Review by Rosie Woods for Thresholds

This creative reading of St Paul’s inner journey is the fruit of both scholarly research and pastoral practice. The Paul presented here is not the authority figure of the church, writing trouble- shooting letters about pastoral problems or heretical thinking. This is Paul the man, caught in a journey of self- discovery, involving failure, turmoil, self- doubt, isolation and rejection, but also transformation in relationship with self, others and the divine. And the Church of 2 Corinthians is seen as the therapeutic community in which such transformation becomes possible.
In his search for Paul the man, the author argues that when we appreciate the humanity of another, we begin to make connections with ourselves. The Paul of this book is a man overburdened, under great pressure, unable to endure. He suffers from a sense of isolation and powerlessness This, it is argued, carries resonance for ministers today, when congregations are shrinking, and religious values hard to uphold in a secular society, just as Paul’s despair resonates with those struggling with depression and anxiety.

Many aspects of Paul’s life are seen as major therapeutic issues. His balancing act between friendship, leadership, collaboration and independence in community could provide a fruitful case study for the supervision of active ministry. The author offers parallels between Paul’s self-concept and the beliefs which Dorothy Rowe has identified as essential to maintaining depression; negative beliefs about self- worth, life, anger and forgiveness.

Yet despite this analysis of Paul’s weakness, the Madness of Paul is ultimately a testimony to the capacity of the human spirit to reframe and re-orient thinking and action. Resilience is seen as key in this, as is prayerful reflection, reflection on a God who meets Paul where he is, and allows him to see himself as God sees him.

This book would appeal to the theologian, the scripture scholar, the minister, but also to anyone fascinated by the human spirit and the role religion and spirituality can play in mental health and healing. As the author intended, it as an encouragement to all engaged in similar struggles as Paul, whether as minister or simply part of the therapeutic community of shared humanity.

Rosie Woods,

6th form college chaplain

Thresholds is the journal of  the Association for Pastoral and Spiritual Care and Counselling, which is a division of BACP

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