It’s easy to rely on programs and methods to “do church,” both individually and corporately. But as Leslie Hardin reminds us, the church starts with people who follow Christ, period. And if we want to truly follow Christ, there’s very few individuals who reflect that better than the apostle Paul.
Leslie T. Hardin. The Spirituality of Paul: Partnering with the Spirit in Everyday Life. 192p., $16.99, Kregel Publications.
As Hardin points out, we tend to focus on Paul’s theology or methods of church planting, “But there’s another side to Paul that has been neglected. Rather than thinking of Paul as a theologian and apostle, perhaps it’s time to approach Paul as a disciple of Jesus, as a Spirit-filled man practicing the Spirit as Jesus did, and as someone who lived an authentic Christian life.” Thus, our focus is steered away from “spiritual Superman” Paul to everyday-follower-of-Jesus Paul—in short, someone we not only can admire but emulate.
We are shown and reminded that Paul was a man who engaged in spiritual disciplines, engaged in making disciples, was involved in corporate worship, and not only preached about spiritual gifts but used his spiritual gifts—all things many of us do. We’re also reminded that Paul went through more than his share of suffering and disappointment—again, things we can readily identify with. But in the end, we see some whose struggles bring him closer to Christ, and into a deeper sense of holiness rather than the sense of resigned compromise so many of us fall victim to.
After walking us through all of these things, Hardin wraps it all up in his chapter “The Shape of Pauline Spirituality,” citing six main aspects: faithfulness to Scripture (and I liked the dig at The Book of Eli here—I’m still ticked about that ending), imitation of Jesus, living out of a foundation of freedom, glorification of Jesus, commitment to unity, and a remembrance that spirituality is based in the Spirit. So many of us have an imbalanced approach, emphasizing one of these aspects over all the others. Paul didn’t make that mistake, and Hardin encourages us to follow Paul’s lead and not make that mistake either.
In short, Hardin reminds us that Paul was human—and that ultimately, that might be the most inspirational thing about him:
Paul had a reputation in the first century as someone who had a weighty and forceful media persona, but who was soft and unimpressive in reality…. Yet here was a man who, when he patterned his life after that of Christ Jesus, with the help of the Holy Spirit, turned the world on it head for the glory of Jesus. This gives hope to us who read him, who take him seriously, and who want to be spiritual like Paul was.