A Different Voice is a website devoted to progressive, Christian educators. It reviews and recommends educational resources deemed suitable for progressive congregations.
There are many of us…progressive Christian education professionals, pastors, youth directors, parents, volunteers, lay ministers, conference staff people…who are committed to taking the Bible seriously but not literally…who believe justice and grace and compassion and love are at the core of what it means to be Christian…who practice spiritual disciplines and still love God with their minds as well…who know themselves to be on a meaningful and hope-filled journey of faith.
Tim Gossett of Different Voice is “a twenty-some year veteran of youth ministry and Christian education. He has masters degrees in Religious Education and Religious Communications from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH, is a certified Christian education director in the United Methodist Church, and is an author of a handful of books.” Mr. Gossett posted a lengthy review of A Wretched Man that includes the following snippets:
If asked to recommend some good books about Paul for laypersons and church professionals, there are several candidates that would come to mind. Two, though, would receive my top recommendation. Borg and Crossan’s The First Paul would be tops on my list for its lucid and important description of the de-radicalization of Paul’s message by the early church. Next, I’d recommend a forthcoming novel, A Wretched Man: A Novel of Paul the Apostle by RW Holmen, a compelling exploration of the Jewish (Nazarenes) and Gentile (Pauline) movements in the first century. If you’ve ever struggled to understand Paul’s form of faith, Holmen’s work of historical fiction will help you to imagine your way into Paul’s life and times.
- Holmen definitely captures the “feel” of first-century Roman territories. I suspect most readers will feel as if every chapter will add to their knowledge about life in those difficult days, from the basics of daily life to the realities of trying to exist as an oppressed religious community. Holmen clearly loves that period of time, and he describes it beautifully and (I think) pretty accurately. His training as a historian is clearly evident.
- The author brings to life the source of the conflict between the early Christian movements, namely that Jesus did not return as expected, and there were significant differences of opinion about what Jesus’ life and teachings meant for Torah-followers and Gentiles alike. We cannot hope to fully understand and appreciate the differences between the Jesus of the gospels and the Christ of faith in the Pauline letters without understanding these two very different “Christianities.”
- The novel helps contextualize the letters of Paul and clarify how their themes came about. Paul’s conversations and private thoughts eventually are woven into bits and pieces of the letters. Unlike some novels about Paul, this one contains very little of the actual letters themselves, though, focusing only on their key phrases and themes. Stories from the book of Acts are woven into the story arc, though many scenes originate in Holmen’s own imagined, fleshed-out version of the characters’ lives.
- It’s clear to me that Holmen (who has done post-graduate studies in theology and Christian history at a progressive Benedictine community in Minnesota) is well-versed in contemporary progressive scholarship about Paul. This is evidenced in subtle ways—I suspect many readers will not pick up on the progressive emphasis—and at times I wished Holmen had been able to more directly expand on some of the insights in the Borg/Crossan book I previously mentioned. Yet it’s definitely the rare religious novel that can be recommended to your parishioners without reservation.
- Finally, the novel treats Paul, Barnabas, Peter, James, the various women Paul knew, Timothy, Titus, and many others as extraordinarily normal people. We witness their frustrations, their anger, their salty language and questionable behavior, and the mundane experiences of their everyday lives, not just their piety and faithful witness. In many ways, this is the greatest gift of A Wretched Man, because these characters can now leap off the page and into our imaginations.