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Christianity vs Paulianity

Dave Warnock has made an interesting discovery while looking at the interview with Wayne Grudem that Adrian Warnock is publishing on his blog (#6 entry). Jesus has been almost totally left out of the argument.

I commented on the type of view of scripture that seems to lead to this previously, and in my recent post on deciding who is saved I note that one of the problems I see with current evangelical views on atonement, and particularly on putting penal substitutionary atonement front and center, is that it puts the material out of order.

In the history of salvation, Jesus came first, and then Paul interpreted him. While the gospels are generally dated after the letters of Paul (though this can be contested), the oral traditions of Jesus on which Christianity first rode forth into the world obviously predate anything Paul wrote. Many modern Christians seem like art critics who, instead of actually looking at a painting, read from a description while the painting itself is readily available. The direction of study should start with Jesus, and who he is, and then read Paul where he fits in, which is in applying the message of Jesus to a broader community. In particular, the kingdom parables say some fairly definitive things about the kingdom, which we often permit theology to override.

I have to be careful here, because some people who would make the same argument I have thus far use this in order to discard what Paul said. I’m not asking us to do that. I’m particularly asking us to fit Paul’s work into the picture at the appropriate point, and we can’t do that unless we look at Jesus first. To broaden this out a bit, we can’t understand any of this unless we identify a sort of super trajectory of precisely what God is trying to accomplish through salvation, and that takes us back to the Torah. A couple of years ago I worked through Leviticus with Dr. Jacob Milgrom’s three volume Anchor Bible commentary, and it was quite an eye opener. I’ve followed that up with considerably more study. I think we Christians might change much of our understanding of Jesus if we got past the basic “sacrifice to atone for sin” element and looked at the depth and breadth of what God was teaching through the entire ceremonial system. But again I’m touching on large subjects with just a few sentences.

I think the first question we need to try to answer is this: What is God trying to accomplish through the plan of salvation? Many different Christian groups will claim that the answer is simple, and I’ve even been told I’m obviously undereducated because I ask such a question, but the problem is that these various groups don’t answer the question in the same way. Thus things may be slightly less certain than many people think.

Once you have the answer to that question, treat it like a hypothesis and test it. Does your answer fit when you read the Torah? Does it fit when you read the prophets? Does it fit when you read the gospels? Does it fit when you read Paul?

I’m going to write more about these topics over time, but there are just huge amounts of material that could be covered, and I’m not going to get it done very quickly. But I think just proposing the questions is valuable. Much that I hear about salvation seems to me to not even be Paulianity, but rather a subset of that primarily taken from Romans and Galatians (and often only parts of those), which are seen as definitive and then imposed outside of that. Checking theology against books like 1 and 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Ephesians, and Colossians is an extremely valuable adjunct. Paul implies a great deal about his theology when he is giving practical advice, and I don’t think the systematic theologians have given enough weight to Paul’s pastoral concerns.

Christianity vs Paulianity? There shouldn’t be a problem, but there is, and will be as long as they are not put in the right relationship in the development of Christianity.

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