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Paul as experient ; Studies in Paul as…
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Paul as experient ; Studies in Paul as experient

by Henry Burton Sharman

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Sharman spent most of his adult life framing questions about the gospels, since these documents seem to be the primary sources for what he was interested in, that is the Teaching and Life of Jesus. However, Sharman was well aware that the first collected Christian documents were not the gospels, but the letters of Paul. These letters, written before the fall of Jerusalem, tell very little (if anything) about Jesus' physical life. However, they do contain much of what was then considered to be Jesus' teaching. The problem is, since Paul apparently never met Jesus prior to the crucifixion, how certain are we that the teachings Paul passed on are identical to what Jesus taught?

From a study of his questions, one comes to understand that Sharman believed Paul's letters used too frequently a word that Paul did not properly define. That term ("Faith") revealed an essential attitude which gave him a profound religious experience. Sharman felt that Paul used the word 'Faith' so often it became in the end quite meaningless for us, millenia later, to try to decipher it. So Sharman resolutely set about "blotting out" everywhere the term 'Faith', and asked himself questions surrounding the contexts in which it appears.

Here, as always, Sharman had to battle what he called "felt familiarity with the wording". One of the barriers to understanding is thinking you already know it all. Sharman maintained that Paul did not arrive at his experience of "access of man to God and of God to man" through any intellectual gymnastics. He learned it by experience. But the experience itself could be duplicated by a process that the letters of Paul disclose, if one can look beyond the term "Faith".

Sharman wrote of Paul's experience: "That secret will naturally not be unveiled by customary cursory reading." Sharman's questions demand an in-depth reading, a deliberate slowing of attention, a probing into new avenues of thought and religious experience.

Sharman experimented with working through these questions at some of the later Minnesings, but they were never as popular as his gospel work. They were also presented at a time when he was older, he was dealing with troubles related to the ownership of Camp Minnesing in Algonquin park, and various health problems. Reviewers of his book when it first came out could not grasp what he was actually attempting, so the book has to be counted as a failure during Sharman's lifetime.

This is a tiny book, but it was a struggle to get through on my own. There is no attempt to put the questions into a weekly framework. There are 65 sections, with questions varying from 1 to 5 per section. That sounds like a lot less than the other Sharman question books, but believe me, the questions are tough.

I think you have to either really like Paul, or really hate him, to get through this book. And perhaps - whichever viewpoint you started with, it's likely to change. ( )
  rob_miller_cellarguy | Feb 26, 2007 |
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