Eckhard Schnabel, a key figure in contemporary discussions on apostolic missions, challenged the common belief that Paul strategically carried the gospel to mostly urban centers of the Roman world. Schnabel set out his views during his lecture series titled “The Methods of Paul’s Missionary Work,” which he presented for Southwestern Seminary’s 2007 Huber L. Drumwright Lectures, March 1-2.
“Paul doesn’t have a grand strategy that he always insists on and is not willing to depart from,” Schnabel said. Schnabel identified 12 stages of Paul’s missionary work from his conversion in Damascus to his imprisonment at Rome. He pointed out that Paul was often driven along by persecution and therefore bypassed major cities during his travels throughout the eastern Mediterranean. In fact, Schnabel said that some evidence in Acts shows that Paul might have often preached in smaller towns and villages.
“Paul obviously was operating on the principle that God’s will, in the end, decides where he goes,” Schnabel said. “He is willing to change plans.” Schnabel pointed out that Paul, being prevented by the Spirit from going into the province of Asia, reverted to a second and then a third course of action.
“Paul never stops,” Schnabel said. “He never gives up looking for new places to share the gospel again.” Paul chose where he would preach based, at times, on convenience. At other times, he would follow up with connections he had gained during his work in other cities or through Jewish communities.
Applying his findings to modern missions, Schnabel said, “Today, we are sometimes way too focused and fixed upon methods and strategies that we develop. The way the church in China grew was not as a result of some evangelical think-tank developing a grand strategy, but because of Christians who were faithful, preaching the gospel… whenever there was an opportunity, whether it was in a concentration camp… or whether it was in a neighbor’s house. And it seems Paul operated on this same principle indeed.”
Schnabel also discussed Paul’s speech to the men of Athens, as recorded in Acts 17. Looking at this passage, he examined aspects of Greek belief systems that might have made the message of a crucified Savior either easier or more difficult to accept. Schnabel searched for rhetorical devices used in Greek culture that Paul might have used for the advantage of the gospel message. In the end, however, Schnabel said that there were no methods of argument that could persuade people to believe in a crucified Savior.
“It is always a miracle when people come to faith,” Schnabel said. “And some missionaries rely not on their rhetorical brilliance, not on methods of persuasion that they may try to use, because they know when it really comes to preaching Christ crucified and risen … we can and must and will rely on the power of God.” Further, it was this presence of God that ultimately made Paul’s missionary work successful.
Schnabel is professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill. He is also author of a two-volume publication titled Early Christian Mission, one of the most extensive studies on apostolic missions written since 1902. In the first volume, he studied the mission practices of Christ and his apostles. In the second volume, he examined the work of the apostle Paul and the early church. In addition to this expertise in early missions, Schnabel is a scholar of Jewish history and theology, Pauline exegesis and theology, early Christian history, biblical theology and hermeneutics.
Schnabel earned an equivalent of the Master of Theology degree from the Staatsunabhängige Theologische Hochschule in Basel, Switzerland. He then completed his doctoral degree in New Testament at Aberdeen University in Scotland. Schnabel moved to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 1998 after serving on the mission field in Latin America, Europe and Asia and then teaching in the Philippines and Germany.
The Huber L. Drumwright Lectures in New Testament were established at Southwestern Seminary in 1987 by Minette Williams Drumwright Pratt as a memorial to her late husband. Drumwright, a former pastor, served on the New Testament faculty at Southwestern Seminary for almost 30 years and was dean of the theology school for seven years.Mrs. Drumwright Pratt and her current husband were in attendance throughout the 2007 lecture series. Also in attendance were Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Pulley and Mrs. Max Underwood. Mrs. Pulley is Drumwright’s sister, and Mrs. Underwood is his daughter.