Plenty of pastors and Christians really don’t know what the flap about the “new perspective” is about, and unfortunately some have raised fears to the level of apocalyptic in order to warn folks away from the “new” perspective. It is also true that some, mostly early in the discussion, contended the Reformation completely misunderstood Paul … and so a book like the one we are examining is enormously helpful. The problem is translating this into the language that ordinary Christians can both comprehend and, at the same time, see it’s significance. In essence, the new perspective argues that a more accurate view of Judaism leads to some shifts in what Paul is actually saying. Not least when he uses the term “justification.”
Put more concretely: since Judaism was not a works religion, Paul was not opposing “works” righteousness. Everything flows from this. I just finished reading a book that seminary students and pastors-out-of-the-know on this issue need to purchase and read. Kent Yinger, The New Perspective on Paul: An Introduction. Brief, accurate, and balanced … a really, really good introduction to all things new perspective. Including the major criticisms being leveled at the new perspective. Now done, let’s move on to the post….
Thanks to the fine efforts of James Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy, the book, Justification: Five Views (Spectrum Multiview Books), provides good voices for a variety of views.
How would you describe or define justification? how about the Reformed view?
They begin by letting the “traditional Reformed” view speak first, and Michael Horton represents that view well. Horton’s chp is wide-ranging, shadow-boxing here and there with opponents of the Reformation view as well as outlining that view, and so I will have to summarize some main points:
It all begins with humans as born in sin; original sin; dead in sins and trespasses. Therefore, all human deeds are inadequate.
Justification is about God’s declaration and not one bit about transformation (the Catholic view [terms here were infusion of grace vs. imputation/impartation]). Justification then is forensic, judicial, and a declaration.
This justification is based on imputation, that is, double imputation: our sins are imputed to Christ (and he absorbed the wrath and carried them away) and Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us so that we have an “alien” righteousness. This justification is by faith alone, by grace alone. Faith is the means, grace is the source, Christ alone is the ground. Christ’s active and passive obedience provide the foundation for the imputation.
Horton criticizes esp NT Wright, Mark Seifrid and Robert Gundry. Horton then is subjected to response by:
Mike Bird: Horton doesn’t respect the fluidity of justification/sanctification in the NT, and needs to look more at Gal 5:5; 1 Cor 1:30; Rom 5:19; 6:7. Horton categorically separates forgiveness from justification too markedly while the NT makes them closer to one another. Horton’s view of imputation is too tied to merits. Most importantly for Bird, Horton doesn’t recognize the social issue at hand when Paul champions justification: the inclusion of Gentiles into the people of God. For Horton, this is anthropology (every sinner); for Bird there is more ecclesiology (how to get Gentiles into the people of God).
James D.G. Dunn: without saying so Dunn reveals an issue — for Horton “new perspective” too much means Tom Wright and not enough Sanders and Dunn. So, Dunn’s points, and Dunn sees the new perspective modifying Reformation and not junking it, are ignored when they would have toned down some of Horton’s response. In essence, Horton forces Reformation theories of double imputation onto everything in Paul and the Bible. Horton, for example, wants Christ’s “righteousness” to be imputed when the Bible says it was Abraham’s “faith” that was “reckoned/imputed” as righteousness. He doesn’t think Horton takes Paul seriously enough.
M-V Kärkkäinen: K. observes the total absence of a Lutheran perspective in the book. And Horton’s “canonical” view of Reformed is not without its own problems. Luther’s own view of the Christian life moved beyond the justification debate. He doesn’t like the merits approach of Horton. He thinks Horton has overdone the forensic as the exclusive view. Luther is not so one-sidedly forensic. He thinks the anabaptist emphasis on doing is quite biblical. The fathers weren’t much concerned with justification and it makes one wonder if some Reformed emphases are late rather than biblical.
O’Collins: he thinks Horton is too forensic and can be helped with relationality and by seeing the declaration as a performative utterance. He makes too sharp of a distinction between justification and sanctification. He thinks Horton overinterprets Isa 53 in Reformed terms (I agree that Horton does this).