Justification and New Perspective 1

Justification and New Perspective 1 May 4, 2009

We begin today a new series about the new perspective, and we will be discussing Tom Wright’s new book , a book that responds to John Piper’s criticism of Wright and the New Perspective (Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision
). Today I want to begin with two preliminary comments, and I’m open to corrections if my sketch below is not entirely accurate.

How do you understand the “new perspective on Paul”? What do you think is its primary contribution? Which of the new perspective writers do you read the most and why and what do you like about them? How significant do you think this debate is?

Stendahl.jpgFirst, there is no such thing as the new perspective if one think it refers to some body of doctrine. The New Perspective, therefore, deserves a brief sketch as to how it arose and what it means. It begins with Krister Stendahl’s famous chapter in his book Paul Among Jews and Gentile
. This was back in 1976 and Stendahl argued that the post-Reformation doctrine of justification was rooted, not so much in 1st Century Judaism or the apostle Paul, but the “introspective conscience of the West.”

Many folks thought Stendahl’s major point was brilliant; the essay was formative. But it was EP Sanders who took the substance of Stendahl and established it on the basis of evidence from Judaism.

EPSanders.jpgSo, in 1979 1977 EP Sanders wrote Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion
. Like it or not, this is the most influential book of the second half of the 20th Century when it comes (1) to our understanding of Judaism and (2) how to understand Christianity’s relationship to Judaism in light of #1. This book simply must be read by all seminary students. Sanders argued that Luther imposed his complaints with Roman Catholicism upon Paul’s complaints with Judaism. Sanders argued that Luther got it wrong and that Judaism was not a works-righteousness religion. It was instead a religion of what he called “covenantal nomism.” The covenant got you into relationship with God and the law was given to maintain that relationship. Therefore, much of our reading of Paul since the Reformation has been wrong.

Jimmy.jpgNot long after this, in 1982 to be exact, Jimmy Dunn began to use the expression “the new perspective” as he tried to express his enthusiasm for the fresh discoveries that were occurring in Pauline studies. (The “new perspective” was used first by Tom Wright in a lecture in 1978.) This piece can be found in a collection of Dunn’s studies on Paul and the law (Jesus, Paul and the Lawand now see The New Perspective on Paul
). Then Jimmy went on to write his two-volume commentary on Romans (Romans
) and then his book theology of Paul (The Theology of Paul the Apostle
). There is some development in his own thinking about the implications of Sanders’ conclusions but Dunn made a strong case for a more sociological perception of Paul’s mission, gospel, and understanding of Judaism-justification. In other words, Paul was against the boundary-marking characteristic of Judaism that kept Gentiles out, and that Paul’s mission was to get Gentiles into the one covenant God had made with Israel.

NTWright.jpgThen along came, and only then did along he come, N.T. Wright. Wright built upon Sanders and Dunn, to be sure, but he paved his own ground — building in important ways upon CH Dodd and GB Caird — by pursuing the “end of exile” themes in his early Pauline studies and then his Jesus studies, and then returned to Paul when the New Perspective had taken hold — and he added to it, supplemented it, and has taken much of the heat by the critics. Wright has refashioned justification less in terms of personal conversion and more in terms of “who is in the people of God.” And he has now added to all of this a new dimension, an anti-imperial reading of Paul and earliest Christianity — and that had little to do with either Sanders or Dunn.

But at the bottom of these folks is a belief that Christians have misunderstood Judaism as a works religion and at stake is a profound (changed) orientation to the human problem in much of Reformed and Lutheran thinking: namely, that humans want to earn their place before God, that their fundamental problem is the attempt to establish themselves before God. The New Perspective, in one way or another, does not see this as the problem Paul himself faced and therefore to read Paul in light of this problem misreads Paul in important ways. I call this traditional reading the Augustinian approach to Paul, and I wish more of the critics of the New Perspective would give this Augustinian basis, which most of them think is actually Pauline, more attention. The New Perspective says, “well, yes, perhaps” but that is not what Paul was going on about when he was engaged with his opponents. The issue was not anthropological but both salvation-historical (more Sanders) and ecclesial (both Dunn and Wright). That’s how I see things.

The issue then is how to read Paul in his historical context. This is the Protestant approach and many of us think that far too many of the critics of the New Perspective, instead of re-examining the Bible in its historical context, have appealed instead to the Tradition as established by Luther and Calvin. This leads me to another point…

Second, until someone has read Sanders, Dunn, and Wright, and then examined both the Jewish evidence and the New Testament evidence afresh, one should be
very careful about criticizing the new perspective ideas. If one does not do these things, one is not being Protestant. Right or wrong, the New Perspective is the most Protestant move made in the 20th Century — and by that I only mean that it seeks to get back to the Bible and challenge our beliefs in light of what we find in that Bible.

I have heard
plenty of folks say “the new perspective is wrong” and even one person
saying “anyone who believes in the new perspective is not Christian.” I
have heard these things far more often from those who have not even read EP Sanders’ famous book, Paul and Palestinian Judaism,
do not know that Jimmy Dunn
“invented” the expression [added: as a label for] “the new perspective on Paul” for a lecture
he gave at the Manson Memorial Lecture, think Wright is the New Perspective, and do not know that Sanders, Dunn and Wright
differ in some significant ways. I hear that the New Perspective — as it is a fixed body of belief — often from folks who have no idea what the Jewish texts say about faith and works and covenant and justification.

Perhaps this is a third point: to extrapolate from the exegesis in historical context of Stendahl, Sanders, Dunn, or Wright to “what they must believe theologically” is dangerous business and more often than not simply unfair. In other words, to say they have denied the Reformation etc requires that they say that very thing. Often I hear critics “extrapolating” to what these New Perspective folks must believe and then engaging with this “reconstructed theology” to show that that reconstructed theology is not consistent with the Reformation. Hold on I often say. Let’s see what these folks have to say about these things. One example: Tom Wright is not alone in saying that it is more than a little difficult to prove that Paul believed in double imputation. That does not mean that Tom Wright thinks we stand before God on our own righteousness. It only means that, in his view, the Reformers’ doctrine of double imputation is a development of Paul and not something Paul actually states explicitly. That’s an example.

A nice review of NT Wright’s newest book by Craig Blomberg


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51 responses to “Justification and New Perspective 1”

  1. But Scot,
    It takes far too much work to actually read and study the background material. It is much easier to determine the “true faith” – preferably in a few pithy statements or bullet points – and to hold to that as true orthodoxy.
    Actually – one of the most disturbing statements I see in some writers is a thought process that moves from theology to the text of Scripture and determines the appropriate bounds of interpretation based on that preconceived theology.
    Is this going to be a long series? Perhaps I’ll have to get the book.

  2. Scot,
    I cannot thank you enough for beginning this series. Like so many others, I know only only enough here to be dangerous, that means I know very little. I’ve dabbled in some articles, chapters, etc, and find myself looking for a better survey of the issues, a look at critical passages (in scripture and commentary), and a sketch of practical implications for pastors and leaders who want to think (and proclaim) seriously from the text – especially when it comes to what we mean by justification. Thank you for taking the time to lead us in this – I’m eager to read it!
    grace and peace

  3. I came to faith from a completely secular background while in college. The first paradigm I learned was the Augustine vs. Pelagius grid: Jews believe their own good works earn them a place with God but Paul says if you believe that you can never be saved.
    It became easy for me to read Paul that way. The grid seemed to make sense.
    That is, until I started reading the Jewish texts as I made a journey into Messianic Judaism.
    Sure there are Jewish texts about reward in the life to come (in Christian texts too), but few of them teach a simplistic Pelagius “straw man” idea of self-earned salvation. I learned that my early “anti-works” grid made me miss a lot of great New Testament teaching. Reward in the after-life is real and I’m tired of people minimizing it (“oh, those are just crowns we will throw back at his feet and mean nothing”).
    I have found that people who talk about the Reformation a great deal are usually the least biblical people I know. I don’t mean historians of the Reformation, but preachers who think Luther and Calvin solved it all. My view is different: they were people of their time and very bound up with their time and unable to escape the errors and excesses of their time. To say Luther and Calvin were flawed is an understatement. I can appreciate them, but doing so is made more difficult by the near inerrancy attributed to their writings by some.
    The New Perspective is broad enough to challenge people in their reading of Paul without forcing them into one specific grid. I am glad we are moving beyond the limited sight of the Reformers and I hope it will improve appreciation for Judaism amongst Christians.
    Derek Leman

  4. I am interested in NT Wrights explanation of justification. My question is how does the difference between the Reformed double imputation and Wrights definition (which I see as more accurate) contribute to Holy Living. The modern problem of pornography in the church as well as a divorce rate identical to the world, seems to suggest we need a purge or an understanding of how to access the power of the cross to live differently. How will the difference between these views change that? Does John Wesley’s view of Holy Living have any similarities to this NP.
    A laymen looking at the new tool with puzzlement.
    The liberal theme music in the back ground frightens me ala. (save the Earth movement, ordaining women etc etc.
    Mark Riley

  5. Well, I suppose I was an easy ‘convert’ to the ‘new perspective’. Coming into Christianity the way I did and with the background I had it’s not surprising. (I attended my first seder of family friends when I was in the fifth grade – Conservative, but willing to invite goyim to join them. One of my cousins eventually married into a Jewish family.) So when I later completed one long stage of my journey of conversion, it didn’t take me long to realize that most of the things evangelical Christians said about Judaism while studying the bible simply didn’t line up with reality. And, as I read patristics to understand the history of Christianity, I realized that what they said didn’t particularly line up very well with the ancient understanding of Holy Scriptures.
    So when I encountered Wright years later I was struck by how much more like the Judaism I had encountered was the Judaism he described. Later, when I encountered Orthodox writers and speakers, I was struck by how much they sounded like Wright in a host of areas. Oh, different words, but very similar nonetheless. So I’m not really sure there’s a huge amount that is truly ‘new’ about the ‘new perspective’. It’s like a huge swath of Christianity has been overly influenced by a lot of things, including a strong strain of neo-platonism, and is gradually recovering.

  6. Scot,
    I am a bit confused on your history of the New Perspective. You state the Tom Wright first used the phrase in 1978 but then say later Jimmy coined the phrase in his 1982 Manson Memorial Lecture. I have always thought Jimmy was the first to use the phrase. In what lecture did Tom first use the phrase in 1978?

  7. John,
    In Tom Wright’s Tyndale Lecture in 1978 he used the expression. I had forgotten this but Tom actually mentions this in his new book. So, it is slightly inaccurate to say Jimmy “invented” the term — he took Tom’s expression and used it as a more official label and this gave birth to “the” new perspective. Before it was more of “a” new perspective. Jimmy can be said to have “invented” this expression as a label for the implications of Sanders’ theory.

  8. Ditto to everything said above. I just created a link to this post and opened a discussion with our network. Thank you Scot for the brief historiography. I might encourage a group of armchair pastoral theologians in our network to divide up the readings among us and get up to speed with the issues between Piper and Wright by reading the earlier works that you mentioned. This is an important topic in the new re-formation and current ‘rummage sale’.

  9. Thanks for the summary Scot. Here is a question: why are the Gospels not often considered as relevant 1st century Jewish texts? I realize they are “Christian” texts and I also realize that Paul’s letters are chronologically prior, but don’t the Gospels give us some indication about 1st-century Judaism? The reason I ask this is that the Gospels certainly seem to present the Pharisees as self-righteous, exclusionary, and perhaps a little legalistic. If that characterization is true, isn’t it legit to believe it represents some threads of 1st-century Judaism? It seems that Wright especially always quotes Qumran, but not the Gospels.
    By the way, good point on this being a contextual issue, not primarily a theological issue. Here is a quote from Dunn who acknowledges the theology of imputation from Paul: ““What marks Paul’s use of the concept off from that given to him in his Jewish heritage, however, is precisely his conviction that the convenantal framework of God’s righteousness has to be understood afresh in terms of faith…It is the fact that man’s righteousness is always to be understood as faith which explains why man’s righteousness is nothing other than God’s righteousness.” I think we can be NPP and Reformed.

  10. Well, as someone rather entrenched in the traditional view, I am going to read Wright’s new work to begin this process of thoroughly examining the evidence. My curiosity is finally peaked to point that motivates me to do this.
    I have engaged other issues in the same fashion. In some instances I’ve changed my view and at other times I’ve become more convinced of my view. But in every instance I’ve become more appreciative and understanding of the other views involved and the people behind them.
    It seems to me that this is a way forward toward Christianity love and unity even while still maintaining disagreements with one another.

  11. Brian,
    The issue about the Gospels — and I can’t speak for Tom and it is not something I have observed — is also about whether or not folks had to do these things in order to enter into the people of God, to enter into the Age to Come, or were they more theological guardians and pastors of Israel to make sure folks observed the Torah. Think here of modern examples: most who do these things today are characterized by zeal but not confused about soteriology.
    Is that text the double imputation of the Reformed viewpoint?

  12. It seems in my layman’s understanding, that IT’s explanation of Paul strikes at the heart of the Reformed double imputation! Being raised and illiterate Armenian I have been taught that people in the old testament were save(justified) the same way as those after Christ death. A Faith and action pointing to the future as we have faith and action back towards Calvary. This wesleyan tradition seems to mirror NT’s Abraham’s covenant. My Question is difficult and unanswered. Will this idea of working towards accountability before the Bee ma lead to a church that finally conquered divorce and pornography and is truly different than the world.

  13. Mark @ 13, “Will this idea of working towards accountability before the Bee ma lead to a church that finally conquered divorce and pornography and is truly different than the world.”
    While ideas matter, I think we’re probably not going to finally “get it right” theologically in a way that will totally eliminate sin. That’s an overly cognitive view of faith. To address pornography and divorce specifically, I think developing and practicing true Christ-centered community will help us much more than working on abstract theories of justification (though again, that does matter too). Porn in particular is much more about loneliness than lust.

  14. Thanks for this, Scot. I probably have the opposite problem that I heartily endorse the NP without being well read on the subject. (A consequence of being a layperson with a family and a career.)
    One of the problems with discussing the subject from my perspective is the lack of “digestible” resources. It seems Wright authors a new book every week and to know what everyone is talking about you have to have read 10 books that are directly related and 50 that are tangentially related. I found http://www.thepaulpage.com, I read (most of) “What Paul Really Said” and those have helped, but it still seems hard to wrap ones head around it all – partly because there’s so much written, and partly because most of us over 30 have been so entrenched in the Augustinian/Luther perspective for so long.
    Any advice?

  15. Travis, I understand that nor am I looking for a “clean” Church by sacking the masses. However looking back to the great awakenings of the past, the church offered and looked radically different than the world around it. How do we run down the rabbit trail of Global warming, 3rd world debt and other political agendas when our house is as corrupt as the worlds. When the divorce rate of evangelicals is the same as the general population, when looking at pornography is confused by up to 30% of evangelical pastors how do we become relevant to the world. I see NT’s explanation of this Jewish Paul not as an invitation to more “culturally relevant’ engagement but rather a look at the judgment that will come for not tearing down the “groves dedicated to idols” lest we be banished to Babylon. One cannot even engage in dialogue with Homosexuals here in Iowa with out having the divorce rate thrown in the churches face.

  16. As a lay person, I look forward to this series, though I feel like I should read all the books you mention here. (I won’t.)
    I had to look up “double imputation”, but I recognized it immediately as the way I was taught to read Romans. Then I remembered this Dorothy Sayers quote from Yancey’s back page article in the latest Christianity Today:
    God wanted to damn everybody, but his vindictive sadism was sated by the crucifixion of his own Son, who was quite innocent, and, therefore, a particularly attractive victim. He now only damns people who don’t follow Christ or who have never heard of him.

  17. Brian McL quotes Dunn as saying: “What marks Paul’s use of the concept off from that given to him in his Jewish heritage, however, is…”
    I am particularly interested in seeing what discontinuities can be found between Paul’s use of terms and the usage he inherited from his context. It seems to me that the freshest re-examinations of 1st century Judaism are often overstating its influence, as if Paul’s (or Jesus’) response to “the Jews” must necessarily have addressed them on their own terms. But perhaps he didn’t. Perhaps he saw tendencies inherent in 2nd Temple Judaism that they themselves wouldn’t even have identified? Does anyone else feel the same way?
    Scot, I would like to read somewhere in your future posts what points you feel NPP folks take too far (e.g. Tom Wright in particular). Do you feel that Wright over-politicizes Paul, or do you feel that he is “wright on” about that, too? 😉

  18. Neil C.
    I love reading Wright – and he is shaping much of my thinking these days. But I think he over-politicizes Paul – and the importance of “Imperial Cult” in his reading of Paul is over the top as I see it. I guess no one gets it all “wright.”

  19. “I’m open to corrections if my sketch below is not entirely accurate”
    and “This book simply must be read by all seminary students. Sanders argued that Luther imposed his complaints with Roman Catholicism upon Paul’s complaints with Judaism. Sanders argued that Luther got it wrong and that Judaism was not a works-righteousness religion. It was instead a religion of what he called “covenantal nomism.” The covenant got you into relationship with God and the law was given to maintain that relationship. Therefore, much of our reading of Paul since the Reformation has been wrong.”
    In this book Sanders did not discuss or argue about Luther, Roman Catholicism, readings of Paul since the Reformation, etc. This looks more like a post-new-perspective Dunnian misreading of Sanders than an actual historical reading of Sanders.

  20. Scot I’m glad you’ve started a series on this.
    I tried to read an earlier Wright book about his interpretation of Romans but it was hard for me to follow. Maybe his new one will be easier. Mostly what I remember is that Wright says justification has been understood in too much of an individualistic sense, that Paul didn’t mean it that way. Ah, I see you already said that 🙂
    Wright has refashioned justification less in terms of personal conversion and more in terms of “who is in the people of God.”
    I’m so glad you made the following point:
    Perhaps this is a third point: to extrapolate from the exegesis in historical context of Stendahl, Sanders, Dunn, or Wright to “what they must believe theologically” is dangerous business and more often than not simply unfair. In other words, to say they have denied the Reformation etc requires that they say that very thing.
    It would be wonderful if Christians would observe this principle regarding other Christians. The extrapolation you went on to mention is far too widespread and it certainly IS unfair. That extrapolation is definitely not in accord with the Jesus Creed, imo. When Christians rush to extrapolate in that way it implies to me that their God is rather weak and unable to protect the truth, so they need to take matters into their own hands. But then in their anxiety they get overprotective and unfair (or as you said recently in a debate, uncharitable).

  21. Scot,
    Thanks for doing this series. As a layperson who has read none of Sanders or Dunn (although I have read Piper’s book and a couple books by Wright on these issues), I have a couple questions about what they and other folks say:
    Do Sanders and Dunn adopt the same sort of view Wright does regarding present vs. future justification in Judaism — i.e., present justification was based on God’s election, but future judgment would be based on what people actually do?
    Also, Wright claims in his latest book that even Sanders’ critics, including even D.A. Carson, admitted that there was at least something to Sanders’ core, basic point, even though they think he overstated it. Is Wright correct on that — i.e., about Sanders’ critics?
    For what its worth, I found Wright’s response to Piper very effective. His take on ecclesiology/people of God/covenant makes much more sense of Galatians and Romans, in particular, than what I had previously been taught. My only question is whether he tries to force too much of his version of the story line into various passages.

  22. thanks for this post! as an old testament guy who has studied the old testament covenants in light of actual ancient near eastern covenants, i appreciate what the new perspective gurus are trying to do. i for one don’t like how piper and like-minded folks subsume all the covenants (plural) under one overarching covenant like the “covenant of grace” or something like that. covenants expressed relationships and the terms of remaining faithful in relationships. i’m not well read on the NP, but its attention to covenants has peaked my interest.

  23. The only corrections I would make to your summary are that, as far as I can remember from when I read Sanders’ “P&PJ,” he never mentions Luther, and oddly enough consideiring the title, he barely even mentions Paul until the very end of the book.

  24. Thanks for this post, Scot. The New Perspective needs a louder voice in evangelical circles.
    I never had to study the New Perspective in seminary, but I read James Dunn’s Jesus Remembered and N.T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God in a doctoral class on the historical Jesus. After that, I devoured everything I could get my hands on by these two guys.
    I like Dunn’s approach the best, although I think he goes a little too far with the role that sociology plays in Paul’s Gospel. I don’t think Dunn adequately explains how Paul “converted” from covenantal nomism to Christianity. His interpretation of the Damascus road experience isn’t that great. But Dunn is my starting point with supplements from Francis Watson, Seyoon Kim, and Gordon Fee.
    Scot, what about Francis Watson? His Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles: Beyond the New Perspective is great. He builds on Sanders and Dunn, but he does a better job than Dunn of explaining how Paul developed his Gospel. Watson points out that Paul’s Gospel is just as exclusive as covenantal nomism; it just excludes on the basis of christology rather than ethnicity.
    I think the New Perspective debate is huge because it elevates the importance of christology. In the Reformed matrix, everything is about “faith”–and by faith they mean believing as opposed to doing. As Sanders pointed out, this is not the question Paul wrestled with. In the NPP matrix, everything is about faith in Christ versus works of the law–in other words, Jesus versus no Jesus. Also, the NPP elevates the importance of the work of the Holy Spirit.

  25. What’s so wrong about being inconsistent with the Reformation. 500 years of Protestantism has sown and harvested a whole mess of pretty lousy ideas. The Reformation was necessary, and I believe that Vatican II vindicates Luther fully. But at some point we all need to get over it and move on and get back to the business of trying to be good members of the One Church. Protestants enjoy too much the badge of their Protestantism. It reminds me a great deal of the way Texans go on about being Texan, as if anyone but another Texan would be impressed. Neither Luther nor Calvin are Canon and there’s a reason for that. Protestants need to stop convincing themselves and each other that these two men are the final word on doctrine, theology, hermeneutics and exegesis. They aren’t. And for many of us, they were flat out wrong. And we’re orthodox Christians in spite of the fact that we think that.
    It seems extremely self-evident from Paul’s letters that he does not think of The Law as the foundation of a works based religion.

  26. Scot, Could you recommend a short list (if possible, maybe just ONE item) of what I can read to get the gist of the “new perspective” on Paul? I am fascinated by recent developments in theology, but I am short on time.

  27. “The covenant got you into relationship with God and the law was given to maintain that relationship.”
    Change covenant to faith and this sounds more than a little like Roman Catholic theology — depending, of course, on what you mean by “maintain.”
    “Paul was against the boundary-marking characteristic of Judaism that kept Gentiles out”
    How very postmodern of him.

  28. Galatians 1:9–“As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”
    Galatians 3:10–“For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse.”
    Galatians 5:4–“You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.”
    Galatians 5:12–“I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!”
    These are all boundary-defining statements. Paul wasn’t against boundaries, he just redefined what the boundaries were.

  29. Scot (11). You are correct, I don’t believe it is double imputation. In fact, Dunn doesn’t give much significance to imputation, though he acknowledges the imputation of God’s righteousness in his Romans commentary. He rarely discusses the topic in his theology of Paul.
    On the Gospels, Pharisees are certainly not portrayed as proto-Pelagian. However, they are regularly charged with “hypocrisy, distorted perspectives, ostentation, and self-righteousness” and their negative attitude toward sinners (from Dict of Jesus and Gospels). So not Pelagian, but exclusive. So even if Gal/Romans is primarily about exclusivity, it has steriological implications, which is why NPP can fit with a Reformed soteriology.
    Has anyone read Tom Schreiner’s NT Theo? Blomberg’s review of it in JETS says that he believes “the new perspective on Paul is largely right in its reconstruction of first-century Judaism but overly restrictive in limiting the “works of the law” to badges of national righteousness or explicit legalism.” That is interesting coming from Schreiner who dedicated his Romans commentary to Piper!! So, is Schreiner bridging the gap—NPP and Reformed!!!

  30. Chris B, I won’t try and argue about justification/soteriology. I’m not sure where I stand on things like that in light of the new perspective. Yet I do detect some snark in your second comment, that Paul’s opposition to ethnic segregation is “post-modern”. How do you read texts like Galatians and 1 Corinthians as well as interpret the pluralistic context of the first century mediteranian world? I guess I’m asking, do you think its untrue that “Paul was against the boundary-marking characteristic of Judaism that kept Gentiles out”? Do you think socio-ethnic homogeneity is best for the church?
    The neo-reformed seem to love to take shots at some imaginary neopagan/catholic/gayloving/truthdenying/postmodern bogeyman– but the new perspective is about people wrestling with the biblical text, Christian people who want to take seriously what the scriptures say for the sake of the gospel.

  31. Brian #31 makes an important point: there are some “bridging the gap”, and seeing this as potentially a both/and, rather than an either/or.
    Michael Bird is another who seems to see strengths in both positions:
    “…the NPP is stalling because of works like (in my listing) John Barclay, Francis Watson, Andrew Das, Robert Jewett, and Simon Gathercole – but the aftermath should not be a return to traditional Reformation doctrine; in my opinion, we need a more socially framed and ecclesially aware depiction of Paul’s soteriology. I see no reason to abandon the essential architecture bequeathed to us by the Reformation, but it needs a serious make over at points!”

  32. To answer your questions:
    -I hadn’t heard of it until I started to read Wright. For me, it was like a veil was pulled off scripture, especially Paul, although at the beginning I read mostly Wright’s “big books”, which are all about Jesus; and this in itself shed so much light on Paul. It was good to find out, as I did early on, that Wright was not the only one advocating this change in point of view about what Paul is saying.
    -I think its primary contribution is reading Paul on Paul’s terms, which were centered in Jesus and how Paul viewed “the Christ Event”. As someone who has studied a language to fluency, I understand how important vocabulary is. If you get definitions wrong, you won’t be able to communicate, and whole swathes of concepts can be affected. If Paul’s definitions weren’t Augustine’s or Luther’s, then those definitions need to be corrected as best we can so that we actually get what Paul was trying to communicate.
    -I’ve really only read Wright. What I like is that he is a “big picture” thinker, and he has refined his views somewhat and emphasized different things at different times since he started publishing, as he has himself further thought through the issues. (I think you make too much of his “empire” language, Scot; it’s simply the latest thing he’s working through, not the center of things.) His schema makes sense of the whole bible for me, preserves the centrality of the gospels, takes history into account, and deals with the first century texts (+/- 200 years on either side of Jesus). And above all, Jesus is the focus in all his explanations of what the NT writers were trying to say.
    -It is Extremely Significant, especially if one claims to “believe the bible”, which phrase is all about interpretation. The NP affects interpretation very deeply, as all forays into language/vocabulary, etc. must do.
    As far as holy living goes, reading the “front half” of Paul’s letters according to what Wright believes are Paul’s concerns- which are ALL ontologic results of who Jesus is and what he accomplished, rather than forensic results- makes me ask myself, which I think Paul would want, why I would ever want to DO those things that Paul condemns in the “back half” of his letters, since in Christ I don’t have to BE that kind of person anymore. Ontology must come first. All the focus on being preceding doing is correct, in my view.
    And yet, we must do, in order to make visible that which is invisible, to show/embody the metanoia that is taking place… (your James series points to this on several issues). I have a longstanding bad habit (really a most venial type of sin) that with God’s grace I am now in the process of giving up, not because it’s *morally wrong* for me to do it, but because it doesn’t reflect the action of a human being (and the reasons for that action) God went to a whole lot of trouble to redeem. When I slip, I don’t beat myself up; God’s not angry and he’s not keeping score. He has already forgiven- and I’m free to do something different, from appropriate motivation, than what I’ve done for 40 years. Eventually, living in and from grace, I shall.

  33. I’d love to dive in to this, but can’t even keep up with the reading I’d like to do on stuff about my theology that already really captivates and bothers me (how many new books, websites, blogs, etc. about faith-and-science and the doctrine of scripture come out every month?)!!
    Anyway, I did want to push back a bit on this comment in the post: Right or wrong, the New Perspective is the most Protestant move made in the 20th Century — and by that I only mean that it seeks to get back to the Bible and challenge our beliefs in light of what we find in that Bible.
    That gives me the willies a bit. All the fundamentalist churches I grew up in claimed they were just “getting back to the Bible”. Does anyone really just “get back to the Bible” and read things afresh just the way they saw it in the first century? Is that even desirable? Or is the Word of God and the theology we learn from it more “living and active” than that?

  34. Dana-
    In regards to the forensic, Michael Bird notes:
    “Wright does regard justification as forensic and even though he doesn’t necessarily articulate the duplex gratia as Calvin does, I think he’s in a similar ball-park as union with Christ provides the basis for our justification and is the source of our sanctification.”

  35. dopderbeck,
    I take that as a fair criticism. I should have said that it is a quintessential move the NPP makes when it seeks to get back to the Bible.

  36. Rick@36,
    Sure, all of that. Except Wright doesn’t stop at forensic; it’s not the whole ball of wax for him.
    All I know of Bird is quotes like yours @33, and a couple of visits to his web page. A “serious makeover” of the architecture of the Reformation would be too late for me; that architecture started to fall down about 15 years ago and lies in ruins at my feet. I’ve made my way out of it, not without struggle- but I can breathe, oh, can I breathe!
    If Bird can help you and others, that’s good.

  37. MattK said: “I won’t try and argue about justification/soteriology. I’m not sure where I stand on things like that in light of the new perspective.”
    Which is a persistent problem in NPP conversations. Hopefully Scot will nail something down in this series.
    “Do you think socio-ethnic homogeneity is best for the church?”
    Don’t be silly. I was just pointing out the potential anachronism in Scot’s description.

  38. Amid all of the too common discussions that arise around Wright, I liked something that Matt Edwards (#26)said:
    “I think the New Perspective debate is huge because it elevates the importance of christology. In the Reformed matrix, everything is about “faith”–and by faith they mean believing as opposed to doing.”
    Following this hint can help us understand Jewish concepts of belief being acted out and lived out, rather than the too-Greek and too-Abstract notions of belief that have plagued the post-Reformation churches.
    Randy Gabrielse

  39. About the gospels and their portrayal of Pharisees: if you guys regularly read inter-Jewish debate in rabbinic literature, you would see that the kind of rhetoric Jesus used is common. He was not far from Pharisaism, but near to it. His critiques of Pharisaism should be thought of like an evangelical blogger critiquing contemporary evangelicalism.
    Derek Leman

  40. ChrisB, apologies. Misinterpreted your comment, my response was a little knee jerk. I’ve found myself in some heated rhetoric around this topic as of late.

  41. Again! How does Wrights explanation of justification help the Western Church deal with the number 1 sin of our time. Divorce. Everyone wants this breath of fresh air. Wright seems to think Paul gives us license to engage in political activism and world problem solving. None of you educated fellows have explained why this is significant if it never helps us deal with the break down of the family in Europe and in the U.S. Is this covenant theology merely an Academic exercise? or is it applicable to daily living in a way different than the Reformed traditionalist? I see Wrights point, please me tell this is more than a license for causes.

  42. I’m looking forward to more of this series–important topic. One of my interests is in how the New Perspective may contribute to the missional conversation (I suspect it has more to contribute to this conversation than does Luther’s reading of Paul). I’ve read Stendahl, Sanders, and Wright; I’ve read and met Dunn. It seems to me that Scot’s summary of their work is largely accurate.
    A few additional observations might include:
    1) While he wrote long before the four theologians mentioned above, Albert Schweitzer anticipated some of the ideas of the New Perspective in his book THE MYSTICISM OF PAUL THE APOSTLE (1931). Without dismissing Luther’s interpretation of Pauline soteriology, Schweitzer moved away from a preoccupation with the doctrine of justification by faith. Schweitzer argued that Paul was more concerned with the eschatological than with the soteriological (or, perhaps better, he argues that for Paul salvation is eschatological), and even more so with the mystical. For Luther, justification by faith was the heart of Paul’s thought. For Schweitzer, “[Paul’s] great achievement was to grasp, as the thing essential to being a Christian, the experience of union with Christ” (p. 377). Perhaps the strongest exegetical support for this claim is the frequent and varied use of the little phrase “in Christ” in Paul’s writings (p. 124); “justification” is used less frequently, and does not appear even once in some of Paul’s letters–including his earliest, 1 Thessalonians. Schweitzer’s shift in emphasis away from justification by faith arguably paved the way for fresh reflection on Paul, which is seen in the New Perspective.
    2) Wright has chosen to call his view a “fresh perspective” (so the title of a recent book, PAUL: IN FRESH PERSPECTIVE). This choice was probably made so that he could both affirm and criticize both Luther’s interpretation and the New Perspective (which he does).
    3) The under-appreciated Morna Hooker could be added to the list of New Perspective scholars. She writes:
    “While Paul agonized about whether Israel would be saved, later generations were far more concerned about the salvation of individuals. By the time of the Reformation, we find Luther laying great emphasis on ‘justification by faith’, but ignoring what Paul said about the salvation of Israel. As a result, Luther’s emphasis on faith over against ‘works’–now re-interpreted to mean acts that were believed to give an individual ‘merit’, rather than ‘the works set out in the law’–became not just the rallying-cry of Protestants against Catholics, but a defence of ‘Gospel’ against ‘Law’, and so of ‘Christian’ against ‘Jew’…. There have been disagreements…about what is the central ‘core’ of Paul’s theology: was it ‘justification by faith’–the view that dominated Protestant exegesis in the centuries following Luther–or was it the idea of ‘being-in-Christ’–an idea explored in a famous book by Albert Schweitzer. The former idea is prominent in Romans and Galatians, but not elsewhere: is the debate about ‘justification by faith’ perhaps more to do with the question of the relation between Jews and Gentiles than with the question of how one is saved? (PAUL: A SHORT INTRODUCTION, pp. 145-7)
    4) We would be remiss not to say that one of the primary concerns of the New Perspective has been the tragedy of anti-Semitism among Christians. How has Luther’s interpretation of Paul contributed to anti-Semitism? How might history have looked differently had a New Perspective interpretation of Paul been dominant?

  43. My copy of Wright’s JUSTIFICATION: GOD’S PLAN AND PAUL’S VISION just arrived today. I’ll dive in and catch up with you here.
    There is a sociological shape to Reformation theology. Luther and Calvin and the Reformed boys were shaped by cultural categories prevalent in their day. I think the neo-Reformed gang in our day simply refuse to believe this. Somehow Luther and Calvin were miraculously delivered from their humanity and they formulated an immaculate and enduring theology. What Wright and others are doing, by exegesis of the sacred text, is pointing out the human frailties in Reformed theology. To take affront to this serious theological quest is nothing other than pride IMO. The neo-Reformed can fume and fuss all they want, but serious biblical and theological inquiry will go on without them if it must.

  44. Scot,
    So glad you are doing this series. Even in this first post you have helped me fill in some of the gaps in my understanding of this discussion. I had not understand J. Dunn’s contribution to any of this before now. So what you said is very helpful. Thanks.

  45. Mark @43,
    I wish we could sit down over coffee and talk about this.
    Nobody’s views about justification can turn people’s hearts toward one another. Knowledge of theology alone does not cause people to forgive one another.
    I think a big part of the problem you describe is how some Christians have made an idol of marriage and the family.
    Another piece of it is that we think that after we turn to God, somehow He expects us to be sinless; I think this is a wrong view of God, and of humanity.
    Yet another piece of it is asking why people in the US and Europe view marriage as not necessary, and then grappling with what we find out without turning to a kind of legalism.
    Your concern is very real, about a difficult problem.

  46. Dana and Mark (47 and 43)– thank you for your patient and caring approach in this interchange.
    This is maybe partly responsive to Mark’s plea for relevance to our hurting world– Wright sometimes says that we are saved by faith IN CHRIST, not by faith in “justification by faith.” One point he is making is to turn us back to Jesus and not to focus on our efforts at systematic doctrine. So I think he would support your “so what” question. If faith doesn’t move us to action, is it there?
    Similarly, Wright’s view of justification seems to come to grips more explicitly with the demand of James and others that our faith be demonstrated–making it harder for people to mis-interpret the traditional reformation view as permitting people to get “fire insurance” and then wallow in their sins.
    So, while his point isn’t directly to address divorce, I’d say his approach drives us to live out our faith in practical ways including holding up marriage vows.
    Any help?

  47. #43, 47, 48.
    It seems to me that Wright’s view elevates the ‘so what’ question and moves us in a direction which we desperately need in many of our Churches. While divorce and pornography are undoubtedly great sins in our time, I feel a bit unsure about claiming either is the ‘number one sin’ as though we could somehow rank the sins of our time.
    To my mind it is clear from reading Wright’s work that this is far from just an ‘academic exercise’. Wright’s urge for us to care about such things as third world debt, the devastation of the worlds ecosystems, and the plight of the poor is not a slide into liberalism but rather a vision for the faithful working out of the Gospel as the whole people of God. Who are we to dismiss these as a mere ‘political’ addendum to the more important work of personal holiness? Never does Wright let us off the hook to get our own houses and bedrooms in order, but rather offering a vision for faithful witness to Jesus Christ.
    There is a strain within the old reformed view that would say you can’t do any good (political activism, social change, etc) until you get right with God. This of course privileges justification and rightly so. But, it seems to me that we cannot dwell on justification forever or we end up missing the point – which is faithful living in love of God and neighbor. It occurs to me that a new generation of believers is far more interested today in honoring God through their eating and consumption habits than they are figuring out who is in and who is out of the covenant community. Let us just hope that we as the Church can encourage and support such acts of faithful living whilst deepening theological understandings for why such is, in fact, good.
    The question about the connection between justification and faithful living is a live one and I often worry that our protestant history still plagues us when it comes to right living. My own background leaned so far on the side of grace as to avoid lifting a finger for fear of ‘works-righteousness’ (while patently enforcing a legalistic set of do’s and don’ts of course). To my mind the NPP offers hope to get past the debates which the Reformers fought so long ago and on to living faithfully in our own world – which, I believe, includes faithful practice in both family and ecology.
    It should probably also be said that the best view of Wright’s “so what” is probably not found in his writings on NPP or even in the series, but in ‘Surprised by Hope’.

  48. SM&D I appreciate your help. I have found the “fire insurance” comment very relevant. Here is my problem with Wright, emergent Church and the political active… When I listened to the Lectures I immediately felt like I was drinking water spiritually. However as an Armenian attending a reform church, I see absolute outrageous women’s apparel, I see a divorce policy that would make Henry VIII blush both in catholic and reform indulgences. Here is my Hypothesis, birth from a layman’s perspective. The Church as well as Israel according to Wright, have this unbroken line of redemption plan for the world. Every moral problem that the world has faced since Noah, God has provided a people or plan for salvation that answers the sin of their time. Yet Wright and others take this new and correct outlook and try to fix the problems that the world says are important and that they blame on Christendom or colonialism.
    If family is not important than why is it the only human example of covenant relationship that we have. All other covenant’s are abstract, which is not to say they are not real. How do you teach covenant relationship of belonging and allow the most basic commandment of covenant relationship to be disregarded. If marriage is not relevant covenant theology, what is. As every married person knows that living a Holy, selfless and loving life is most difficult with a spouse. It is the only physical qualification for ministry. Global warming has killed absolutely no-body and is as harmless to people(not christians) as was the Roman Law and system of Government. The west’s embrace of Freud and the dissolution of marriage has killed and maimed millions physical and mentally and wrecked Generations and the Church is silent in the west and provides no answer for they are just as divorced as the world. But then it seems we would rather attract people with “relevant cause and remain silent on things that could shrink our churches(temporarily).. Miss California poses half nude and condemns Homosexuality – she is the church!
    In Love venting frustration.

  49. Mark,
    Thank you for your thoughts on marriage and family. Having worked with youth and families locally, nationally and now internationally I have come to have great respect for the role of the family as the building block for a healthy community.
    Frustrated with you bro