How to Get a Wide-Angle, Comprehensive View of the Apostle Paul

Derek Vreeland is Discipleship Pastor, Word of Life Church, Author of N.T. Wright and the Revolutionary Cross

As I prepared to begin seminary studies in order to prepare for my life as a pastor, the seminary required me to take a placement exam. I was tested on my knowledge of biblical history, particularly the Old Testament.

I was in my early twenties at this time and I had been studying the Bible with some intentionality since I was a teenager. I thought I had a pretty good grip on the Old Testament. I was advised to glance over the Holman Bible Handbook as a way to reorient myself to the world of the Old Testament and the chronology of the story of Israel.

I’m so glad I did!

Much of my Bible study had been taking chunks of the Old Testament and studying them in isolation. At other times I would choose one character from the Old Testament and invest some time to follow his or her story through the Scriptures.

It wasn’t until I took the time to review a Bible handbook that I began to see how the individual stories of the patriarchs, the exodus, the judges, the monarchy, and the prophets all fit together. As I was scanning through that Bible handbook in preparation for my exam, I realized how much I didn’t know about how the story of Israel was put together.

The Big Picture Story of Paul

This wide angle comprehensive view is what Professor N.T. Wright has done with Paul in his new course Paul: A Biography. Those of us who have a biblical imagination shaped by Professor Wright have come to expect this expansive perspective from him.

Whether it is Jesus, the Gospels, the Christian life, the story of Israel, Paul’s theology, or the cross, Professor Wright has consistently helped us take a step back and see the big picture. He has done it again with the life of Paul in this new course. The intricate details of Paul’s teaching through his letters only makes sense within the comprehensive story of his life.

The intricate details of Paul’s teaching through his letters only makes sense within the comprehensive story of his life. Click To Tweet

Professor Wright brings out the complexity of Paul’s life from his early formation to his persecution of the church, through his ‘conversion’ on the road to Damascus, through his silent years before he emerged as the Apostle we know today. While some outside sources are referenced from time to time, Professor Wright describes the life of Paul primarily from Scripture, that is, what Paul wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and from what was written about him in the book of Acts. I found the description of Paul’s many missionary journeys helpful. Sometimes it can be challenging to know where Paul was when he was writing during his travels. Professor Wright makes this complex story clear.

Paul writes of himself autobiographically in various places, but we can hear Paul’s heart in his ongoing appeals to the churches of the Mediterranean world.. Professor Wright tells the story of the life of Paul with such vigor and enthusiasm that at times it feels like we are actually with Paul teaching in the synagogue or sitting on a cold prison floor or escaping stoning attempts or suffering at the hands of nefarious abusers.

Course Structure

This course is overflowing with resources, featuring 18 sessions of Professor Wright teaching on the life of Paul. Each 15-20 minute session is preceded with a short video of Professor Wright reading the corresponding texts from his own original translation of the New Testament. Professor Wright’s curiosity and love for Paul radiates throughout the lessons. While these sessions are filled with the kind of theological undergirding we have come to love from Professor Wright, the teaching is accessible and engaging. While some knowledge of the Bible would be helpful before taking this course, participants do not need a deep working knowledge of Christian theology.

Professor Wright’s curiosity and love for Paul radiates throughout the lessons. Click To Tweet

One of the helpful components in this course, as well as in other courses from, are the quizzes which follow each of the main sessions. Don’t let these quizzes give you test anxiety! You are free to retake the quizzes immediately after your first attempt if you so desire. I appreciated the focus these quizzes created in me as I was watching each session video. Quizzes are approximately 10-12 questions, some longer. They ask true/false or multiple choice questions about the session. I typically found myself missing one or two questions per quiz, which sent me back to review what I had missed.

Paul’s theology has become essential for understanding and properly living out the Christian faith. As Professor Wright has written elsewhere, Paul created what we know as ‘Christian theology’. Understanding the cohesion of Paul’s story is necessary to see the cradle wherein Paul’s theology was nurtured. From Paul’s life we see, as Professor Wright says, how the Christian life is not merely having all the right doctrinal answers to complex theological questions, but about learning to think in the Messiah, that is, to think ‘Christianly’.

This course will help Christians all across the growth spectrum to do just that, to grow up a bit in Christ and continue to think like a Christian.

Enrollment for Paul: A Biography opens February 27. Learn more HERE.

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