The renowned 20th century Scottish evangelical biblical scholar Dr. F.F. Bruce authored his magnum opus on the Apostle Paul with the best title ever! Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free was Dr. Bruce’s masterwork contribution to 20th century Pauline studies, continuing Bruce’s lifetime mission to present the Bible as a trustworthy and historically valid source. Bruce was laboring against the gathering headwinds of academic skepticism of scripture as valid for anything other than antiquated propagandist literature, the toxic harvest of continental (European) and insular (British) trauma following two world wars, influenza, the Great Depression and the Holocaust. Before we so quickly leave the Pauline resurrection accounts to plunge into gospel resurrection, I thank Dr. Bruce for his courage to present Paul with such integral honesty to that scarred and skeptical academic world. Bruce got Paul right, and we pause to get Paul right also. In so doing we add another spiritual habit for our Eastertide toolbox.
Jesus’ revelation of His risen self to Saul of Tarsus confirmed and completed Saul’s life quest, as we discussed yesterday. Note He did not say “I am the Second Person of the Triune Godhead” to Saul, nor “I am the Christ-essence” nor “I am the Cosmic Christ” (urgh!) nor “I am your projected Christ-Consciousness fully enlightened!” (aack!) All of those belong to much later periods with vocabulary wholly unknown to our earliest Christian forebears. Ick. Jesus introduced His transfigured and risen self with His name, intensively personal, without any commentary upon the ramifications of this revelation to the young zealot. Saul can and did take it the rest of the way. Dr. Bruce argues with all the evangelical passion at his considerable Gaelic command that in this encounter Paul’s heart was healed, integrated and liberated for the rest of his life. Christian theology is never intellectually arrived up top! The party is down below, in the human heart Bruce argues! We feel Jesus, and Jesus sets us free. Notice the immediate reaction of anyone Jesus healed in gospel accounts: they are set FREE!! All of them, always! The frightened disciples become courageous apostles. Saul becomes a liberated Apostle Paul. Lazarus, the Samaritan woman at the well, the man born blind, the jailers of Peter and Paul in Acts, Jairus the synagogue leader, Zaccheus, the Syrophoenician woman, all the “demoniacs” (those possessed by demonic spirits)….all respond to Jesus or His followers with unadulterated joy, complete abandonment of societal norms, worship, praise and enduring fealty from that moment onwards.
It took me many years to realize this is why Paul begins almost every correspondence with Grace and Peace to you…he had them, always, to proffer so recklessly and with such beautiful abandon, in every circumstance, especially when he found himself at odds with those to whom he was writing. Bruce reminds us to not mistake or miscast Paul as simply some towering “theological” giant. No. Paul was an evangelist of Jesus who was risen from the dead, and then everything else fell into place, unlocked and unleashed by his heart set free!
- Did I mention Easter toolbox above? Yes, yes I did. Here’s a spiritual exercise I find helpful. Upon some time in your prayer corner/chair/home chapel/sacred space (always essential!), conduct a fearless spiritual inventory, a customized in-house “heart audit” if you will.
- Where are you most free? Where are most joyous? Where are your reservoirs of deepest grace and peace to give unconstrained to others? A prayer of gratitude here!
- Where are you most imprisoned, most burdened, most weighed down? Nothing intellectual here, remember the party’s “downstairs.” Faces? Memories? Voices? Guilt, shame, fear? Can you take these places to the risen Jesus, transfigured in glorified, visible love, and offer them to Him in this prayer exercise?
- Be free in Jesus’ Name! Paul wrote so simply, For freedom we were set free (by Jesus). So this Eastertide can we all practice Christian freedom?!! What a beautifully liberating Easter this will be, socially isolated by never more spiritually integrated! Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ!!