Gary W. Burnett, Paul Distilled.Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2021. Xiii + 142 pp. ISBN 978-1-7252-8982-6.
by Michael B. Thompson, Former Vice-Principal and Lecturer in New Testament, Ridley Hall, Cambridge UK
Many have been put off of the apostle Paul, either through the mistaken use of some of his teachings by others or by directly misunderstanding bits of his letters; 2 Peter 3:16 shows us that this is nothing new! However, this little jewel by a fine, informed Pauline scholar with a heart for people, does a superb job of quickly taking us to the essence of Paul’s beliefs. It draws together major themes in the apostle’s teaching in such a way that gives us a fair, balanced and attractive picture of the thinking of the man whose life was turned around forever by the love of Jesus.
Gary Burnett begins his book in the right place—the love of God—because Paul was a man gripped by the stunning love revealed in Jesus. That love was not an add-on for Paul, but gave direction to every part of his thinking. In the following short, accessible chapters Gary moves on to summarize the gist of what Paul said in his letters about the gospel, the cross, the resurrection, the Spirit, the lordship of Christ, the justice/righteousness of God, peace, concern for the poor, worry/anxiety, the role of women, community and change. Each chapter ends with relevant questions for thought and brief but helpful, up-to-date bibliographies for those who want to learn more.
Gary has spent his life directly relating his Christian faith to our modern context, particularly through his concerns for contemporary music and for people who suffer in crippling poverty. He writes in a clear and winsome way that reflects positive modern scholarship while holding the reader’s attention through to the end. Inevitably in a book of this length there are a few subjects about which one could wish for a bit more, but he has chosen his topics well, grounding them in the appropriate texts for the reader to consider.
This is an affordable book that will help people of all ages and stages of faith to hear and be refreshed by the message of the man who gave us the words read so often at weddings and funerals—and so much more. It will be helpful to individuals and study groups who want learn more about what the Christian faith meant to Paul and what difference it can make in our lives today. I highly commend it!