However, this is a wrong view of Paul, and of salvation in general. Salvation by faith was not the central issue of Paul. And when we see salvation as primarily about our personal, or individual salvation, we make errors in our view of the biblical revelation.
Paul’s Theme – The Community
There are other theological categories or titles that better locate Paul’s writings and intent. One is ecclesiology. This means the study of the church. Paul was primarily writing about the believing community, and how this community reflected the promises of God to build his kingdom in the world. This kingdom and community was at the very centre of Paul’s thinking.
Paul’s Theme – The New Beginning
Another category of theology is known as eschatology. This comes from the word eschaton, or end.
It doesn’t refer to the end of the world, but to a new beginning of the world, a new creation. The “end” means the goal. Paul was writing about the goal of God in renewing the entire world. Instead of writing about our personal, or individual salvation, as the main goal of the gospel, Paul was speaking about how the new community of God brings about God’s goal in renewing our communities, nations and world.
This is where we have gone wrong in our biblical studies. Traditionally, we have put soteriology first.
And I mean soteriology in our more traditional view, a personal or individual view of salvation.
Whether in our churches, or in our bible schools, we start with our own interests in the gospel as individuals. We learn about our sin, our faith, our sanctification, our healing and prosperity, and ultimately about our destiny in heaven. If we still have time after all this, we may have a little teaching on our community which we call the church. This is standard bible school curriculum.
The Kingdom of God
But Paul did it the opposite way around. He wrote first about the church community and about how this community was the fulfillment of God’s kingdom promises, his eschaton, or end purposes in renewing our whole creation. Paul spoke of our personal salvation, only as the door into the family of God, into the wider, more important purposes and promises of God. Our personal salvation was just a part of the bigger picture Paul was speaking about.
Now, we are trying to study Paul’s writing the right way around. We are still beginning with soteriology, but soteriology from Paul’s view point. What did soteriology mean to Paul? What was Paul’s doctrine of salvation? Our answer to this question will be very different to our traditional view. Paul’s writings on salvation are very different to way we view salvation today.