It’s hard to make an old story new. I’ve known the story of Paul, author of much of the New Testament, for as long as I can remember. So when I picked up Walter Wangerin Jr.’s book Paul, I didn’t have high expectations. Boy, was I pleasantly surprised!
It was like watching your favorite movie with someone who’s never seen it before. Have you ever done that? You really should; it makes the experience new again. I watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” (which I’ve seen at least a hundred times) last Christmas with a group of college students who had never seen it. Aah, it made me fall in love with that movie all over again, hearing them laugh, gasp, and sigh at all the right moments. I realized afresh what makes that movie so wonderful. And that’s how reading this book was. Not that I “fell in love” with this story, but it’s pretty darn good. One of the book’s reviews calls it a blend of “biblical knowledge, a sense of drama, unobtrusive scholarship, and the ability to tell a crackling good story.” And it’s true.
I first encountered Walter Wangerin Jr. in college, when I read his barnyard allegory, Book of the Dun Cow, in freshman comp. He really is a masterful storyteller, so I read the sequel as well. But then I hadn’t encountered any more of his work until I was rummaging through a friend’s apartment library here in China and came across Paul. That’s amazing in and of itself, because she has a lot of books in her tiny apartment. I was skeptical about reading it at first, I’ll admit, both because I already know Paul’s story and because so much biblically-based fiction throws accuracy to the wind.
But not Wangerin. He writes in step with the biblical account of Paul’s life, creatively and realistically filling in the sections that aren’t explained in the Bible. And the best part about the sections he added was how they made me think differently about Paul and those who crossed paths with him during his life and ministry. Why did Paul do the things he did? Why did he say the things he said? Why did he write what he did? Likely Wangerin’s ideas aren’t really what happened, but it’s a refreshing challenge to think about the possible reasons behind the “why’s” of Paul’s life. And who knows? I guess we’ll just have to wait til heaven to see what Wangerin got right.
Total pages: 504 Total FoA pages: 39,331