I have just finished a series of lectures on Pauline theology. My first problem when preparing the lectures was, in fact, where to begin. I mean, where to start, after the more introductory questions like ‘a center in Pauline theology’?; ‘theology of Paul or his letters’?; or ‘the question of what sources to use’ had been dealt with?
Some textbooks on Paul’s theology are still very dogmatic/systematic in outline, obviously mirroring the denominational background of the writer, often starting with ‘God’ or ‘Sin’ or ‘man’, ending up with ‘eschatology.’
I don’t claim to have found ‘the’ right way of approaching the theology of Paul. But I had great fun in trying out a procedure that started where Paul was located when he wrote his letters, that is in the midst of ‘church’.
Hence I started with how Paul described himself, especially focusing on his favorite label ‘in Christ,’ proceeding outwards by how he described the church as such, then on his theologizing on who this ‘Christ’ was, titles, names, and work performed. Then, trying to stick to a more outside look, I tried to describe ‘how to get in’, focusing especially on the rite of baptism and its role according to Paul, ending up in description of life in this ‘church’, theologically described as ‘life in the spirit.’
As I had a limited amount of lecture hours available, this was how far I was able to proceed. But I am still wondering how to describe the theology of Paul in a way most congenial to his thinking as presented in his letters.