to teaching and serving on faculty in Germany. Currently he is Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. In addition to numerous articles he has previously published a commentary on “The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians” and a two volume “Early Christian Mission”, among other works.

In the present work, Schnabel’s stated goal is

to provide a close reading of the relevant New Testament texts that help us to understand Paul’s missionary work—proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and establishing communities of believers—in terms of the goals that he had and in terms of the methods that he used (30).

In addition to this historic-interpretive task, correctives to contemporary assertions of Paul’s missiology are always in the background of his task. Thus, a major part of his work is to distinguish between what of Paul’s methodology discerned in Scripture is descriptive against what could be considered as normative (or prescriptive). Thus, by his own admission, he divides his work (of six lengthy chapters) into three clear sections:

chapters one, two and three are descriptive [defined as “careful exegesis of the New Testament Texts”]; chapters four and five are synthetic [dealing with unity and diversity in the canonical perspective]; and chapter six is hermeneutical and pragmatic [that is, contextualizing and applying the NT message] (38).

In chapter one, Schnabel identifies 15 missionary trips taken by Pau (don’t we usually think of only three or four as identified in Acts?). To come to this number, he has to go well beyond scriptural evidence into the background of the ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean world. However, the thrust of his argument is to show that Luke was being selective in his evidence and not providing a prescriptive paradigm for missiological method. The missiologist is immediately reminded of those who have argued extensively from Acts for the exact opposite (in various degrees), such as John Nevius, Roland Allen, Donald McGavran, David Hesselgrave, etc, etc. In the second chapter, Schnabel refutes the idea that while Paul may be the missionary par excellence in Acts, Paul’s letters are not missionary in nature. On the contrary, he finds unity between the Paul of Acts and the Paul of the epistles via the missionary task of Paul. Finally in regards to Schnabel’s descriptive treatment of Paul, in chapter three, Schnabel investigates the missionary message of Paul, that is his preaching and teaching. So in these first three chapters, Schnabel investigates Paul’s missionary work, task, and message. Beginning in the fourth chapter, Schnabel identifies missionary goals of Paul through a synthesis of his first three chapters. Chapter five, the longest of the book, is Schnabel’s synthesis of Paul’s missionary methods. Finally, in chapter six Schnabel, in applying the method and message of Paul to contemporary missiological experiences, retorts that

neither the reading of Scripture nor the application of Scripture is a mathematical or mechanistic process where a clever formula guarantees success (381).

From this foundation, he still addresses seven contemporary missiological issues:

  1. the missionary call,
  2. the gospel-centeredness of missionary preaching,
  3. the power of the Holy Spirit in church planting (addressing the HUP and the role of technology, as examples)
  4. the role of teaching and theological education in the missionary enterprise,
  5. the relationship between evangelism and discipleship (addressing various church growth models),
  6. the role of contextualization and by implication de-contextualization,
  7. and the necessary trust of the missionary in the power of God (addressing power encounters).

From this rather impressive list of issues he addresses, the value of reading and working through Schnabel becomes more evident to the trained missiologist. When its all said and done, this work is a must read!

Please check back soon for my analysis of this book; I’ll either go section by section or chapter by chapter. Until then, please let me know, if you have read anything by Schnabel, but especially this book, what you think!

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