Chronological issues are nothing to sneeze at. The task is indeed daunting. So? What isn't? I only get frustrated when Theologians seem to honestly prefer that we wind up with the smallest amount of context that's strictly attested - say, for Paul's epistles - rather than considering the actual scheme of interconnected events carefully and prudently, from a historian's perspective.
My opinion may not surprise you, but I mention it now on the heels of another T.C. Robinson special on Viola & Barna's Pagan Christianity. I'm a bit over my quota in that conversation today, so go on over and balance that out if you like. TC, Peter, Kurk and some others have made excellent points and the discussion is still very warm. Jump on in! In this post, I just want to repeat one specific thought that I shared over there because, personally, I consider it quote-worthy!
Suggesting that the sequence in which we examine Paul's letters has no affect on our understanding of those letters is like suggesting the Civil War can be understood by studying its battles in alphabetical order.Yes, of course historical issues are difficult. Yes, of course there will always remain an element of uncertainty to such considerations. But, what, are Theological constructions absolutely certifiable? (Sorry, pun only partly intended.) Despite all our preferences, whatever they may be, nothing changes the undeniable fact that the whole story is sure to be greater than the sum of its parts - and this point remains true regardless of how fully we might be able to reconstruct it.
Our capacity for reconstruction is debatable. Strong-arm tactics designed to discourage any attempt at reconstruction (or any attempt to study Paul's epistles based on a tentative reconstruction) should be academically (and perhaps faith-ic-ally) inexcusable.