Paul Distilled by Gary W. Burnett
Published by Wipf & Stock in 2021, 142 pages
Last month I read Paul Distilled by Gary W. Burnett. This book highlights the reasons why I’ve always loved Paul and his take on the gospel of Jesus. I’m grateful to have come across Paul Distilled and want to share a few of my observations of it.
Gary Burnett knows what he’s talking about. He draws from years of experience of reading, studying, and teaching Paul’s letters, and he presents the apostle’s life-giving theology so that it is easily understood. The discussions never get technical or bogged down, and there are very few footnotes, yet the content is rich. And there is a devotional quality throughout the book that reflects Paul’s devotion to Jesus Christ.
Paul Distilled was written for a general audience, but at the end of each chapter there are two or three books recommended for more in-depth reading. (They are an excellent selection of books.) Plus, there are questions for reflection. So Paul Distilled can easily be used in study groups.
I believe Gary’s book may be helpful for Christians who are “deconstructing” and are a bewildering and even agonizing reevaluation of their faith and beliefs. His book is good for the soul.
Paul Distilled may also be useful as a “gateway” book to Christian egalitarianism or mutualism. I’m often asked to recommend a book that gently presents the biblical case for mutualism―a book that can be given to Christian friends who believe women are prohibited from certain roles. In Paul Distilled, gospel values are presented without obvious criticisms of patriarchal and complementarian views.
An Overview of the Fourteen Chapters of Paul Distilled
Gary lays out Paul’s perspective of the gospel, of community, and of mission over fourteen chapters. He writes about God’s love, Paul’s love, and our obligation to love (chapters 1–2), about the truly amazing gospel (chapter 3), the significance of the cross (chapter 4), the resurrection and what it means for us now, as well as in the future (chapter 5), the power of the Holy Spirit (chapter 6), genuine allegiance to Jesus as our true lord (chapter 7), and God’s desire for justice in the world (chapter 8).
Chapter 9 on peace, or shalom, is my favourite chapter in the book. I didn’t know what to expect when I came to this chapter entitled “Radical Peacefulness,” but it is a still deeper look at the extraordinary, counter-cultural, transforming “gospel of peace.” The tenth chapter is challenging and is entitled “Remember the Poor.” In chapter 11, Gary provides context for Paul’s advice, “Don’t be anxious about anything” (Phil. 4:6).
Chapter 12 on “Paul’s Women Leaders,” like the rest of the book, is written in a relaxed conversational style. The paragraph on the Jewish view of women is especially well done. After a short discussion on women in the Old Testament and on Jesus’s interactions with women recorded in the Gospels, Gary devotes four pages to Romans 16 and Phoebe, Prisca, and Junia. It’s an excellent, brief discussion.
There are only a few paragraphs on 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34–35. These two texts don’t warrant the force and scope they have been given in many churches. I believe these verses were addressing local problems in local churches. Gary’s short treatment is justified, but it won’t satisfy those who have been taught that these verses are normative.
Chapter 13, “Changing the World Together,” and 14, “Bringing It All Back Home,” looks at Paul’s vision for the church, the community of God’s people, and how western hyper-individualism hinders and hurts the mission of the church.
Paul Distilled is a great book for anyone who wants to read an inspiring overview of Paul’s theology that is short and simple to understand. While the book is easy to read in style, the content is sometimes challenging. It presents the power and the breadth of the gospel accurately and succinctly, and it reminds us of our part in continuing Jesus’s work of bringing hope and wholeness to a world that God wants to redeem.
Paul Distilled is available from all booksellers including Wipf & Stock and Amazon.
The book is based on a video series that is posted on YouTube here.
The Paul Distilled website is here.
An interview with Gary about the book is here.
 Dr Gary Burnett lectures in New Testament in the Institute of Theology at Queen’s University Belfast. He did his PhD on Paul’s letter to the Romans.
Note that I bought this book (with my own money) and was not approached to write this review.
 Gary recommends Philip Barton Payne as the go-to person on these verses. Philip Payne is the author of Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters. This fine book is a detailed and thorough look at Paul’s words about women. Nevertheless, I read 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 differently from Dr Payne.
Photo by zhang kaiyv on Unsplash (slightly cropped)
Paul’s Theology of Ministry
A List of the 29 People in Romans 16:1–16
All my articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 are here.
All my articles on 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 are here.
My Bible studies on Philippians are here.
The Holy Spirit and Equality in the Book of Acts
Three new Spanish translations have been added to my website in the past few weeks:
Authentein como mal comportamiento en 1 Timoteo 2:12
1 Tim 2:12, el orden creado, y los hombres de la Biblia que fueron guiados por mujeres piadosas
Cabezas, peinados, coberturas y los ángeles (1 Cor. 11:2–16)
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4 thoughts on “Paul Distilled by Gary W. Burnett”
Appreciate your integrity. (Footnote #1).
I get asked to review books a lot, and it’s not something I enjoy, especially if they only send me a PDF or online version. I almost always look at what they send me, and I almost always say “no” to writing a review.
I have to like a book a lot before I write about it. And I do love this one. Probably because I love Paul, and Gary Burnett does capture Paul’s theology very well. If I do offer one criticism, it is that the style is sometimes too casual and conversational for my liking.
Marg, I followed up your review and read the opening pages of this book on Amazon.com. Your review held immediate interest for me to check on this book.
From the first few pages, I thought that his manner of presenting would have an instant appeal for small groups in a church setting. People could read a chapter or two and discuss them in a small group. I think that many people would prefer a conversational style and thus could benefit by reading this book and discussing it together.
Gary has used his book in small groups. I think it will work fine in that setting. And it’s not technical, so it won’t be over most people’s heads. Plus there are videos on YouTube if anyone wants to use them.