New Perspective 3

The first phase of the New Perspective on Paul was E.P. Sanders; the second was the work of James Dunn; the third phase is the work of N.T. Wright, whose earliest book was a study of Paul and who then began to unleash his massive set of volumes on Christian Origins and the Question of God.
[Note added: As Tim Gombis reminds us in a comment below, it is not like 1-2-3 in the relationship of Sanders-Dunn-Wright; it is not that Sanders said it, Dunn then added, and then along came Tom Wright to add some more. The relationship of these three scholars can be said to be post Dead Sea Scrolls and part of the awakening to Jewish sources of the 70s. The three are actually dialectically related to one another and they sharpened one another’s ideas in mutual interaction and debate. When it comes to formative writings, writings that shaped us, the relationship can be reasonably said to be Sanders-Dunn-Wright.]

Wright’s books begin with is Climax of the Covenant, move to What Saint Paul Really Said, and now in Paul: In Fresh Perspective. It’s a bit hard to sum up Wright in a paragraph or two but I’ll give it a whirl and let the experts on Paul chime in for corrections and modifications.
Wright’s early work was a macroscopic understanding of Paul in light of how he understood Jewish history unfolding. His big insight, which he applied with potency and probably too often, was the theme of exile. Israel was “in exile” still at the time of Jesus and Paul — even though Israel was back in the Land, the promises of Isaiah and others hadn’t been completely fulfilled. Paul’s theology was shaped by this conviction and by covenant and by new creation.
But Wright agreed basically — as did Dunn — with Sanders’ perspective on Judaism: election-based, covenant-shaped work of God to form God’s people to whom God gave the Torah to show to them how to live before God in righteousness. In other words, Judaism was a religion of covenantal nomism. It’s pretty hard to read the OT and not see the potency of Sanders’ perception of the pattern of religion for Israel.
Where Wright differed from Sanders (participationist eschatology) and Dunn (sociological markers of the Torah and community of Israel) was on how Paul reworked that covenantal nomism — and Wright’s view of Paul is hard for me to bring to a single expression. End of exile, Jesus as recapitulating Israel’s covenantal history and the need to be “in Christ,” the yearning for new creation, and — his most recent augmentation — anti-empire ideology.
Justification, of course, gets revisioned in the New Perspective. Sanders isn’t known for this so much and Dunn’s view has shifted a little over time, but Wright came out swinging on this one and has recently done a little shifting as well. But, Tom said that justification described not how to get into the people of God but identified who was in the people of God. It was not a “salvation” term but a “covenant” or “ecclesial” term. It said something about who was already in and not something about how to get into the people of God.
Tom has suffered from serious misrepresentations; he has made some adjustments; and his view of justification has some breadth and depth and some width.
What perhaps annoys most is that he’s intent on out sola-scripturing the Reformed camp; what annoys someone like me is that I hear too much on the part of the Reformed camp that Wright’s views are not consistent with the Reformation. How ironical is that? Isn’t the question: What does the Bible say?
No one has captured the young scholar more than Tom Wright. One reason is because there is no one out there who writes as well; combine that with a fertile, creative, courageous mind and a life dedicated to the church and you come up with Tom Wright. Do I agree with him all the time? Nope. But, like Jimmy Dunn and Ed Sanders, I read their every word.

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  • Peggy

    It sometimes feels like I’m eating the crumbs from the master’s table…listening to you, and the commentors here, talking about all the great authors and books. But these morsels are tasty, and I am grateful to have them, as they show me some of what has been around that has still trickled down to me, even if I haven’t “read all the right books”–yet 8)
    I did, however, think again of Robert Banks and his significant work in “Paul’s Idea of Community” — and wonder whether any others have read it and how it stacks up to Wright, Sanders and Dunn. The articles I have been able to read from Wright have been encouraging–his thinking is very much up my alley (or I am up his alley, I guess 😉 )
    So, thanks for the “midnight snack”…and I’ll hope to sneak a peak at how things go tomorrow morning!

  • Scott

    I respect NT Wright b/c his theological commitments don’t blind him to what the NT clearly says regarding things that Reformation theology ignores or denies.
    Here’s a small section from a 2003 paper he presented in Edinburgh, Scotland:
    3. Final Judgment According to Works
    The third point is remarkably controversial, seeing how well founded it is at several points in Paul. Indeed, listening to yesterday’s papers, it seems that there has been a massive conspiracy of silence on something which was quite clear for Paul (as indeed for Jesus). Paul, in company with mainstream second-Temple Judaism, affirms that God’s final judgment will be in accordance with the entirety of a life led – in accordance, in other words, with works. He says this clearly and unambiguously in Romans 14.10–12 and 2 Corinthians 5.10. He affirms it in that terrifying passage about church-builders in 1 Corinthians 3. But the main passage in question is of course Romans 2.1–16.
    This passage has often been read differently. We heard yesterday that Augustine had problems with it (perhaps the only thing in common between Augustine and E. P. Sanders). That is hardly surprising; here is the first statement about justification in Romans, and lo and behold it affirms justification according to works! The doers of the law, he says, will be justified (2.13). Shock, horror; Paul cannot (so many have thought) have really meant it. So the passage has been treated as a hypothetical position which Paul then undermines by showing that nobody can actually achieve it; or, by Sanders for instance, as a piece of unassimilated Jewish preaching which Paul allows to stand even though it conflicts with other things he says. But all such theories are undermined by exegesis itself, not least by observing the many small but significant threads that stitch Romans 2 into the fabric of the letter as a whole. Paul means what he says. Granted, he redefines what ‘doing the law’ really means; he does this in chapter 8, and again in chapter 10, with a codicil in chapter 13. But he makes the point most compactly in Philippians 1.6: he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion on the day of Christ Jesus. The ‘works’ in accordance with which the Christian will be vindicated on the last day are not the unaided works of the self-help moralist. Nor are they the performance of the ethnically distinctive Jewish boundary-markers (sabbath, food-laws and circumcision). They are the things which show, rather, that one is in Christ; the things which are produced in one’s life as a result of the Spirit’s indwelling and operation. In this way, Romans 8.1–17 provides the real answer to Romans 2.1–16. Why is there now ‘no condemnation’? Because, on the one hand, God has condemned sin in the flesh of Christ (let no-one say, as some have done, that this theme is absent in my work; it was and remains central in my thinking and my spirituality); and, on the other hand, because the Spirit is at work to do, within believers, what the Law could not do – ultimately, to give life, but a life that begins in the present with the putting to death of the deeds of the body and the obedient submission to the leading of the Spirit.
    I am fascinated by the way in which some of those most conscious of their reformation heritage shy away from Paul’s clear statements about future judgment according to works. It is not often enough remarked upon, for instance, that in the Thessalonian letters, and in Philippians, he looks ahead to the coming day of judgment and sees God’s favourable verdict not on the basis of the merits and death of Christ, not because like Lord Hailsham he simply casts himself on the mercy of the judge, but on the basis of his apostolic work. ‘What is our hope and joy and crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus Christ at his royal appearing? Is it not you? For you are our glory and our joy.’ (1 Thess. 3.19f.; cp. Phil. 2.16f.) I suspect that if you or I were to say such a thing, we could expect a swift rebuke of ‘nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling’. The fact that Paul does not feel obliged at every point to say this shows, I think, that he is not as concerned as we are about the danger of speaking of the things he himself has done – though sometimes, to be sure, he adds a rider, which proves my point, that it is not his own energy but that which God gives and inspires within him (1 Cor. 15.10; Col. 1.29). But he is still clear that the things he does in the present, by moral and physical effort, will count to his credit on the last day, precisely because they are the effective signs that the Spirit of the living Christ has been at work in him. We are embarrassed about saying this kind of thing; Paul clearly is not. What on earth can have happened to a sola scriptura theology that it should find itself forced to screen out such emphatic, indeed celebratory, statements?
    The future verdict, when it is positive, can be denoted by the verb ‘justify’. This carries its full forensic sense, rooted in the ancient Jewish belief that the God of Israel, being the creator of the world and also the God of justice, would finally put the world to rights, in other words, that he would conduct a final Assize. On that day there will be ‘glory, honour, immortality and the life of the age to come’ for all who do right (Romans 2.7); in other words (verse 13) they will be justified, declared to be in the right. This ought to have highlighted long ago something which I believe has played too little part in discussions of Paul: justification by faith, to which I shall come in a moment, is the anticipation in the present of the justification which will occur in the future, and gains its meaning from that anticipation. What Augustine lacked, what Luther and Calvin lacked, what Regensburg lacked as a way of putting together the two things it tried to hold on to, was Paul’s eschatological perspective, filled out by the biblical fusion of covenantal and forensic categories. But before we get there I want to address a question which Paul seldom touches explicitly but about which we can reconstruct his thought quite accurately. This is just as well because it has played an important role in protestant discussions of soteriology and lies, I think, at the heart of today’s controversies about justification.

  • Pardon the string interruption, but we all know Hammerin’ Hank is still the true home run king.
    Sign me,
    A childhood fan of Hank struggling to be gracious
    & glad I am justified (back on subject) ;-0

  • Scot good job summing up the NP so far.
    If anyone is interested I am currently looking into the idea of exile in Second Temple period over on my blog.

  • Tim Gombis

    It’s true that Sanders published his book in 1977, that Dunn gave his lecture in 1982, and that Wright published most of his ground-breaking work in the late 80’s and throughout the 90’s. But his seminal work on Paul was really his 1978 Tyndale Bulletin article, which was the NT Tyndale Lecture delivered at Tyndale House (date anyone? my guess is summer 1977). This means that while chronologically his impact came after Sanders and Dunn, the formation of his thinking was independent of those guys, making his radical re-thinking of Paul all the more impressive.
    This is also important since one angle of critique of Wright is the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. That is, the critique of a few folks runs like this: (1) Wright came after Sanders, therefore depends on Sanders’s reading of Judaism. (2) Sanders’s proposal of covenantal nomism has some problems with it. (3) Therefore Wright’s proposal on Paul is wrong.
    This misses the point that Wright’s reading of Paul isn’t based on Sanders’s work, and that Wright’s proposal on Paul’s thought came from his own five-year study of Romans while at Oxford before Sanders published his findings on Judaism.

  • Tim Gombis

    In fact, if we want to talk about who got what from whom, I believe that Dunn was an examiner for Wright’s thesis, so his thinking on Paul may have been sparked by his working through Wright’s stuff on Romans, in combination with his reading of Sanders’s work on Early Judaism.

  • Ron Jung

    I believe Wright has made it clear (in various statememts) that his readings of justification in Paul do not contridict Reformed theology. The term (justify) used in the Bible has a broader meaning than the specific use the reformed confessions use.

  • Todd A. Robinson

    One of the grand shifts for me in working through Wright’s stuff was in Paul’s use of “Righteousness” language. I.e. that “Righteousness” (as per the Prophets and Psalms) is God’s own saving-judging activity/character in faithfulness to his covenant promises to Abraham, and thus to Israel and the whole world. Seeing this as the crux of Paul’s argument in Romans (that God’s righteousness is finally revealed/vindicated “in Christ”) has been huge for me personally.

  • Jeremy Floyd

    Scot, could you list what you consider the most serious misrepresentations of Wright’s views?

  • Tim,
    This is a good point. I knew of Tom’s dissertation, which I think was the origin of his exile thinking. Was there covenantal nomism in his early work? I just don’t have the details in my head.
    Yes, this is an important point. Reformed thinking has tended to judicialize righteousness to such a degree that its biblical expansiveness is missed — God’s saving work, God’s declaring work, and God’s renewing work. The old idea that justification (narrowly conceived) precedes sanctification is a reified language game that has been escaped by many todfay.

  • So, let me see if I’m following:
    1st, Paul, because of his Jewish training/upbringing, interpreted Jesus from an OT point of view. Thus, for him, the “elect” were the Jews, and now are those who confess faith in Jesus as the Christ.
    2nd, justification is therefore future, not present, meaning we can trust that God will justify us for our faith as the Jews trusted that they were justified as children of Abraham.
    3rd, works are actually the fruit of faith, not the seeds of faith. Thus, the James vs Paul argument is invalid as Paul cannot conceive of faith that does not bear fruit (or works). Paul’s rants (I know, too strong a word) are actually against those Jewish semi-converts who wanted the marks of the Mosaic covenant on the Gentiles. Paul is saying that they already have the marks of the Abrahmic covenant because Abraham was marked by faith, and circumcision came later, as a secondary sign, so is not necessary.
    Am I basically tracking?

  • Jeremy,
    This gets difficult because very little is in print yet like this.
    1. Anyone who believes in the NPP is not a Christian.
    2. That Tom Wright has faith in his faith and not in Christ.
    3. That NPP are all Pelagians or semi-Pelagians.
    I could go on.
    1st is right … but not sure where you are getting this one.
    2nd… justification is past, present, and future.
    3rd confuses me because it brings in stuff I haven’t brought up in those terms: fruit and seeds and marks are used in ways I’m not using them. But, this point overall seems close to NPP stuff. What is important is to see that works are seen by many as badges of old covenant life.

  • Scot,
    So is this the contested issue? —> “But, Tom said that justification described not how to get into the people of God but identified who was in the people of God. It was not a “salvation” term but a ‘covenant’ or ‘ecclesial’ term.”

  • Todd A. Robinson

    I’ve never been able to understand why “ecclesiology” gets so played off “soteriology” since “in Christ” is where/in Whom are all the blessings of the Spirit. So to be “justified” as members of God’s new covenant people by faith is to be affirmed as those who are now saved and (provided persevering fidelity) will be saved. Am I out of bounds here?

  • Dan Reid

    Tim’s comment on “who’s on first?,” Dunn or Wright, reminds me of an anecdote I heard way back (which I’ll not relate) which suggests that Wright indeed planted a seed in Dunn’s head.
    As I understand NTW, he sees some of what evangelicals (and others in the Reformation stream) have attributed to justification to be located in “calling.” That is, in the Pauline ordo salutis of Romans 8:30, the “getting in” is located in calling, while justification addresses the question of who is already in. While I’m not quoting him here, I’ve heard and read him to say something quite like this. I’ll venture to say that Tom wants us to understand that he (or Paul!) has not dropped a point in the ordo salutis; he has redistributed the points under different terms. This is a roughshod sketch on my part to be sure, but I think we should look in this direction in order to understand what he is saying.
    Which leads me to a concern of mine: That some of those who are insistent on authorial intention in biblical hermeneutics are not so insistent on that principle when it comes to their (living) contemporaries! Love entails listening carefully, and we all need to be continually schooled in that discipline of Christian community.
    Dan Reid

  • Josh

    One of the reasons that I like NT Wright is because of something he wrote on his website. He stated that many had told him to have two bibles; one for devotional life and one for scholarly life. He rejected the suggestion and said that he never regretted that decision. That really resonates with me.
    My only critique of Wright is that he sometimes analyzes things too much. It seems that he gets a kind of tunnel vision and plunges into subjects until it sometimes hard to understand what he has found. But hey, I would rather be faulted for over study than under study.
    I think all of us young scholars like him because he won’t quit interacting with the sacred texts. No interpretation is sacred (and by the way, do we really believe that we are going to find something “bad” in the Holy Scriptures? Come on!). I don’t think it is surprising that most of those who attack (it’s alright to criticize but not attack) are those who hold to sacred interpretations (ala classic Calvanism).
    I think the heart of the NPP is over Paul’s conflict with the Judaizers. How do people enter and become God’s people. Does being the elect ( being God’s earthly representative/instrument for bringing about the fulfilment of the Abrahamic promise i.e. blessing all the nations with the knowledge of God, the only true hope for mankind) consist in circumcision and food laws or obeying God from a sincere heart. As Paul would say, a true Jew is one who obeys the Law through the power of the Spirit that has been poured out because of the reconciliation that Christ wrought through the atonement.
    What practical results does the NPP have. For one, we don’t have to get caught up in the psychotic mindset that some have about whether their “good works” are done out of trying to earn merit or show appreciation. Two, we realize that being the elect means that we are not the “frozen chosen” but God’s high priests who usher the nations into God’s presence and serve as agents of reconciliation between God and man and people and people. We can then become true peacemakers, those that bring about ture shalom.

  • Scot,
    Thanks, I think alot of that was my trying to wrap your points, the discussion points, and my own thoughts up. 🙂
    I can see why Reformed theology wouldn’t like this view, it seems that by not regarding justification as a moment of salvation act, it throws into question “the perseverance of the saints” aspect of their thinking; ie, if justification is past/present/future, it is not “once saved” it is “continually saved”, and that brings doubt upon “always saved”.
    Am I hitting a point of contention, or am I making a tempest in a teapot?

  • Scot McKnight on the NPP again « Anchor for the Soul

    […] Scot McKnight on the NPP again Check out the Jesus Creed as he continues to cover the New Perspective on Paul Explore posts in the same categories: new perspective on Paul […]

  • Josh

    I think it is part of the contention but the NPP does not necassarily “do away” with the idea of perserverance or promote a “works righteousness.”
    The NPP can have a very positive (and more biblical) affect by basing the idea of perservance on the presence of the Spirit rather than justification. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul sees the Spirit as a “pledge” given to the Ephesian congregation whereby they have been “sealed.”
    The terminology is that or ownership and reminds that the Eph. church that God’s spirit among them makes them his own and that he will be sure to bring about what this “taste” foreshadows: a redeemed creation in which man and God live together in harmony and joy.
    As far as personal assurance, the first epistle of John reminds the shaken post-schism congregation that they are God’s people and that the Spirit bears witness. When we need assurance, it is God’s Spirit who gives experiential witness that we are God’s children. It should also be mentioned that this witness of the Spirit is place alongside another witness: we know we are God’s children because we obey his commandments.
    How does this work out in real life. Those who preach “once saved, always saved” but they call into question those who claim it but don’t live it. The preacher asks “did you really get saved when you did so and so?” Is this really assurance? The only real assurance is the presence of the Spirit in our lives witness by transformation of character, being a part of the community of God which is Christ’s church, and the inward knowledge that we sincerely love God and really want to please him. But that experiential stuff don’t fit too well in “rational” systematic theologies.

  • Bob Postiff

    I think the following gets lost in the NPP from Wright.
    What difference does Wright’s redefinition of justification make? It risks minimizing the importance of sin and of the atoning significance of Christ’s death. But when you minimize the central importance of sin, you necessarily call into question the centrality of Christ’s atoning death.
    The membership concept can cloud the issue if it replaces or subsumes the law court. You may want to be a member of Costco, or of the Country Club. Paul says you have an antecedent problem which takes precedence over all others. You have been hauled downtown and placed in front of a judge and you have no money to post bail. The only club you can even think about joining meets behind bars. Your only hope is in the court-appointed lawyer, who alone can get a stay of execution from the judge. That lawyer is Jesus, who takes your penalty upon himself.
    The whole coherency of justification as meeting the problem of the wrath of God against sin, and therefore as being absolutely grounded in the substitutionary atonement by Christ which diverts that wrath from us, is lost or obscured in the membership interpretation. These things may not yet be denied by Wright, but there is no intrinsic connection between them and justification.

  • Scott M

    The problem, Bob, is that the law court is not even the predominant metaphor in either the NT or Paul. Yes, it is one metaphor (though I do think the metaphor is often misapplied), but it is only one. Even in Paul’s theological masterpiece, his letter to the Romans, none of the climaxes of the letter revolve around the law court metaphor. I’m also unclear why you believe everything revolves around sin (the issue of “central importance”). I rather thought that at least within Christianity everything revolved around Jesus of Nazareth. But I suppose I could be mistaken …

  • Todd A. Robinson

    Hi, Bob. If that were indeed happening with Wright, it would be a legitimate concern. But having read and re-read most of what he’s put out, Tom Wright isn’t denying any of the things you bring up.
    That said, one thing that IS often lost in all this is the corporate aspect of judicial wrath/condemnation. That is, per Gal 3:13, Christ became a curse not only for individuals (surely so) but more redemptive-historically, for Israel (and as a prophetic result, for the whole world).
    Sacrifice, atonement, wrath, and judgment are ALSO corporate and covenantal concepts as you trace your way through OT history. But, as Wright often (re-)emphasizes, along with the corporate, you get the individual (i.e. union with the corporate Christ in baptism-faith). It’s not less, it’s much more, biblically, historically, and theologically.

  • Josh

    Hey Bob,
    I don’t think Wright is talking about joining a club or anything.
    Also, what you described in your post is the penal substitution view of the atonement. And it needs to be said that it is only a theory of how to explain best the atonement.
    Wright deals with how jusfication is used with an epistle’s context. For example, in Romans it pretty clear that there is some kind of conflict in the Roman church between Gentile and Jew. Justification comes up through the whole epistle and it seems to be focused on who is God’s people. Paul starts with the faults of the Gentiles and then turns to the inconsistencies of the Jews. All (Jew and Gentile) have fallen short and are in need of a mediator between them and God. Who shall save us from these bodies of death? Thanks be to Christ who gave himself for us while we were still in rebellion. We all enter God’s flock through the same door (justification) and are set apart for his purposes (sanctification). We have all(Jew and Gentile) been blessed with the eschatological pouring out of the Spirit that along with our Spirit cries “Abba!”
    What is deficient in many views of the atonement today is the failure to adequately connect the atonement with Pentecost. Christ’s death is not a “get out of hell free” card but the ultimate reconciling event.

  • Bob (#20),
    NT Wright (and Scot McKnight I think) believe it’s a sharp reduction to contend that salvation is about going from Genesis 3 to Romans 3 without taking into account Israel’s entire story in between, culminating with Messiah Jesus. The law-court metaphor, as has been pointed out above (#21 and #22), is not as predominant as you believe; being a member of God’s people through God’s salvation is predominant (joining Costco so to speak).

  • Jason

    I was oh so hopeful that “Ish” was onto something with his 1st comment… Mostly because I could wrap my mind around his assertions… Could you take a stab at articulating a summary – in layman/novice terms – of the problem that some have with NPP. I am not from the reformation heritage… I am relatively young… And I just don’t understand where the rub is… I desperately want to follow along. But believe I am way out of my league here…
    We are studying Galatians at my church and I am very curious as to the impact of this debate on my study of that book…

  • Bill Crawford

    I asked on the first string how the NPP views assurance. Scot kindly answered and in his answer I realized I wasn’t sure what i was even asking! Now I’m a little clearer. If (contra traditional Reformed thought) justification is also future based on an individual’s works, it seems assurance of final acceptance is uncertain, if not impossible. Likewise, it seems viewing sin not only as discrete acts but also as pollution that taints even one’s best deeds cannot be accurate; otherwise how could my good works survive this post-death judgment? I’ve been quite a bad sinner and if Jesus hasn’t paid it all, I really don’t see how I can have hope. I’d like any pastors (or pastorally minded folks) out there to help clarify this for me.

  • Scott M

    Actually, I think the biggest problem today with views of the atonement is that they fail to connect the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and Pentecost with the cross. They are so starkly one-dimensional it’s appalling. I’m a member of an SBC church so I get their publications. In one of them, in an article discussing something related, the assertion was made that the Resurrection is central to Christianity because it proves God accepted Jesus’ payment on the cross. And I ran that statement by a lot of people I knew and they thought it was pretty good. Wow. I was shocked. I don’t get how anyone can actually read the NT and walk away believing that it was “all about a cross.”
    Recently, I was listening to someone who works with youth and children, speaking at camps and such. Great guy. Sincere and really able to connect. He’s doing amazing work, so don’t take what I’m about to say to imply that I think he’s somehow not serving God and doing amazing stuff. Nevertheless, he had come to the venue where I was hearing him (a youth camp) from a children’s camp. And at one point he was talking about how much harder it can be to do what he does at children camps as opposed to youth camps. And he made this statement, “It’s really hard to get children to recognize they are sinners.”
    Wow. That says more to me about the belief system which has shaped the speaker than it does about children. It says that before we, as Christians, have anything to say to anyone, we first have to make them feel bad about themselves. I assume most of the kids at a children’s camp have been raised in a church being taught to love Jesus and that Jesus loves them. I guess it is then hard to get them to understand they are bad little people and God is pissed off at them because they are sinners. So they need to tell God they are sorry and really do love Jesus when most of them can’t remember a time when they haven’t loved Jesus.
    I’m sorry, but there’s something sick about a theological perspective about God that ends up at such a place. And it seems like that’s where penal substitution by itself takes people. And that appears to be where it takes really good people who love Jesus, who deeply desire to share their faith in him, and who love and devote their lives to others. Given that, I don’t think it’s fair to blame the people. Instead, I look at what shaped them. And in most cases, it seems to be a single-minded focus on the dogma of penal substitutionary atonement.
    So if I sometimes seem to have favorable words for that perspective, perhaps this will provide some insight.

  • Scott M

    Ugh. I meant “no favorable words” in my closing sentence.

  • Dana Ames

    well said!
    In a “fireside chat” with Dunn not long ago (recorded and in the audio section on the Wrightpage), Dunn made the remark that all Wright is about is the Exile theme. Wright responded:
    “You see, I don’t think the controlling story is return from exile. I think the controlling story is kingdom of God, and kingdom of God separates out into at least three strands: return from exile; return of YHWH to Zion; and defeat of evil. Then, yes, I have tried to follow that hypothesis, rule of elegance of line, with getting in the data.”
    Scot, return from exile made loads of sense to me. But it was getting hit full force, so to speak, with aspects of the return of YHWH to Zion (in Jesus- and look what happens to him!!!) and the defeat of evil (*so* much deeper than- though surely inclusive of- Jesus dying for my personal sins) while reading “Jesus/Victory of God” that sent me pacing around the house saying to myself, “It’s really true! It’s so BIG!” and face down before Jesus with my heart’s cry “My Lord and my God!”
    In a very real sense, Wright’s work on Jesus made me a Christian; let the reader understand. And I’m not alone in this.
    I encountered his work on Paul first through the articles on the Wrightpage, though I have the books too. The articles were easier to digest for this theological neophyte. Again, Wright’s ideas on Paul make much sense to me; I can’t find any loose ends.
    Still would love to be able to take Greek from you, though 🙂

  • dan

    Questions of assurance are tough, and even the Reformed tradition can’t provide absolute assurance because within it’s nature there’s a subjective component (one’s faith in Christ) to it.
    In my astonishment, Piper and Wright have similar pastorial views on giving assurance of salvation. I wrote this on my blog months ago:

  • Peggy

    For me the point of justification being an already/not yet process does not make our “final acceptance” uncertain…it does require that one persevere actively in the faith–“in Christ”–because it is our position “in Christ” that is our certainty. Our righteousness is in Christ as his righteousness “covers” our nakedness when our “rags” are cast off when we join the New Covenant.
    This is where the whole “works” issue arises, since our “works” are the fruit of our “faith”–actively persevering “in Christ” will result in growing Christlikeness. No “works” shows no Christlikeness.
    There is a purpose for joining the new covenant–and it is not just to get in and then coast. To build on John’s metaphor: you get a Costco card so that you have access to the wonderful things made available to its members…

  • Scott M

    Bill, I’m not a pastor or pastorally minded, but I can provide my perspective. I place my confidence in Jesus of Nazareth because I have found him to be trustworthy. And as I have found him to be trustworthy and found the way of life he shows and teaches in the Incarnation to conform to reality through practice, my personal assurance in the reality of of the God revealed in Jesus has grown. In other words, the way he says to be a human being actually seems to be the proper way to be a human being. I never experienced the fear of going to hell vs. getting into heaven that many describe, so I can’t really speak to that. But my questions were in a different place. Is the God made known through Jesus a real god and is that god a good god? Those were more my issues.
    And from my perspective, once I began to have the answers to those questions, the issue of ultimate destinations simply became less important. If Jesus is worthy of my trust and I continue to place my confidence in him and follow his way as best as I am able, why would I worry that he would not take care of me? The declaration in the present that I am justified by my confidence in Jesus anticipates the future judgment in which I will be found to be justified — once again through the things I have done as I have followed Jesus, however long or short that time may have been.
    I think part of the problem is that so many people are stuck in this forensic perspective of salvation. At any given second they are either in or out. And if they can’t be absolutely certain they are always in, then if they do the wrong thing they may be out even though they didn’t intend to be out at all. I know people actually feel that way, so I don’t want to make light of it. But it makes no sense to me. There is nothing in scripture or church history that indicates that apostasy is something easy or quick to achieve. Rather it is a deliberate effort over time. In fact, the early church even had to deal with the question of people who chose to follow Jesus through heterodox teachers but who did not deliberately embrace heresy. And the decision of the church was that those people were Christians!
    Our God is bigger than most people seem to allow. He’s about the business of healing us as human being and doing a work of new creation to make us a truly human people. And if we place our confidence in him and continue to follow him, he will accomplish his work. Worry that he may not strikes me as a sort of failure of confidence that cannot be resolved by an intellectual belief that God will rescue me even if I deliberately, with intent, and over time apostasize.

  • Josh

    For those who would like a different and more biblical view than various Protestant theologies offer, I recommend the chapter entitled “Staying In” in Gordon D. Fee’s book Paul, The Spirit, and the People of God.
    Eh, go ahead and read the whole thing. It’s good stuff!

  • Josh

    Woops, in the last post I meant to say “a different and more biblical view OF ASSURANCE”

  • J/Jason at #25,
    Some are envious of the success of Sanders, Dunn, and Wright.
    At a more intellectual level — and I’ll get to this Friday — it has to do with whether or not these scholars have:
    1. A big enough theory of sin.
    2. A different kind of theory of sin.

  • Scott Watson

    Scot #35 said-
    Some are envious of the success of Sanders, Dunn, and Wright.
    At a more intellectual level — and I’ll get to this Friday — it has to do with whether or not these scholars have:
    1. A big enough theory of sin.
    2. A different kind of theory of sin.
    How ironic and hilarious would it be if those who are “envious” of the fame and success of the NPP guys are critisizing them in relation to the inadequacy of their hamartiology (doctrine of sin).Paul would choke on his communion wine with that one!:)That’s the kind of “stuff” Jesus spoke Matthew 23 for!

  • So, would it be fair to say that the NPP says that Jews/Judaizers worked to maintain salvation and not to attain it? This is sort of what I’m hearing here, that, because they were covenant people, the Jews worked to stay in God’s good graces, not to get into them.
    Sort of like going to a law firm and working on cases hoping to be hired versus being hired and THEN working on cases.
    Is this a correct understanding?

  • Tim Gombis

    Scot (#10), I can’t seem to find my copy of Wright’s Tyndale Bulletin lecture from 1978, but I don’t recall that he was using Sanders’s categories back then (though I think you can find his lecture online somewhere). I think that at that point he was mainly working with thought-structures supplied by Kasemann and Schweitzer, along with Paul’s use of the OT.
    Here’s Wright’s lecture:

  • Rick

    Tim – Wright’s lecture at Tyndale was July 4, 1978. I was at TH over the summer and they were clearing out all their old copies of Tyndale Bulletin, and picked this one up.

  • Rick

    Also, Mike Thompson – Vice Principlal of Ridley Hall: Cambridge – wrote the Grove booklet on NPP. Its a well-written, concise summary.
    You can pick it up at – – issue B26

  • Tim Gombis

    Thanks, Rick. So the paper must’ve been published in the Nov. 1978 issue. That Thompson booklet is very well done. Like Simon, his tone is irenic and very clear.

  • I laughed out loud when I read the line, “What perhaps annoys most is that he’s intent on out sola-scripturing the Reformed camp.”
    HEY! I resemble that remark!
    But oh, so true. The Reformed camp seems at times to be more “sola-reformers” than “sola-scriptura!”

  • Daily Round-Up (August 8th, 2007) | Withering Fig

    […] Jesus Creed » New Perspective 3 – Having briefly discussed Sanders and Dunn, McKnight turns to N. T. Wright. I am so grateful for these posts, as they are helping me sharpen my understanding of “the New Perspective.” […]

  • Michael Mercer

    For an amazing list of materials about the New Perspective from every conceivable angle, check out The Paul Page at

  • I am with Bob in #20 and his comments pretty much summarize some folks “problem” or “concerns” with Wright and other NPP folks. The issue of sin is a major issue. I agree with Wright on the corporate nature of sin and its effects however, I would be nice if he also acknowledged the individual aspects – in What Saint Paul Really Siad I kep waiting for him to acknowledge personal sin and he wouldn’t do it. If he holds to a “both and” scenario than I think he needs to be more open about that – however I haven’t heard to much about it. Another poster noted the Wright doesn’t deny what Bob wrote in #20 but then has he affirmed it?
    I agree with Scot’s comments though that one cannot necessarily pidgeon hole any one particular advocate of the NPP – Wright may not be right on some things, but I heard he is good on the resurrection. Even with Dunn, he has lots of good stuff prior to his Romans commentary.
    The leads me to note too to Scot M’s comment in #27 – I suppose I understood most everything about Paul and his theology is in fact “all about a cross” that is central in his theology – the encounter with a risen Lord on the Damascus road accenuated this point – but then that is the debate between Dunn and Kim – just when did Paul formulate his theology? At Damascus or later? Kim argues at Damascus, Dunn (I think ) says yes but…it developed over time. At the moment I am with Kim. I think much of Paul is “all about a cross.”
    This is where I am at on this for now.

  • Scott M

    Paul is all about a cross? I don’t understand where you see that? The Cross of Jesus is certainly important, but I can’t think of many places in Paul where he discusses the cross without casting it in light of the Resurrection. And I can think of a number of places where he focuses on the Resurrection and it’s implications for all creation including the powers without saying much about the cross. I don’t think Paul single-mindedly focuses on any one thing, but if I were to be forced to pick one thing Paul is “all about” it would have to be the Resurrection and the Church. (OK. That’s two things. I can’t be that reductionist even when I try. 8) )
    And you seem focused too much on the individual and individual piety. That is found within Scripture, but it is only found within the context of the group. The small is found within the big of God’s work.
    I was musing a bit more about the assurance question. And it dawned on me that the reason I struggle when people pose that question is a difference of perspective. I just realized that most people appear to use that term to describe a form of knowing that they are “in” that is rational and forensic in nature. In other words, they are looking for the sort of certainty they find in things such as the boiling and freezing points of water. And that’s never been the sort of knowing I’ve sought when it comes to following a god. Our God, in particular, is a personal rather than an impersonal deity who exists in utterly sufficient relationship and desires to draw us into the reality of that relationship. I “know” or am “assured” that the trinitarian God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth holds me and loves me in the same way I “know” my wife loves me. It is not a matter of forensic certainty. Rather, we have been together through the struggles and joys of life for years now. And I am confident that she loves me. I cannot imagine a life which did not include her. In other words, I “know” it. But it’s not the same sort of knowing by which I know when water will freeze or boil. I would say it’s a higher form of knowing.
    And so do I have assurance? Certainly. And I have more every day. I have found this God to be utterly trustworthy and good. And I can no longer really imagine following a different God.

  • Great article by Professor McKnight.
    I am currently trying to lay out and explain in a series of short articles N.T. Wright’s position on Paul. I am a Messianic rabbi, so my perspective may be slightly different. But I am a solid N.T. Wright fan.
    Derek Leman

  • Like I’ve said before, with “The Challenge of Jesus” some six or seven years ago, N.T. Wright revolutionized my own theology, turning it 180 degrees. And being kind of isolated from theological thinkers, becoming a part of Scot McKnight’s blogger fellowship brought me into contact with Scot who helped me stay in and solidify this new paradigm. Of course Wright’s book on Paul, “What Paul Really Said” (a title Tom did not like) was influential as well, and while I bought the broad outline of what he said on justification, I still have not left the belief that something of imputation is still present in Paul’s thinking.
    I wish I could read so much more, and I wouldn’t miss a line of Tom Wright’s writing either, and if I live long enough (or through it?) I won’t.

  • …actually through it is a joke. There’s probably nothing I like better than reading a good book, like eating candy.

  • Andy Naselli » Blog Archive » Scot McKnight on the New Perspective

    […] Part 3 […]

  • Wright before the New Perspective » Metacatholic

    […] One point in McKnight’s series I did enjoy was the way he drew attention to the double irony of Tom, as an Anglican Bishop, appearing to mount a sola scriptura case against the Reformation understanding, while the evangelical defenders of the of the traditional view were complaining that Tom wasn’t in line with Reformed tradition! I’d spotted the second irony before, but not the first one. […]

  • Perspektif Baru « langkah demi langkah

    […] Rumusan Scot McKnight mengenai aliran baru yakni dikenali sebagai “Perspektif Baru” ke atas Rasul Paulus dan tulisan-tulisannya menarik dari segi pendekatannya sebagai seorang sarjana alkitabiah yang memegang pendapat yang berbeza daripada ‘pakatan’ Sanders-Dunn-Wright. […]

  • Two recent links on the New Perspective Issue: McKnight and Gathercole « Sets ‘n’ Service

    […] For those interested in playing the game of catchup with the New Perspective Issue there are two recent articles that I’ve found helpful. First is Simon Gathercole’s Christianity Today article (What did Paul really mean?); and Second is Scot McKnight’s five part series over at JesusCreed (Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; and Part 5). […]

  • Paulus in neuer Perspektive » Der Sämann » Blog Archiv » Paulus in neuer Perspektive

    […] Teil 3 – N. T. Wright kommt in’s Spiel Die dritte Phase besteht aus dem Werk von N.T. Wright. Wichtig ist dabei: Nicht alle drei genannten Theologen sagen dasselbe, sondern sie ergänzen und widersprechen einander. Wright’s hauptsächliche Erkenntnis war die Exils-Thematik. Zur Zeit von Jesus und Paulus war Israel zwar wieder zurück im verheißenen Land, allerdings hatten sich die Verheißungen Jesajas und anderer noch nicht vollständig erfüllt – darum lebte Israel unter der Herrschaft Roms noch immer im gefühlten Exil. Das prägte die Theologie des Paulus genauso wie sein Verständnis des Bundes und der Neuschöpfung. Wright stimmte – wie auch Dunn – mit der Sicht von Sanders bezüglich des Judentums überein: Auf der Erwählung basierendes, vom Bund geformtes Werk Gottes zur Schaffung des Volkes Gottes, dem Gott die Torah gab, um ihm zu zeigen, wie es vor Gott in Gerechtigkeit leben konnte. Wright’s Sicht der paulinischen Theologie ist schwer zusammenzufassen: Ende des Exils, Jesus rekapituliert die Bundesgeschichte, die Notwendigkeit, “in Christus” zu sein, die Sehnsucht nach der neuen Schöpfung und eine Ideologie, die sich gegen das Imperium richtet. Für Wright beschreibt Rechtfertigung nicht, wie man in’s Volk Gottes kommt, sondern identifiziert, wer im Volk Gottes ist. Rechtfertigung als Begriff ist nicht der “Erlösung” zuzuordnen, sondern dem “Bund”, es ist ein “ekklesialer” Ausdruck, der etwas darüber sagt, wer schon im Volk Gottes ist und nichts darüber, wie man in’s Volk Gottes hinein kommt. Interessanterweise wird Wright, der intensiv an und mit der Bibel arbeitet, im Lager der Reformierten sehr angegriffen, weil seine Sicht nicht der reformatorischen Lehre entspricht. Aber ging es der Reformation nicht auch darum, zu fragen, was die Bibel sagt? Ein Zitat von Scot über Wright: No one has captured the young scholar more than Tom Wright. One reason is because there is no one out there who writes as well; combine that with a fertile, creative, courageous mind and a life dedicated to the church and you come up with Tom Wright. Do I agree with him all the time? Nope. But, like Jimmy Dunn and Ed Sanders, I read their every word. […]

  • Recent Discussion on the New Perspective on Paul at PastorBlog

    […] New Perspective 3 […]

  • wright for everyone « finitum non capax infiniti

    […] Part 3 […]