"Theological Headquarters"

"If Catholics were called 'Roman Catholics' because of their headquarters in Rome, we could have been called 'Romans Protestants,' because Paul's Roman letter served as our theological headquarters." -Brian McLaren (A New Kind of Christianity, page 137.)
It's true, as Brian says, that we protestants (perhaps especially those of us who identify with the label "evangelical") tend to look to Paul for most of our theological definitions. Well, this shouldn't be surprising because hundreds of years of theological discourse has trained us to look for a certain kind of language, a genre even, to find "theology." We've trained ourselves to search for formulated and systematic arguments. Because they used it, we look for language like that of folks like Augustine, Athanasius, Luther, Calvin, and Barth when we're coming to theological conclusions. We look for words like "Justification" and "atonement" and "sin"/"fall." And so it makes sense that we'd go to scripture with such expectations. It makes sense to us to try to formulate our theology around such language and then try to see the stories and poems of scripture through the lens of the theological conclusions to which we've come. Subsequently, the only place that we really see what looks like theology to us is in the epistles, especially the Pauline ones. So, naturally, we start with Paul.

But, where did Paul start? Where did Jesus start, for that matter? Jesus did not start with well-thought-out, systematic, and formulated theological treatises, nor did Paul. They started with stories, poems, and prophecies. They started with stories which, when put together, made up one big story, a "meta-narrative" even, which told of a God and a people and the salvation of all things. This big story, composed of all sorts of little stories (each to be taken seriously in their own right), is a story of God's dominion--the Kingdom of God--crashing into the world. Stories and poems and prophesies... that's where Paul's theology came from and that's the world into which God came through Jesus.

And so what if we liberated ourselves, even for a moment, to try it out; to try looking to stories and poems and prophesies for our theology? What if we looked to Jesus through the gospels first in order to understand what God is like, what he wants (or doesn't want) from us, and what his dream for the world really is? What if we let what we mean by words like "justification," "atonement," and (perhaps especially) "incarnation" be decided through Jesus and his story? What, then, would Paul mean by those words? What, then, would the epistles be about? Perhaps Paul himself would be seen then as a herald of God's kingdom here on earth. Perhaps Paul would be someone calling us to look to Jesus and the gospels too.

We skip to Paul before we should and the truth is, until we've immersed ourselves in the gospels and in the big story through which we must understand the gospels themselves (in the context of the whole biblical narrative), we're simply not ready for Paul. Until we've made the gospels our "theological headquarters," until we're ready to see Paul in light of Jesus, until we're ready to see Jesus as the true revelation of who God is and what God is like, and until we've learned to do theology through story, Paul will do little more than hinder us. He may, if we place him on a higher throne than he deserves, lead us to all sorts of "unbiblical" conclusions... and I'm sure he wouldn't want that.