Walking into the parking lot after our mid-week Bible study on Wednesday morning, Earl was about to ride off on his bike to eat lunch with the rest of the group.
The discussion on The Triumph of Christianity by Bart Erhman had been lively to say the least. There were about a dozen of us there and the topic centered on the influence of Paul (yes, the one of apostleship fame) on Christian thought and belief.
Some loved Paul. Others held him highly suspect. I found this to be the case for our Bible study group as well. We argued. We disagreed. We spoke convincingly for and against the nature and integrity of Paul’s influence. And I learned some things.
I suspected this group could hold that space of arguing back and forth with respect and differences, and still respect and differ without the need to convince or convert each other. And I was right.
This is a mark of deeply held and highly revered faith. It is faith that doesn’t settle for easy answers, but that has fought with itself over truth. It is evidence of a faith that has questioned a lot and sometimes found itself without answers. It is a faith that reflects and changes and reshapes itself so that it remains relevant and alive and inspiring. It was a most inspiring group!
And I learned something, that if I knew it, I hadn’t thought about in long time. Paul never quotes Jesus. A lot people quote Paul. But Paul never quotes Jesus. I know one reason is Paul didn’t have the gospels in front of him when he was writing because the gospels hadn’t yet been written. They come later than Paul’s writing. Another reason for the absence of Jesus’s words from Paul is Paul never met Jesus except as in a visionary experience. Someone pointed out that this is more like our experience of Jesus.
What I find most rewarding about this Bible study isn’t that we learn about Jesus or Paul. What I find most rewarding in this study is that we learn from each other by arguing with great respect for each other and we leave shaking our heads a bit in disbelief, thinking about what we think and believe, and why. That’s a rare dazzling jewel in the midst of our dizzy polarized world.
Earl and I agreed (with some degree of pride and satisfaction) the discussion was lively and exciting. He said, “Something about this book really has an affect on people.”
I said, “Yeah! Good choice!”
And I think in this group we’re not far from the Realm of Heaven. It gives me hope that maybe we’ll get there one day.