24 May 2008

Christianity Is Christ

In a beautiful section at the very end of his Theology of Paul, Dunn provides a majestic, sweeping portrait of the (much disputed) 'center' of Paul's theology as simply Christ. He opens by writing:

Paul's theology is . . . dominated by Christ. Here I prefer the image of fulcrum or pivot point, the point on which a whole larger mass swings round into a new plane or direction. (722-23)

And in closing this section a few pages later:

. . . confronted with one who identified himself as the Christ, Paul found that a flood of light had been poured on the scriptures with which he had engaged himself at such length and so deeply. Here as clearly as anywhere Christ functioned as the fulcrum point on which Paul's whole theology pivoted, the key which unlocked so many of scriptures' conundrums (though setting up others), the light which illumined its dark places (though setting up a fresh pattern of light and shade). (725)

And later:

Christianity is Christ. It is not only in the clarification and sharper definition of his heritage that the centrality of Christ for Paul's theology is evident. Christ is the thread which runs through all, the lend through which all comes into focus, the glue which bonds the parts into a coherent whole. . . . Paul's theology throbs and pulses with the name of Christ and bears throughout the stamp of the impact of his life, death, and resurrection on Paul. (726, italics original)


Paul could even envisage Christ as bracketing the whole sweep of history from beginning to end--Christ as the Wisdom of God's creation and Christ as the final judge of all human works. (727)


In short, for Paul Christianity is Christ. Any restatement of his theology, any theologizing which seeks to sustain a dialogue with Paul will simply have to recognize this. The centrality of Christ, as showing what God is like, as defining God's Spirit, as the channel of Israel's blessing for the nations, as demonstrating what obedience to Torah means, as the light which illumines Israel's scriptures, as embodying the paradigm of creation and consummation, his death and resurrection as the midpoint of time, as the magnet for faith, as the focus of all sacramental significance, as determining the personal and corporate identity of Christians, as the image to which the salvation process conforms, is simply inescapable in the theology of Paul the apostle. (729)

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