Maybe the subtitle says it all, but I think they’re right. All the time I meet people, pastors included, who dislike Paul. Either he was misogynist, or anti-Jewish, or homophobic, or freaked out by sex, or socially reactionary, or too other-worldly, or out of touch with the Jesus he worshipped.
The book helpfully begins by sketching the reasons people might object to Paul, then it advances its most compelling argument. Almost all scholars distinguish between the authentic Paul, the disputed Paul, and the “pastoral Paul.” That is, we all agree that the authentic Paul wrote seven letters: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. Folks dispute whether Paul wrote Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians. And outside of conservative evangelical circles, few scholars attribute the pastoral epistles, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, to Paul.
Crossan and Borg demonstrate how authorship makes a huge difference. The socially conservative Paul, who tells women and slaves to submit to their masters and who seems to focus on a heavenly future more than the transformation of this present age, is found only in the disputed and pastoral letters. Crossan and Borg call these the conservative Paul and the reactionary Paul, respectively. But we find the radical Paul in the authentic letters. This Paul regards women as equals in ministry, promotes the freedom of slaves, and proclaims a gospel that confronts the present order with a community of equals empowered by the Spirit of the risen Christ. And by the way: this radical Paul does not see Jesus’ death as substitutionary suffering for the sins we have committed. Rather, Jesus’ death demonstrates the character and passion of God to make things right (we often say, to “justify”) in the world.