One of the practical benefits of studying afresh the contribution of the Apostle Paul will be to reset our spiritual compass. Paul conceived himself to be the key figure in a “vital stretch of God’s purpose in history”.

The importance of understanding his sense of being called to a specific work forces us to place him first of all in his own Jewish context and training which was anchored in the Old Covenant tradition as well as in the Hellenistic reality of the dispersion within the Roman empire.

Over fifty years ago, writers in the field of Biblical Theology were telling us just how central the Jewish context was for the Church to understand her own calling in our modern world. Here are some remarks from G.Ernest Wright, one of those writers, speaking of “The Church’s Need of the Old Testament”. I think you will agree that they speak just as sharply to the twenty-first century Church as they did a half a century ago.

He says rightly that in order to understand the heart of the faith of the people of God we have to go back to its origin.” The focus of Biblical man’s attention, therefore, was not on the cycle of nature, but on what God had done, was doing, and was yet to do according to His declared intention”!                                

The faithful man’s attention was focused on the interpretation of his own life and of all history in this light. The chief sources of his light and power came…from his certainty of the reality of God’s working in every event…and from his glad acceptance of his divine election within the election of his people to do the work God called him to do. His life and work had meaning and importance therefore, because God fitted them into an over-arching historical plan. God’s purpose was that the whole earth shall become His kingdom and the Israelite was called to play his role in the universal cosmogeny of the age yet to be born…It is thus characteristic of Biblical faith that it creates this hope that is based on trust”.

Now to see how central knowing who we are is, to say, our worship, not to mention the rest of all we do as the Church, it simply needs to seen that the People of God were to respond to the INDICATIVE of God, what God did in His redemptive acts. And so, “at the centre of Biblical theology is a confession of faith of a particular type…recounting this history is the central religious act of the worshipping Community”.

Now lay this carefully beside the state of the churches in America today and the identity problem which has become legion across denominational and non-denominational congregations alike. Is this who we see ourselves as: the people of this same faith, the continuation of this same biblical heritage and vision? Or are these words about the Church in Wright’s day surprisingly prophetic of our own situation?

Thus, on the one hand, the Church today has tended to succumb to man’s hope for integration, happiness, and security in the world as it is. It has preached the Gospel as a new kind of paganism the value of which is strictly utilitarian. Religion is good for us; it gives us comfort and peace of mind; it is the only hope for democracy; it alone can support the status quo and make us happy within it.

The biblical hope is based solely upon God, upon His promises and upon His election. It is known only in the context of judgment and of the cross in the acceptance of a severe ethical demand of cross-bearing and cross-sharing and of a calling (vocation) which one works out with fear and trembling…

A more recent author dealing with the critical issue of INTERPRETING the OLD TESTAMENT Graeme Goldsworthy