Over a year ago I was asked by a journal to briefly review a book presenting a mystical view of Paul. Well I sent the review in a year ago and either they didn’t get it or they didn’t use it, so I’m putting it here. I appreciate the corrective that the book seeks to initiate, but I’m not convinced that a “mystical” approach is the way to go…
Jean Paillard, In Praise of the Inexpressible: Paul’s Experience of the Divine Mystery (Peabody,Mass.: Hendrickson, 2003).
Review by Matthew R. Malcolm, Lecturer in New Testament at Trinity Theological College,Western Australia.
For Jean Paillard, Paul is a person whose formative experiences, and whose resulting presentation of an experiential faith, have been seriously downplayed in scholarship. Paillard’s corrective presents Paul as a “mystic” (p.46) whose dramatic initial experience of Christ led to an ongoing progression of experience, maintained by religious contemplation. For Paul, the revealed “mystery” of the gospel of Jesus Christ creates believers who are characterised by the cries and sighs of an experienced relationship, and who go on to plumb the unsearchable depths of this relationship by contemplating the “irreducible remainder” (p.105) of God’s mysterious will. Through this contemplation, individuals gradually perceive the deeper realities under the words of Scripture, and are thereby awakened to a deeper experience of God.
Although I am sympathetic to Paillard’s discomfort with a lack of scholarly acknowledgement of Paul’s formative experience, I find myself uncomfortable with his solution. It seems that Paillard’s fascination with what lies beneath God’s revealed mystery of the gospel (the “irreducible remainder” of his mysterious will) results in a sidelining of the gospel of Jesus Christ itself, and an imbalanced focus on that which must ever remain comprehension-defying ambiguity. It is true that Paul brings doxology out of reflection upon salvation, and relates this doxology to God’s mysterious underlying purpose (Romans 11:34); but he arrives at this brief moment after eleven chapters of explicating – to use Paillard’s correct terminology – the revealed mystery of the gospel. One must question whether this doxological moment provides a prescription for the focus of day-to-day Christian spirituality.