This past week I've been fighting off a bad cold and busily preparing for a graduate seminar on "Israel's Faith, Paul's Conversion or Call, and the Speaker(s) in Romans 7," huge topics, all three. I taught the class this afternoon, and it seemed to go very well. I can't say we reached too many firm conclusions, but we did clarify the issues in important ways. In case anyone is interested, I've uploaded the handout, though I can't say how helpful or unhelpful it will be without the discussion which supported it. If any of my biblical studies-inclined readers would like to comment on it (or point out gross errors, omissions, etc.), however, I'd be grateful, as this is part of my research for a fuller paper on the subject due later in the semester.
In any case, the other reason I bring this up is to say that, as I have been thinking about Paul and the dramatic change which he experienced, I can't help feeling that there is much more here than just the academic questions discussed in the above seminar. And it turns out that Carmen has been thinking about this as well. As she writes:
Sometimes these experiences are dramatic and stunning, but more often they are quieter and less noticeable. Either way, these encounters are integral and constant in the lifelong process of entering and living in kingdom life. “Conversion is more than just an event,” says Scot McKnight in Jesus Creed, “it is a process. Like wisdom, it takes a lifetime. Conversion is a lifelong series of gentle (or noisy) nods of the soul. The question of when someone is converted is much less important that that they are converting.”
When I look at Paul, I see a man who was not only powerfully transformed by his experience of the resurrected Jesus, but did something about it. He didn't just hide out in a cushy office in Jerusalem writing learned treatises on the relation of Jew and Gentile. He didn't sit in some ivory town offering high-minded but impractical moral advice. He took his faith out, into the world; he shared the good news, raised money for the poor, and helped real people to allow God to transform their lives. He did this on his own dime, and in return he was beaten, ridiculed and imprisoned, yet he kept at it right up to his death.
Paul was, by no means, a perfect man. Even his letters strike me as variously puzzling, profound and profane, but not only are his words part of Christian scripture, but he provides a remarkable example to which I need to pay more attention. Like him, I need not just to talk but to live this faith to which I'm in the process of converting.