Paul’s Narrative of God’s Saving Grace

I’ve picked up for my summer reading Frank Matera’s God’s Saving Grace: A Pauline Theology.  For Matera, three implicit narratives underlie Pauline theology:

The first is the narrative of Paul’s own life.  It begins with the experience of God’s saving grace in Christ that was revealed to Paul at the moment of his call and conversion.  It was in light of that experience that Paul developed the second narrative, the narrative of what God had done in Christ.  On the basis of the narratives of what happened in his own life and on the basis of the narrative of what God had done in Christ, Paul proclaimed God’s saving grace to others, thereby forming communities of believers with their own narrative that can be summarized in this way: having been rescued from a past defined by sin and rebellion against God, believers presently live their lives within the eschatological people of God as they wait for the return of their Lord, when they will be conformed to his resurrection.  Thus we can speak of three narratives: the narrative of God’s saving grace in Paul’s life, the narrative of God’s saving grace in Christ, and the narrative of God’s saving grace in the lives of those in Christ (pp. 10-11, emphasis added).

I find this narrative dimension very helpful in framing Paul’s theology, which is dynamic rather than static, future-oriented and not determined only by what God has done in the past.

Many commentators and theologians note that Paul’s theology is pastoral, dealing with “on the ground” realities, but then elucidate a static theology of “Paul’s beliefs.”  Shaping his “thought” (all we have are his letters, mind you, not any “works of theology”) narratively is more organic to how we encounter Paul and what we find him doing in his letters to churches.

4 thoughts on “Paul’s Narrative of God’s Saving Grace

  1. gjohnston2244

    “… believers presently live their lives within the eschatological people of God as they wait for the return of their Lord.”

    Sounds like a pretty boring narrative without much plot development. Seems to me that Ephesians is a more Pauline narrative. More epic and dramatic.

    Hey there may be a book in there somewhere.

    1. timgombis

      It may not be stated dramatically, but it’s a way of talking about how Paul envisions present Christian existence as the experience of the age to come while awaiting the return of Jesus Christ.

      It’s an active portrayal of being Christian as communities of eschatological life and eschatological expectations rather than a statement of Paul’s theology, like, “salvation has present and future aspects.” Paul didn’t think that way. His articulation of saving realities was more action-oriented.

      1. gjohnston2244

        I follow you. It’s an improvement over the theological treatise paradigm. I just think “waiting” is a bit sedentary. To me it evokes images of having nothing to do in the meantime but singing hymns and praise songs in our own little cloisters: “Come Lord Jesus, Come.” I know that isn’t what you meant since I’m aware that the book of Ephesians hasn’t escaped your notice as a big part of Paul’s narrative.

      2. timgombis

        I haven’t gotten too far into it yet, but I’ll be interested to see how Matera configures “waiting.” For Paul, it’s not at all passive. It’s the style of life for Christian communities as they long for Christ’s return, expect it, yearn for it, pray for it, work for creation’s renewal, and lament creation’s brokenness. It’s a term that opens up all sorts of redemptive activities, communal dynamics, and vigorous eschatological postures. Not at ALL passive or sedentary!!

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