I studied New Testament in my undergraduate studies. During that time, I spent a lot of time looking at the historical Jesus, as well as Johannine literature. I learned Greek and Hebrew. I read a lot of background studies. I wrote at least a dozen exegetical papers. By all accounts, I was on track to be a biblical scholar. Then I discovered theology. I learned that I loved the systematic, integrative, and holistic approach of theology and was not nearly as excited by the analytic, meticulous, and narrow approach of contemporary biblical studies. I made the move from biblical studies (as a discipline) to theology.
Of course, I still love the Bible, and I love talking about it, preaching from it, and teaching on it. In fact, I am a big advocate for the recovery of the Bible in systematic theology. However, over the last couple of years, I have spent less and less time reading the literary, social, historical, rhetorical, etc. studies that so characterize contemporary biblical scholarship and a lot more time reading people like Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Stanley Hauerwas, Jürgen Moltmann, and Maximus the Confessor.
The capstone course for the NT area of my MDiv program has afforded me the opportunity to revisit biblical studies, and to do so in a fresh way. This course, New Testament Theology, takes a broadly inductive approach to the various authors and books of the NT and seeks to draw out conclusions about “the theology of the synoptics,” “The theology of John,” and, eventually, “the theology of the New Testament.” The reading from the course comes from folks like Richard Hayes, N. T. Wright, Larry Hurtado, James Dunn, and E. P. Sanders.
One of the recent assignments has been to write a short paper on the “center” of Paul’s theology. We were to articulate Paul’s theological center and describe how the Pauline literary corpus bears that out. This proved to be a fun and rewarding assignment that has reminded me of the value of keeping one foot in the technical side of the study of the Bible.
So, I thought that I would share with you what I listed as the center of Paul’s theology. It’s a bit wordy, but it is about Paul after all (if it were really Pauline, it’d be only one sentence).
Any attempt at articulating the center of Paul’s theology must hold three elements in tension, God’s past, present, and future action. With this in mind, it is my contention that the center of Paul’s theology is that the God of Israel, who is also the creator of the whole world, has acted decisively through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth to completely fulfill the covenant with Israel and therefore to offer a universal renewal of both covenant and creation. The present manifestation of this renewed covenant and creation is none other than the continuation of God’s action in Jesus through the Spirit-sustained ekklesia, characterized by the radical unmaking of all social, ethnic, and biological divisions through the communal recognition of Jesus as universal Lord. This remade people of God is both sign and herald of the assured eschatological penetration of God’s action in Jesus to all levels of reality.
Of course, there are some notions, such as Paul’s reading of the OT, the preexistence of Christ, or the critique of “the powers” that are not directly mentioned in this summary. However, I think that they are implicitly present in what I say.
What are your thoughts, comments, and critiques of this? Did I miss anything major?