I realize, of course, by the nature of their questions that they have been listening. It’s because they understand very clearly that Paul’s world is different from our world, that Paul faced different challenges than we do today, that Paul’s assumptions do not translate directly into out context, they must ask “So what?” They want to take Paul’s advice seriously. It’s not enough for them to understand the historical meaning of Paul’s letters. They want to know-they must know!-if Paul’s gospel still matters today, especially since the apostle dealt with some of the same issues we face: gender battles, social contests, racial prejudice, marital struggles, sexual vices. Indeed, Paul didn’t hide behind vague theological ideas when he wrote his letters to the churches of the first century. He deals with the messy details of daily life for Christ believers. Do we eat this or that? Should I have sex with her or not? Do we have to believe everything you do? Should I get married? Should we help the poor who refuse to work? Because Paul’s instructions are so specific on his experiences and ideas about what the gospel should look like in his time, we can’t help but wonder: is Paul’s timely advice timeless?
Trying to answer the “So what?” question has brought Paul’s gospel into better focus for us-not just his theological ideas, but his personal experience of the gospel of Jesus Christ, his spirituality. Typically, Paul’s letters have been used as resources for his theology. We’ve grown accustomed to studying Paul for his theological insights, siphoning from his letters what he believed, distilling the contents for “hard doctrine.” Yet, for Paul, the gospel was not merely what he taught, but how he lived. He wanted his converts not only to believe what he had “received”; he expected them to follow “his ways” in Christ (1 Cor 4:17).