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An Interview with Adam McClendon about his book Paul’s Spirituality in Galatians

May 7, 2015

Paul’s Spirituality in Galatians: A Critique of Contemporary Christian Spiritualities. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015, 208 pp., paperback.     

Brother, congratulations on your well-researched book. I read it with delight.  Here are some of my questions for you about your book:

 

1. What do you think is your book’s unique contribution to the study of spirituality? Also, can you please briefly define the term spirituality and explain how your definition differs from the other definitions that you critique in your book?   

One of the more unique contributions this book provides is a merging of formal theological study, resulting in practical theological corrections, all based primarily on Galatians 2:20.  The real heart of the book rests in addressing the issue of the basis of Christian spirituality.  As Christians, our spiritual life should be based on the firm foundation of God’s Word as our primary rule for faith and living.

This point naturally leads into the question concerning what “spirituality” means.  A brief history of the use of that term is provided in the book.  “Spirituality” on the most basic level in today’s society should be understood as the life one lives in light of one’s understanding of and experience with god.  Notice “god” and not “God” is referenced here. Everyone is spiritual on some level and the “god” that has influenced a person’s understanding and experience is that standard that drives the values of his/her life.  Christian spirituality, however, is that process of spirituality brought under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  So, when Christians refers to “spirituality,” they are meaning the life that is “spiritual” or influenced by the Holy Spirit in their lives.  The problem today then becomes two-fold.  First, that which has traditionally been categorized as Christian continues to be broadened to included non-Christian beliefs that directly contradict the fundamental tenant of faith in Christ alone.  Second, it is becoming increasingly common to hear of non-biblical, extra-biblical, or just strange teachings and behavior being attributed to the “Spirit” in some vague context without any biblical justification.  This book then seeks to reorient the spiritual life as necessarily being grounded upon the clear revelation the Spirit gave us in the Bible.

In reference to the last part of your question, this book doesn’t necessarily critique other definitions of “spirituality” but challenges the foundation upon which the convictions of various Protestant traditions are based.  The point pressed throughout the book is that for Christian spirituality, the Bible should serve as the supreme foundation for Christian living versus being set along side or even subject to one’s own experience, one’s religious traditions, and/or one’s cultural sense of morality.  Key staple positions within various protestant traditions are taken and contextually examined in light of Galatians 2:20 to show how a proper understanding of that verse can help correct certain teachings within that particular movement.

 

2. You call your first two chapters (1) The Centrality of the Cross and (2) The Centrality of Christ. In the context of Pauline spirituality, is there really a difference between the word cross and the word Christ? Does not Paul sometimes use these two terms indistinguishably (see Gal. 6:14, “boast…in the cross” & 1 Cor. 1:31, “boast in the Lord”).    

Paul certainly does use them interchangeably at times, just as Paul does the idea of the cross and the gospel (1 Cor. 1:17-18, 23); however, the interchangeable use of the terms in some contexts does not mean that in other contexts distinctions do not exists especially as it relates to the believer’s justification and sanctification.  Paul in Galatians 2:20 utilizes the necessity of the cross in reference to the believer’s justification, particularly in dying to the law.  So the cross involves a death while the focus on Christ as a whole emphasizes the life that flows out of this death.  The text explains that as a result of being crucified with Christ, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”  The phrase “Centrality of Christ” is used to emphasize the specific means by which Christ lives in the believer while “Centrality of the Cross” emphasizes the specific means by which the believer dies to the law and the nature of the flesh (Gal. 2:19; 5:24).

 

3. In your book you examine Paul’s spirituality by specially focusing on Galatians 2:20. Why did you choose this verse?

Galatians 2:20 has always been a special verse in my life going back to high school, and I’ve spent considerable time meditating on the implications of the truths it conveys in my own life.  So, it’s a very personal verse for me, but the nature of the verse also worked well for the approach of this book for several reasons.  First, it comes at the end of an incredible section in Galatians where Paul condenses much of the overall argument for the entire book.  Within that context, the verse provides an intensely concise statement regarding both the believer’s justification in Christ and the sanctified life to be lived.  Second, Galatians 2:20 is important to the approach presented in the book because it frequently appears within various writings on Christian living without any clear explanation concerning the meaning of the verse itself.  Within more critical works, it has long been used to promote the mysticism of Paul or, as more often than not, the verse finds itself tucked away within the huge theological discussions surrounding the context of Galatians 2:15-19 without being given specific consideration.

 

4. What do you think are some advantages and disadvantages of the kind of approach that you use in your book to study Paul’s spirituality?

The greatest advantage to this approach is that it drives us to examine the biblical evidence and highlights our predisposition to rely on emotion, tradition, and culture to shape our religious ideologies, convictions, and lifestyles.

The disadvantage to this approach is that it is critical.  The book is designed to be a critique of modern theological expression.  While I approached this task as graciously as I could acknowledging my own tendency to read Scripture in a manner that most naturally fits my theological tradition, it is still a critical approach.  Such approaches are often not as well received in a culture that overemphasizes a false understanding of relativistic tolerance.

 

5. What projects are you currently working on?

In addition to the normal projects involved in pastoring a church, I’m currently working on a book I plan to call “Square One” on the basics of the Christian faith.  The book is specifically designed for people who are interested in Christianity or spiritually young believers; however, it will also be a great resource for reminding mature believers of the essence of the call to follow Christ.  Our church plans on using this work as a means for discipling new believers. Lastly, I’m also working on a parental prayer guide to help parents in praying for their children.

 

 Note: This post also appears on christianity21st.com. To purchase the book, click here.

 

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