“Paul’s theology of grace has been influential only because it has proved fertile in historical and social conditions beyond its original context. Its meaning has necessarily been altered in the process. Originally, as we have seen, it was integral to Paul’s mission at the start of the Christian movement: it served to disjoin converts from their previous criteria of worth, scoring a line between their past and their present, between insiders and outsiders. After this initial generation, in a post-missional context and within Christian communities whose boundaries were already established, this same theology played a different role and acquired a different focus. Even where the incongruity of grace was re-emphasized, it served not to establish but to refine the Christian tradition, drawing lines of demarcation not around the Christian community but within it, and even within the subjectivity of believers.
This change of focus is related to the fact that the originating context of Paul’s theology—the Gentile mission that dissolved the distinction between Jews and non-Jews and relativized the Torah—became a matter of merely historical interest to later theologians, who sought more contemporary relevance in the Pauline language of ‘works’ and ‘law.’ But a more fundamental shift was at play: (more…)