Well into his book on Paul, New Testament scholar Daniel Kirk observes: "One reason that Paul gets a bad rap is that letters bearing his name provide biblical ammunition for almost every injustice that Christians have perpetrated in the name of Jesus. Slavery? Check (Col. 3; Eph. 6; 1 Tim. 6). Subjugation of women? Check (Col. 3; Eph. 5; 1 Tim. 2). Anti-Semitism? Check (1 Thess. 2). Tyrannical governments? Check (Rom. 13)" (p. 117). Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul? A Narrative Approach to the Problem of Pauline Christianity is Kirk's erudite effort to improve Paul's image. It serves as a response to books that argue Paul's teaching deviated substantially from that of Jesus (see, for example, Robin Meyers' Saving Jesus from the Church).
Kirk finds a solution to "the problem of Pauline Christianity" in narrative theology--that is, he reads the New Testament primarily as story. In fact, he finds that Paul's letters and the Gospels are telling the same story (albeit in different ways)--namely, the story of Jesus (which itself is the continuation of "the larger story of Israel" [p. 9]). Kirk's conclusion is that the content of Paul's teaching is informed by and consistent with Jesus' teaching.
Kirk is at his best when he criticizes the reductionistic "individualistic and escapist visions of the work of Jesus" commonly held in evangelical circles. He writes, "The gospel presentation I know really needs only Jesus's death" (p. 32). Here there is also an implicit criticism of the theory of penal substitution, as the moral influence theory and the Christus Victor theory give more weight to the life and resurrection of Jesus, respectively.
Later in the book, Kirk tackles a number of criticisms that are often leveled at Paul--Paul is judgmental and exclusive, he sees women as second-class citizens, and his thoughts on sex in general and homosexuality in particular are repressive. (I would have liked to have seen a chapter on the aforementioned Romans 13 and church-state relations--perhaps in a second edition.) For the most part, Kirk rescues Paul from his critics; for example, he shows that the apostle opposed judging non-Christians and appreciated diversity (p. 111). (In this section, he adds a cautionary word for missional thinkers: "One possibility of living an insufficiently Christian story comes through our complicity with culture--a mistake we make when we fail to see the difference between what God is doing in the world and what just so happens to be occurring in the world" [p. 113].)
Readers will have a hard time pigeonholing Kirk. He is progressive when he advocates gender equality (see especially p. 139), traditional when he discusses sex, and somewhere in-between when he wrestles with homosexuality. In his chapter treatment of the last, he argues that Paul rejected homosexual acts (and adds an unfortunate argument from silence--a logical fallacy--about Jesus' views on the subject), affirms that gay couples should have the same civil rights as straight couples, and stops short of calling the church to change its relevant teachings and practices; however, he leaves open the possibility that the testimony of committed gay couples and the precedent of Gentile inclusion will someday lead the church to make such changes.