If you have any interest whatever in the Bible, early Christianity, or particularly Paul and the other Apostles, you must go to the author interview linked from Ronald Way’s article here. He interviews Robert Orlando, the author of “Apostle Paul: A Polite Bribe” and film “A Polite Bribe”. See my reviews of both as well. But this 16 minute, Part 2 interview is more than worth the time… Listen to it, as well as Part 1!
Originally posted on Exploring Religion with Ronald Way:
Tonight we are posting Part II of the Robert Orlando author interview for his book, the Apostle Paul: a Polite Bribe. As of this evening while I write this blog, over 1,100 of you have listened to Part I of the interview, which was posted last week. Now we finish this fascinating story back in time to when the very first Christians were being brought Paul’s universal message, “You are no longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or freeborn, no longer male or female.”
You will also encounter the vicious struggle for control of the future of Christianity that was occurring in this first century world. Listen to Robert Orlando’s account of that last fateful meeting between Paul and the Jerusalem church as he arrives in the city, along with 20 of his gentile followers, to present his offering (a huge amount of gold), which turns out to…
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Great introduction and interview! Thanks to Ron. I’ve seen the film and read the book fully twice, and some parts more (plus reviewed it and the film). The material deserves the extra attention! Even with a seminary education and a whole lot of biblical study beyond it, I was only generally familiar with Paul’s collection… very thankful to be better informed now.
Most serious readers of the Bible are familiar with the general conflict of Paul with the Jerusalem leaders but Orlando’s in-depth exploration of the revealing role of the collection and Paul’s determination to deliver it in person, along with the apparent result, makes things a lot clearer.
For people “settled” in the received (traditional) account of early unity among the Apostles and early believers, fostered largely by the book of Acts, this “rest of the story” that is generally overlooked may be UNsettling. But that must be faced if Christians are to have a realistic understanding of the beginnings of their faith. Key within that understanding is Orlando’s point that issues of ethnicity and customs which tend to separate people groups were (and remain) more significant than abstract theology.
The interview, available at the blog below, moves along quickly… very well done and well worth 20 minutes to hear.
Originally posted on Exploring Religion with Ronald Way:
Over the past few years I have had an overriding interest in the Apostle Paul, because the Christianity that we have inherited would not be the same if Paul had not existed and spread his version of the Messiah/the Anointed/the Christ, throughout much of the Greco-Roman world. Some of his teaching was and is world-changing and good (“You are no longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or freeborn, no longer male and female. Instead, you all have the same status in the service of God’s Anointed, Jesus.” Gal 3:28).
Yet, his vision of Jesus was hardly recognizable by the original Apostles, or those others that followed the teacher day after day, from village to village, during the roughly three years that he taught them. Paul didn’t care about Jesus’ teachings or his life, he cared only about his vision of what he perceived as the risen Christ. He…
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Robert, isn’t it pretty radical to suggest that Paul’s arrangement with James and the Jerusalem Church leaders to gather a large collection for the support of believers in Jerusalem might be construed as a sort of bribe?
[Note: Robert Orlando is the screenwriter and producer of the unique-style documentary, “A Polite Bribe: An Apostle’s Final Bid”. It has gotten critical acclaim from a broad range of biblical scholars and interest from lay people as well…. It has a scholarly foundation but tells the fascinating human story of St. Paul, his mission and his conflicts with fellow Apostles as well as the broader Jewish community of his day. Information and copies are available here.]
Yes, simply because the nature of the collection, in part, was to persuade the Jewish-Christian Apostles in Jerusalem, namely James (Jesus’ brother) that Paul’s mission to the Gentiles was worthy of their acceptance, based on the revelation Paul received in his vision from Jesus, and more importantly in the fact that Paul, late in his mission (Rom 15:30.31) was still trying to win their approval, and against the warnings of others.
Weren’t Paul and the others on the same page as to what the gospel was?
Absolutely not! Though there “supposedly” was temporary agreement, as Luke attempts to convey in Acts 15 (49AD), it was clear by the time of Paul’s letter to the Romans (58 AD?), that he no longer believed, (and suffered serious anxiety), as to whether the collection would be received by James and his fellow Apostles.
If the collection, whether our idea of a bribe or not, was something more than a benevolent gift of support, what was it designed to accomplish?
Paul was faced with three possible outcomes in his meeting with James, 1) all Gentiles would need to be Jews first before they could become Christians, and that meant circumcision for adult males, 2) the Jewish leadership would NOT allow Gentiles to be circumcised, or follow Jewish Law, which would split the movement and uproot the Gentiles from Jerusalem, or 3) Paul would need to offer a third way, which meant a middle ground. And what was this middle ground? A collection, a gathering of funds from the Gentile churches to support Jerusalem that would both support the Temple and offer a way for Gentiles to participate with the mother church in Jerusalem.
But didn’t the “Jerusalem Council” decision after that meeting come to a sort of middle ground in only asking Gentile believers to abstain from eating meat from animals not killed in a “kosher” way or that had been offered to idols, and from sexual immorality, thus allowing them to join observant Jews in the Jesus movement?
Yes, but later, this middle ground was lost as evidenced in Paul’s letters. Though Acts 15 describes the agreement in 49 AD, in the later letters like 2 Corinthians Paul is accused by fellow Apostles of embezzling the funds or trying to buy favor with the Jerusalem Apostles. In Romans 15:30, 31 (58 AD), Paul clearly faces anxiety and fear of death upon his return with collection. Finally, there is the account of Acts 21 (90-120 AD?) itself, where James does not embrace the collection or defend Paul at the Temple. Many scholars have also written on the fact that this was an historical period when ethnic tensions were coming to a boil in Jerusalem and the Temple was no longer accepting foreign offerings. My position in the book and film is that James did attempt an agreement with Paul, as Acts 15 describes, but over time, with the delays and difficulties, they eventually ended the experiment of Gentile mission.
The film and book suggest that Paul’s massive investment in collecting the gift over many years and delivering it in person at great peril was likely NOT received by James and the Apostles, at least not fully or unconditionally. What leads you to this conclusion?
a) in Acts James does not outrightly accept the collection, but rather suggests that Paul use the collection money to pay for the Nazarite vows for seven other Jewish men and
b) because James does nothing to warn Paul of the predictable outcome that will occur at the Temple, and c) because though Paul, after the assassination attempt on his life, and transfer by Roman army to Caesarea (57 miles away) does not hear from his Jewish brethren in the 2-3 years that followed.
What are the implications of Paul’s collection not being accepted, as he himself feared it might not be? Apparently he felt something major was at stake. Can you explain?
Paul had done all he could through his missionary work and the writing of his letters to persuade his Jewish Christian brethren that his vision for Gentiles was from Jesus (God). His collection was the ultimate symbol of a new world when Gentile money could support Jewish causes, namely the new Messiah Jesus, and the Kingdom soon to come. The rejection of the collection was the rejection of this vision.
We’d love to hear what this exchange brings to mind for you. Is it “news” to realize that Paul’s several-year collection and his determination to deliver it in person, not through representatives, occupied so much of his attention, was a known “gamble” on his part, and could be said to have even lead to his death?
You can also hear an interview with Robert via the blog of Ronald Way here, where he has been posting about the film and book, along with other fascinating interviews and discussions.
Talk about a book whose time has come! Here’s a treasure of a resource for the many thousands (or millions) of us who have had a major shift of our faith… or may be in the midst of one.
Author Kathy Escobar brings several powerful perspectives to the book. Two key ones are that she has lived it herself and she lives and ministers among many in transition or on the fringes of faith.
In a sense, faith is always shifting in every growing person. But here we are talking about shifts major enough to cause disruption and turmoil. Right now is a period of great movement within churches and people of faith. Many churches and denominations are losing members, some splitting, some closing, a few aggressively growing… and on it goes. We read about the numbers. Occasionally we hear someone’s story of “losing faith”, losing and re-finding it, or leaving church in one condition or another. But rarely do we get to hear one story after another, after another.
And it really works how Kathy weaves snippets of people’s stories throughout the book as they relate to her chapter themes. If you have any interest, either personal or intellectual, in issues of spirituality, church community, beliefs, relationships within religion, etc., this book will engage you. But especially if you are one of the “shifters”, past or present, you will relate to it and benefit from Kathy’s acquired wisdom. Her honesty, practicality and warm support will be healing for you if you are still in the rawness of either interpersonal or internal conflicts of faith.
Having just mirrored (hopefully) a bit of Kathy’s compassion and practical support, let me now turn a bit more descriptive … to talk about what all the book covers.
Kathy uses a very helpful device to help structure the concepts: a diagram of the common stages of a faith shift. This unfolds as the book progresses:
- Returning (potentially)
- Severing (potentially)
Each of these rings true to me. Both from a personal and an academic standpoint. I went through a major faith shift a number of years ago that I feel incorporated these stages largely as she describes them. Fortunately, I already had a large store of good psychology and theology (not merely the “fused” kind) plus emotional stability beneath me…. Many are not so lucky!
I appreciate that Kathy repeatedly reminds us that each journey is individual and unique. The circumstances and details vary widely. Yet there is a remarkably consistent process for most of us. Just as there are generally universal stages of child and adult “life development”, so are there of “faith development” (she acknowledges the ground-breaking work of James Fowler in this regard… a real favorite of mine).
The book has a broad potential audience. Obviously, it is for shifters themselves. But it is also an important book for those who are close to anyone experiencing a “crisis” of faith, serious doubts, conflicts with church leaders, or any significant shifting of religious beliefs or places of affiliation. One of the things I infer (which Kathy does not state) from her coverage of the issues is that churches or religious schools tend to follow the principles of institutions or mere “organizations” more than of true communities… especially communities of love. All of us involved in churches of any type should be reflecting on many of her points… on how much we are a community expressing love in ways called forth by Jesus. Or are we binding people (creating “fusion”) more than loosing, healing, supporting them? Doing it in order to remain “orthodox”, or keeping to right belief, is not an adequate explanation. Does not every thinking person believe theirs is “right belief”?
If we are in leadership positions, all the higher our responsibility; but every member shares some responsibility to see clearly how everyone is being served and given opportunity (without pressure) to serve wherever their gifts and calling may lead. So much of the book is, under the surface, about bumping up against the drive and need to be in control – by others around us and within ourselves. This leaders often justify as “doing God’s will” or “saving souls”, etc. But who is being “thrown under the bus” or otherwise ground up in order to keep a proper outward image and the “wheels of ministry” turning? Kathy shares her personal story in this regard, briefly and appropriately… and similar stories of many others.
Along with so much that is healing and wisely directing, I hear Faith Shift crying out, “Folks, let’s be real!” (Real as in honest, humble, transparent, caring…. And reality is that churches tend to work against being real, so we do have to work at it.)
There’s something truly remarkable in how Kathy handles the touchy subject of theology or belief changes in the process of faith shifts. She deftly avoids most specifics! In doing so she keeps the focus on what is happening inside and around the individual… the place of adjustment and process of regaining a “center” or a new positive identity. As I’m using it here, “belief” refers to both specific theological points and an overall orientation to the Bible and major issues like church authority.
For example (and something I don’t recall Kathy saying much about), faith shifts very often involve becoming less literal in the way one interprets Scripture; often less accepting of traditional views within the shifter’s church or denomination also. But she’s not just talking about something ephemeral such as getting mad at God over some disappointment. She’s dealing with deep-seated, long-term re-examination and adjustments that so many people go through.
Often triggered by dysfunction around us (or our own), it’s part of the natural process of growth. As one encounters more variation – personal exposure is one way – one’s viewpoints tend to broaden. Another way is deeper study of the Bible, comparing authors and texts. But what about the people around us?
Often they are not dealing with the same issues at the same time we are. This is much of what makes a major crisis or shift of faith so difficult – it stresses our relationships. And very often the shifter feels alone, confused, guilty. Not after reading this book, however! At least there is plenty here to support and help guide a person along, including a helpful resource section at the back, and the knowledge that Kathy’s own faith community, The Refuge in the Denver area (where she co-pastors), is at least one place where traumas and transitions of faith are well understood and such pilgrims are welcome.
Your thoughts and experiences along these lines? If you’ve read the book, please share your impressions, how it impacted you.
My headline says it: The direction of history was truly altered in a mere 40-year period of the first century. Who was at the epicenter of this massive quake? The Apostle Paul!
Another central character in the period leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., much less known because the New Testament obscures as well as reveals him, is none other than the brother of Jesus, James. He had become the leader of the personal disciples of Jesus within the clear authority base of the new “Church” (yet to be) in Jerusalem. His relationship with Paul was complicated and tension-filled to say the least. This relationship was the focal point of quickly-arising conflicts when non-Jews (“Gentiles”) also wanted to follow “The Way” laid out by Jesus. A great many of them were converts of Paul’s.
There is a whole lot more to the story of the tensions than even most Christian or Jewish leaders realize, right in the pages of the New Testament. It doesn’t take a careful eye to spot it but it does to piece together the scattered and generally brief references to it and construct the larger story. Some biblical scholars have done it. But it has taken a brilliant filmmaker, Robert Orlando, with his film, A Polite Bribe, to bring the scholarship to a popular-level audience in a compelling story form. He has written the same story in a book, covering more detail and extensive documentation.
A Polite Bribe was screened at the annual joint meeting of the American Academy of Religion and Society for Biblical Literature last November. The video above is an edited version of a discussion afterward. Don’t let the academic setting scare you off!
The points are easy to follow and they don’t get too “down in the weeds” with details. If you have an interest in how a Jewish sect became Christianity beginning with the original followers of Jesus, centered in Jerusalem; or if the life and work of the extraordinary person of Paul intrigues you, this is worth watching, whether before or after seeing the film itself or reading the book!
In the discussion video, the man on the left is theologian Larry Hurtado, in the middle another biblical scholar, Ben Witherington, and on the right, Robert Orlando, who researched and wrote the script as well as produced the film. Hurtado and Witherington are both very popular, widely read authors as well as professors… read particularly in the more traditional and evangelical wing of Protestant Christianity which they represent, at least in a general way. Orlando himself is theologically educated (seminary) and a scholar via his extensive research for the film and beyond. In the video he mainly takes the role of filmmaker and only mildly “defends” the historical contents and conclusions of the film.
An important aside is that if A Polite Bribe can get a “two thumbs up” which it does (without them using that term) from these two particular scholars, we can know Orlando has stuck pretty close to the actual historical data about the final recorded period of Paul’s drama-filled life and his conflicts with other believers, including Jesus’ brother and the Jerusalem leader, James. They do state they have differences about some of the “artistic interpretation” or minor details, but remain enthusiastic about the film.
The panel members agree that the focus of the film is the human issues… the passion, the drama, the tensions within Paul and between him and other Jewish-Christian leaders from Jerusalem (again, mainly James, but also Peter, the other Apostles and their representatives). They recognize that many Christians unconsciously put Paul in some kind of separate super-human category and will benefit from a good in-depth look at his complex human personality and choices. Similarly, most Christians are unaware of or minimize the seriousness of the conflicts the earliest Church was going through. Not just theological squabbles, but things at the core of personal and ethnic identity issues linked with religious beliefs and practices… major lifestyle and social interaction issues!
The settling of those issues is unfortunately unable to be shown in A Polite Bribe because neither the New Testament nor any other document relates them. The process of working them out entered a new phase just a decade after Paul’s famous final trip to Jerusalem…. The Jews had revolted against Rome just six or seven years after that visit and Jerusalem, along with the magnificent “Second Temple”, were destroyed. The Temple was never rebuilt and the worship and practices of Judaism necessarily shifted.
Christianity, as a hopeful new though rocky Gentile-Jew affiliation, entered another phase as well… one with increasing acrimony which, over time, created fully separate religions with distinct and often contentious groupings.
In the video Hurtado mentions that the build-up of political tensions with Rome, which had become intense by the late 50s, is recognized by scholars as influencing how James and the Jerusalem leaders felt they needed to treat the mission and message of Paul. Not only their own religious and ethnic identities were at stake, but no doubt even their lives. I’d imagine they were prepared to lose their lives to Roman soldiers if it came to that, but less willing to die by the hand of fellow Jews, among whom James was noted as “The Righteous” or “The Just”. (Historian Josephus records that James did die, just a few years later, by the action of the High Priest, although we don’t know the exact reasons or provocation…. The other believers apparently were not attacked.)
You can see a trailer of the film and other discussions of it and order it or the book here. If you have an interest in hosting a screening of the film for your church or another group, please contact Mr. Orlando though the site.
What are your thoughts after seeing the discussion or viewing A Polite Bribe, the film, itself?
If you follow our American news even a little you’ve probably noted the flap over President Obama’s recent comments on terrorists in the Middle East and Africa. If you’re not familiar, there’s been a lot of controversy over at least a couple related elements:
- That he continually calls the fighters concentrated in Syria and Iraq who label their organization an “Islamic State” simply “terrorists” or “extremists” without the inclusion of “Islamic”. He reinforces the point by saying, repeatedly, that we must not think of the conflict as a war against Islam — even if just one extreme expression of it. It is also not a “clash of civilizations”.
- In a recent important speech he rankled many (particularly conservatives) by reminding fellow Christians that historically many, on a large scale, have perpetrated atrocities in the name of Christ. It is not that different from current terrorists using Islam as cover for their twisted ways. (And the point is not whether the parallels are exact but that claiming alliance with a religion or spiritual leader is not the same as being a faithful follower, validly bearing the name… that all religions are vulnerable to being hijacked this way.) He warns against a smug “we’re superior” attitude.
All this President Obama is quite right about. As an aside, it is refreshing to me to observe that in him we have a president who seems to be spiritually aware and truly more theologically adept than any president for a long, long time. Of course, he properly speaks very little about it.
Now to the main point: whether to call the largest (or any) group of terrorists “Islamic” or not. If it were mere grammar knit-picking I wouldn’t weigh in. But it’s more. I think the administration’s insistence is prompting important deeper thinking and a conversation that is needed. More Americans, and others, need to get “on board” with him on this.
To me the issues are clearly about levels of personal and societal development more than they are about any religion. (To my knowledge, it is Integral Theory… some of the writings of Ken Wilber and others following his basic model of human and societal development… that best explains why we have terrorists, what motivates them, etc. And Wilber actively calls on religious leaders to help religion (whether Christianity, Islam, or whatever) play the positive developmental role it can and should play toward virtually eliminating the seedbeds of terrorism. Another very insightful resource on this is Terror in the Mind of God by Mark Juergensmeyer.)
The issues also have to do with regions of the world and the economic, political and other factors in play there. Yes, religion plays a part because it is a major aspect of how people structure their personal and societal lives. But religions are widely diverse within their own “boundaries”. So if we agree to accept Middle Eastern terrorists’ self-label as Islamic or as a valid expression of Islam I believe, as President Obama has also stated, that we actually support and reinforce their narrative. If they are seen by young and impressionable Muslims or youth open to Islam from Western along with Middle Eastern countries as having a religiously-based utopian ideal, it seems no matter how many atrocities they publicly commit and revel in, these young people can be sucked in. They are being drawn in, apparently by the thousands. Take away at least some of this recruiting power by demonstrating clearly that there is nothing validly religious about their cause – that it is a demonic kind of brutality and barbarism for selfish, not selfless ends, and we might begin to disempower their evil.
What are your thoughts?