With these three summaries now on the table, and with some fine clarifications by others, I wish now to state what we have to do when we start talking about the “New Perspective” because I’m hearing lots of things that I think are gross distortions. Simon Gathercole’s piece in CT is a nice summary; I have only little quibbles with it but I have more than quibbles with what I sometimes hear.
There is no official “New Perspective Institution” or “NP Denomination” that filters everything through a grid to make sure it is sound. What Jimmy Dunn called “the new perspective” was a trend emerging out of the re-discovery of Jewish sources and how Paul fit into how people were re-construing Judaism. But, there is a wild diversity out there of people who have plowed their own furrow. Please avoid saying the “New Perspective” says “X.” Try to connect with a name as much as possible.
Fourth, there is no real “systematic theology” at work in this New Perspective on Paul. Much of the criticism I’m hearing attributes what “New Perspective” folks believe at the level of systematic theology. Sanders doesn’t care about this; Jimmy Dunn is not a systematician; and Wright isn’t really one either — they are biblical theologians and historians. NT Wright, of course, is the Bishop of Durham and that means he’s Anglican — and if anyone knows what systematic theology that is you’ll have to tell us, but the 39 Articles really isn’t a “systematic theology.” Let’s not forget this. To suggest there is a systematic theology at work here, and to suggest there is one systematic theology at work, is poppycock. Most of what I hear at this level is an invention by those who infer what the systematic theology would look like if Sanders and Dunn and Wright composed one. It is never wise to make up a theology and then criticize it.