Pitting Jesus against Paul used to be a hobby of liberal Protestants. As this story has it, Jesus proclaimed a kingdom of wide-scale world-transformation, while Paul proclaimed a gospel of personal salvation. The liberal Catholic writer Alfred Loissy once quipped that Jesus announced a kingdom, but instead it was a church that came. So on one side is Jesus, with his invitation to humanity to participate in his kingdom by bringing peace and justice, and on the other side is Paul who spoke instead of the church and personal salvation by belonging to it.
Today, however, it has become a critical question in evangelical circles. In the latest Christianity Today cover story (“Jesus vs. Paul”), New Testament scholar Scot McKnight relates, “Many of us have made a move from Paul to Jesus, and an increasing tension remains among evangelicals about who gets to set the terms: Jesus or Paul? In other words, will we center our gospel teaching and living on ‘the kingdom’ or ‘justification by faith?’” In short, “Evangelicalism is facing a crisis about the relationship of Jesus to Paul, and many today are choosing sides.”