An earlier generation of scholars were fond of questing for the “center” of Paul’s theology. Even in the midst of occasional, contingent situations, they believe there was an inner logic, a coherence to Paul’s thinking. Today, scholars are less prone to talk about “center” though they do use adjectives like “central,” “integral,” and the like. I’m wondering are we beyond trying to locate a theological center for Paul, a conceptual place from which he theologizes?
In an earlier book (Rediscovering Jesus, IVP , with E. R. Richards and Rodney Reeves)I went in quest for the center of Paul’s theology and decided on the following criteria.
How can the center of Paul’s theology be determined? Put another way, what criteria will lead us to the center? The center will be that/those aspect/s of Paul’s theology that best satisfies the following criteria:
The center must be
1.. integral: it finds expression in all parts of all his letters.
2.. generative: it participates in—and to some degree generates—all his theologizing. It can help to explain everything else.
3.. experiential: it results from encounters he has with the risen Jesus.
4.. traditional: it is consistent with the traditions he inherits and uses.
5.. scriptural: it serves as the interpretive key to new readings of Scripture.
6.. theological: given Paul’s commitment to monotheism, the theological center is ultimately a word about God, explaining and revealing him.
7.. presuppositional: at times it sits beneath the surface of Paul’s letters, supporting and limiting the argument.
The aspect or aspects of Paul’s theology that fit these criteria are likely candidates for the center of Paul’s theology.
E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (Philadephia: Fortress, 1977), p. 441, states it negatively: “a theme cannot be central which does not explain anything else.”
I’m wondering if the quest for a “center” or what is central/ integral is still relevant. What do you think?