(A) Reformed View of the New Perspective

(A) Reformed View of the New Perspective April 18, 2012

The clash was inevitable, but the clash has too often taken place under terms and categories that unfairly describe the other side. The traditionally Reformed have a stake in framing Paul’s gospel as justification by faith, and behind that they traditionally understand the problem to be humans who strive to establish themselves before God. A good proponent of this view, always framed in pastorally sensitive ways, is Tim Keller. But the New Perspective says No to this way of framing Paul’s gospel.

Why do you think the Reformed view of justification clashes so much with the new perspective on Paul, especially its view(s) of justification? What’s the essence of the clash?

First, that view assumes a view of Judaism that has clearly been undermined: Judaism was not full of self-righteous people seeking to establish themselves on the basis of the Law before God. Instead, one good way of describing Judaism is what E.P. Sanders called “covenantal nomism.” Covenant, and that means grace and election, have the first word and the Law (the nomism bit) is not how to become a Jew but how to maintain ones Jewishness, or sustain one’s relationship to the God of Israel. In effect, this knocks the former problem out from under one traditional view and sends people back to the NT and Judaism to see “what the problem was.”

In steps Alan J. Spence, in his book Justification: A Guide for the Perplexed, to say the New Perspective (1) gets it all wrong and (2) is designed to create a gospel shaped apart from what I’m calling Spence’s “justification worldview,” a worldview in which God is judge, humans are sinners, and Christ establishes as relationally right with God.

Spence got off for me on the wrong foot in five ways: first, he misspelled E.P. Sanders’ name wrong every time, spelling it “Saunders.” He also called him “E.T.” Saunders, and this makes me wonder if he has even read Sanders. One should avoid speculating on such things, so I won’t. (Maybe I already have.) Second, he kept seeing Sanders in terms of comparative religion and, well, yes, Sanders does talk about comparing the pattern of religion, but to say he’s into comparative religion pulls Sanders from the historian to the modern religions expert. Just not so. Third, he failed to sketch that the fundamental insight of Sanders and of the whole New Perspective is a fresh re-examination of Judaism and that means, inevitably, what Paul was saying in the context of a sharper profile of Judaism. I see absolutely no interest in Spence in this historical question.

Fourth, Spence shows no awareness of the nuances of variation among New Perspective scholars — from Sanders to Wright to Dunn to Hays and others. For Spence, this is all about Tom Wright’s denial of his justification worldview, and this chp is dramatically different in tone from his chps on Augustine, Aquinas, Luther and Calvin and is more like — but stronger — than the chps on Schleiermacher and Barth. He blames the latter two for deconstructing a justification worldview, and thinks Wright is floating on that deconstruction. Fifth, he says he will root his sketch of Tom’s view of justification in his What Saint Paul Really Said, in spite of the 2009 book called Justification, which ought to have been the place to base one’s observations, but I’ll forgive him for not living up to what he said: it’s just as much based on the 2009 book as the earlier one, though I don’t think he sees the nuances of the latter vs. the former.

Spence sketches Wright’s narrative, which is the narrative of Israel’s Story coming to fulfillment in Jesus, the true Israelite; he argues Wright’s view of justification is not about salvation but about ecclesiology (this is an overstatement); he doesn’t think there’s enough about forensics, in spite of Tom’s clear statements to the contrary though Wright doesn’t have Spence’s justification worldview; and he thinks Wright doesn’t have enough on faith as instrumental in salvation. Well, here’s a good summary of Spence’s criticisms:

I suggest the controlling motif of Wright’s soteriology is ‘the reinstatement of good governance through the kingship of Jesus’ or, in the evocative jargon of the comparative study of religions, ‘messianic nomism’. [Who uses this expression?] If one removed from his exposition of justification the few passing references to relational concepts such as grace, mercy, pardon and reconciliation [did he read Justification?], the structure would stand intact. None of these concepts serve as load-bearing terms. They are, however, integral features of Paul’s soteriology.

One could at this point stop for a long day discussing how Wright expounds grace and these other terms, and to ask if the proper approach is “The Western Tradition’s” view vs. recent NT scholarship’s view, and how one determines such things — surely by exegesis and history not by appealing to Augustine and Luther and Calvin – but I find this summary critique both hitting on the sensitive areas but grossly misrepresenting Wright’s stuff. But I’m sketching Spence, who says Tom’s use of those terms was only done in deference to others, the way Spence himself crossed himself in a Catholic school as a boy though he was Reformed.

In essence, Spence thinks the best Story of the Old Testament must be only the personal salvation story because the governance Story of Wright, by which he means Jesus as King as the true Israelite through whom God will put the world to rights …. and, well, we’ve got an exaggeration: Tom Wright believes in personal salvation; he thinks the NT teaches that; but personal is caught up in the larger Story. What Spence has is a theory of justification that no one in the Old Testament taught (unless one thinks Gen 15:6 is Abraham’s personal salvation), for which there would have been no back story in the New Testament and which is then assumed to be the true gospel of the apostle Paul.

The New Perspective’s view of justification deserves some good strong pushback; there have been some early overstatements and many take backs, including some by Dunn and Wright.  I wonder if Spence might spend some time reading Jimmy Dunn’s big pumpkin book, his book on Paul’s theology, and read the chp on justification, and then ask if he has really sketched the new perspective’s view of justification. He hasn’t.

This Guide for the Perplexed will make some folks happy; it leaves me perplexed.

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  • Jerry

    Wow, thanks for the review of this, Scot. I spend enough time perplexed, I don’t need Spence’s book to make me more so.

  • I am open-mouthed at my desk at the idea that T&T Clark published a book on justification in which E P Sanders was E T Saunders (unless it was a Spielbergesque joke, which I doubt). I didn’t believe you, so went on Amazon to check the index, and found you were right. How extraordinary. (Although in the sentence immediately before you make that point, you do refer to a “justification worlview” 🙂

  • Jim Eisenbraun

    @ Andrew: one thing that has happened in the modern publishing environment (and economics, though I’m not sure that economics should be primarily blamed) is that few books are edited and few fact-checked. There are major exceptions (InterVarsity, Eerdmans, and others). But the European publishers, especially, no longer both to edit. It’s sad. There’s also shoddy authorship, of course.

  • RJS


    What this means, of course, is that authors – if they wish to be taken seriously – must take meticulous care with such things. It is, after all, the author’s reputation that is at stake.

  • Jim and RJS,
    Agreed. I’ve had an outstanding editor who has spared me from a couple of howlers (although my American publishers missed a superscript font in my second book, resulting in my saying that the brain processed between 109 and 1020 pieces of information in a lifetime. Alas.)

  • CGC

    Hi Scot and all,
    I’m sure the Jesus Creed group is too small of a poll or gathering but it seems to me that N. T. Wright may be the most significant read scholar by Christians who read in the first half of the 21st century? I find it ironic that no one listed any work by Spence as one of their most influential read books or authors. Whether people agree or disagree with Wright, Wright seems to be hitting a nerve in a good way with many modern Christians. And anyone who has a following these days has their detractors and critics. Wright is one of the few Christian scholars I know where there are many well-read Christians waiting for this next work or book to be released. I have been one who has always been amazed at this man’s ability to pour out so many books like Wright. There are so few people I know that can even do this much less keep up with Wright. Astonished to say the least . . .

  • Wow, the misspellings either by carelessness or poor editing are enough to make me doubt that he “really” read Sanders work. Is it that our own entrenched ideas can be strong enough to cause us to misrepresent others work? It seems that way some times.

  • From your summary, Scot, it appears that Spence is merely repeating many of the popular misconceptions about the New Perspective and Wright’s view of justification. I do wonder if it’s even fair to speak of any singular New Perspective view, since what unites that group is a conviction that Paul isn’t critiquing Judaism for legalism in his statements about “works of Law’ in Galatians and Romans. Beyond that, there’s no coherent New Perspective view about Paul’s positive statements about justification being by faith in Christ. In fact, for many New Perspective people, Paul’s “view” of justification is the same as most traditional formulations. Wright’s placement of justification viz. Paul’s larger convictions isn’t really a New Perspective move, though it is, of course, related. Anyway, there are too many misconceptions already out there. It’s too bad that a work like this doesn’t bring clarity to the discussion.

  • T

    He says that the controlling motif of Wright’s soteriology is ‘the reinstatement of good governance through the kingship of Jesus.’ First, this sounds like a (proper) combination of “the gospel of the reign of God” with a conviction that Jesus is the Messiah/Leader of that reign. So, even apart from the reality that Paul also proclaimed the Christ (as a/the Jewish King of all) and his kingdom, this motif is certainly thematic to the gospels. Even the OT foretells “good news” to Zion: “your God reigns.” It is therefore a thoroughly biblical soteriology. But secondly, what if “relational concepts such as grace, mercy, pardon and reconciliation” as well as other things are at the heart of what is going on within and as an integral part of ‘the reinstatement of good governance through the kingship of Jesus’? It seems it would be better or much more accurate to say that most of the NPP sees these relational concepts as part of the activity/character of God’s reign through Christ than to make the ridiculous statement that such concepts are not part of Wright’s soteriology, or that Wright doesn’t think that mercy is a particularly important concept in salvation. I’ve personally heard Wright describe the failure to show others mercy as “putting a saw to the branch on which we are sitting.” So, how exactly can mercy not be “load bearing” in his soteriology? It sounds like Wright thinks that mercy is bearing the load of us all.

    I’m trying to have patience for the Reformed critiques of the NPP, and it looks like this book won’t help. Yes, let’s point out weaknesses and over-reaching. But these sloppy critiques, either in spelling or argument or research or all of the above, are getting old.

    Scot, you are right to call this “lens” of Spence and others a “justification paradigm” because this blindness in Spence and others is hard to explain in any other way.

  • T

    Sorry, justification worldview.

  • Rodney

    Thanks, Scot, for bringing this to our attention.

    Tim Gombis is right. The New Perspective is a very diversified position because Sanders was trying to do two things at once: offer a different read of Judaism and a different reading of Paul. Subsequently, scholars have worked on a more careful understanding of Second Temple Judaism and/or a more nuanced reading of Paul, esp. the “center” of Paul’s theology. For those who are looking for a more substantive and responsible critique of the NP in all its forms, one might consult the works of Stephen Westerholm, Simon Gathercole, or Francis Watson.

  • Re: the statement that Wright envisions things through “the reinstatement of good governance through the kingship of Jesus,” it would have been for Spence to recognize that a number of “apocalyptic” interpreters of Paul (e.g., Martyn, Keck, et al) envision “justification” to mean precisely this! They read Paul’s dik- language (righteousness, justification, justify, etc.) to point to God’s “rectifying” all things, including people. So, justification as rectification — that could’ve been one of his chapters, in fact, especially in light of Campbell’s work.

  • scotmcknight

    Tim, have you seen the newest fascicle of ExtTimes?
    Wright has a piece on Anglophone interpreters of Paul and Campbell examines his own theories in his big book.

  • CGC

    Hi Scot,
    What is the name of Campbell’s book?

  • I haven’t seen it yet, Scot, but I’ll give it a look shortly.

    CGC, Campbell’s book is The Deliverance of God. But you can find an apocalyptic vision of justification and related matters in Lou Martyn’s Theological Issues in the Letters of Paul, and Leander Keck’s Romans commentary, which is very accessible.

  • Scot, how is this practical to my teenage kids?

  • MattR

    “What’s the essence of the clash?

    It seems to me what is at stake for some of the Reformed crowd, and thus where they see the biggest threat with the N.P., is:
    1. A particular view of sin. It’s primarily personal, and this personal sin against a Holy God is the main ‘problem’ that salvation solves.
    2. A particular view of Judaism/The Law. Again, it is about personal acceptance with God. The Law was, in this view, what made Jews right with God, ie: ‘works righteousness.’

    Sanders, Wright, and much of the N.P. has been about reassessing second temple Judaism, and thus rethinking the NT’s language of justification/salvation… Thus the clash.

    What I never get though is how the ‘Reformed’ don’t see how ‘reformed’ both the approach and outcome of the N.P. is. Small ‘r’ ‘reformed,’ in the sense that the N.P. folks are going back to the source- Sola Scriptura- and not just relying on the theological tradition. And small ‘r’ reformed in outcome; reminding us that Israel’s creation and foundation as a nation was all about grace- the election of God- not works of law. Law is not what made Israel right with God, instead God in grace chose Israel, law is how they responded to and lived that out.

  • DRT

    I tried to find a review by someone else, particularly reformed folks but came up empty. If someone knows of one I would appreciate a link.

    I hope that his misspellings are the fault of an erroneous last minute search and replace, because the alternative is quite sad.

  • I like this statement N. T. Wright makes in his interview published on the Gospel Coalition blog regarding his disagreement with Piper over how to understand Justification in Paul–“the ‘new perspective’ which I embrace and expound (there are as many quite different versions of the so-called NP as there are expositors of it) is not at all inimical to the real concerns, including personal salvation, substitutionary atonement, and so forth, of the ‘traditionalists’.”

  • Alan K

    The practicality of these matters for your teenage kids is this question: “In what manner are they related to God?” Is the relationship contractual or is it covenantal? Their view of God will be profoundly impacted by the answer to those questions.

  • John W Frye

    I know it’s cliched now, but why the defenders of the Reformed justification worldview don’t admit their historical anachronism, that is, reading Luther’s issues into 1st century Judaism and theology, is mind-boggling.

  • Rodney

    Bill, in light of this quotation by Wright, one wonders if the “new perspective” has become a red herring. I think Wright would share some of MattR’s questions.

  • scotmcknight

    And one thing I’ve seen among some of the Reformed crowd so upset with the NPP is less attention to NT and instead a whole new emphasis on the confessions of the Reformation and a renewed study of Luther and Calvin.
    On the other hand, Carson got a team to re-examine Judaism’s themes here, with some mixed results and reviews, but he knew very clearly — and I began to hear this from Don way back in the mid to late 80s — that the nature of Judaism was vital in this discussion.

  • scotmcknight

    Well, Jonathan, that can be a cheeky question or a serious one, and if you are serious it comes down to this: how are we justified before God and who is in the people of God? Those are vital questions for all humans, which is what justification — old or new — has always been.

  • TJJ

    I think the quote given above by Bill explains some of this.

    “the ‘new perspective’ which I embrace and expound (there are as many quite different versions of the so-called NP as there are expositors of it)”

    There are many statements and re-statements of what the NP on Paul is. And no two seem to be quite the same. And so one finds oneself over analyzing perhaps, looking for the nuance they may or may not be there. Also, NT Wright , for all is brilliance and excellence in this many books, may not be the best person to go to for a clear understanding of the NP. Wright does have that tendency, observed by many, to himself never quite say the same thing about things, including the NP, each time he writes about them. I often find myself comparing what he says about things, say, the Kingdon of God, from book to book that he has written, and yet feeling I have never quite pinned him down on what he means.

    It is challenging/thought provoking, yes, but also at times frustrating, and I think sometimes leads to misunderstanding, as in the case in point with Spence.

  • I’ve had occasion recently to refer to the very last paragraph of Stephen Westerholm’s massive book, Perspectives Old & New on Paul. He sums things up so well:

    “As I see things, the critics [NPP folks] have rightly defined the occasion that elicited the formulation of Paul’s doctrine and have reminded us of its first-century social and strategic significance; the ‘Lutherans,’ for their part, rightly captured Paul’s rationale and basic point. For those (like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley) bent on applying Paul’s words to contemporary situations, it is the point rather than the historical occasion of the formulation that is crucial. Students of early Christianity must attempt to do justice to both” (p. 445).

  • Jimmy Carter must have looked at Billy Carter with a mix of love and shame. His brother, yes, but he does and says the most outrageous things. He must have wished he would just go off into a corner and drink his Billy Beer and shut up. And that is how I have begun to feel about many of my brothers in the Reformed stream, from Piper to McArthur to Mahaney. I know we came from the same stock, but crikey, what happened to them?

  • Curious if anyone else had this experience . . . I was particularly blessed by reading Wright’s Justification and Piper’s The Future of Justification together (Wright’s was written in response to Piper, and Piper’s was written with major interaction from Wright along the way). I was surprised to find the level of discourse very respectful and the authors thorough in their interactions with one another. They seemed to truly engage rather than just talking past one another. It was very helpful for me at least in better understanding both positions.

  • Luke Allison


    One of the major critiques leveled against Wright is that he frequently accuses any detractors of not understanding what he’s saying.

    Then I read something like this (and really any Reformed critique of him…did you read the Gospel Coalition’s review of How God Became King?) and I completely agree with Wright’s perspective. These are scholars who are so entrenched in a worldview (and so calcified into a “remnant” mentality about theology) that they literally miss the forest for the trees every time they read Wright.

    “The reinstatement of good governance through the kingship of Jesus” = “the kingdom of God”, does it not?
    I would say that Wright’s two huge themes are: “righteousness as a covenantal lawcourt concept” (his view of justification flows out of that) and “the Church as ‘sneak peek’ of the New Creation God is working in the world”. It’s a different story than the Reformed folks tell, with different emphases.
    The other huge theme I can identify in Wright is “blessings from God mean a responsibility to bless”, and it’s through this lens that he reads all of Israel’s story, starting with Abraham and culminating with Jesus. This is why his conception of “New Creation” has much to do with hands-on restorative physical work.

    Really, this writer’s critique of Sanders (or Saunders) shows some unsurprising myopea. The reason why I can’t listen to Carson, Piper, Rainer, Ferguson, etc. on 1st Century Judaism is because they don’t think it’s important to study 1st Century Judaism. Piper’s even basically said that the 1st century Jewish context isn’t important to understanding Paul. This is why Reformed teachers can still constantly contrast “legalistic religious people like the Pharisees” to “true Christians”, despite the fact that the primary critique Jesus has of the Pharisees is “hypocrisy”, not legalism. The Pharisees sit in the seat of Moses, for crying out loud!

    The Reformed teachers and scholars seem to find it easier to turn an entire nuanced subset of people into Snidely Whiplash. And then, the real kicker…they accuse someone as nuanced as Wright of being “classic Enlightenment liberal” or something silly. Or someone as diverse in his thought as “ET Saunders” of promoting a “history of religions” viewpoint. Again, it’s easier to lump deep thinkers in with a caricaturized “liberal” school of thought. That way the people who follow you can write those thinkers off too. And that’s what everyone I know who follows the Reformed teachers does with Wright.

    And so the most influential evangelical scholar in our day is treated as irrelevant by a significant subset of Christianity.

  • Matt Edwards


    I think the nature of the clash is the division of the disciplines of systematic and biblical theology. I read through Wright and Piper’s back and forth and it seemed like they were talking past each other. Wright argues like a historian; Piper like a theologian. Wright, Dunn, Sanders, and Hayes want to ground Paul’s thought in the religious milieu of his day, whereas the conservative Reformed critics of the NPP are looking for a system that harmonizes all of the biblical data even outside of Paul. It’s history versus proof texts.

    Another reason why the NPP is threatening to the Reformed is that it is a new kind of opponent. I think they are used to debating Roman Catholics, Arminians, and Lutherans, and I see them trying to apply the same kind of argumentation with guys like Wright that they use with these other traditions. But the basis of the critique from the NPP lies behind the text. The Reformed can’t answer their arguments with proof texts, because the NPP argues that the verses don’t mean what they think they mean. The classic examples of this are the arguments around the phrases “works of the law” and “the faith[fulness] of Jesus Christ.”

  • Luke Allison

    Matt Edwards:

    That might be the most insightful understanding of this conflict I have ever read. Bravo!

  • MattR

    Matt Edwards, “the nature of the clash is the division of the disciplines of systematic and biblical theology.” Think you’re on to something here.

    I wonder if we can go one step further… Because maybe there are also competing theological systems at play. When I read Wright, I often see the Anglican theology that must inform his work… New creation, covenant, salvation as participation, are all major themes of Anglican theology. Just a thought.

  • In defence of the more broadly Reformed responses to the NPP, and in case readers of this blog assume none of them can spell Sanders, it’s worth mentioning the careful, intelligent reflections of people like Doug Moo, Tom Schreiner, Peter Stuhlmacher, Simon Gathercole, Peter O’Brien, Mark Seifrid and many others. There are lots of good Reformed responses to the NPP which take their concerns seriously and push back insightfully, as some commenters have pointed out. It may be, though, that this book isn’t one of them.

  • Dana Ames

    Matt E, I think you are especially on to something wrt the “new kind of opponent”.

    Matt R, yup. It would be difficult for Wright to do and hold to what he does if he were not Anglican.

    Jonathan, the way it relates to your teenagers is, I think, similar to what happened to me when I got thinking about the question, “What is The Gospel?” IOW, what is the “good news” that was meant to be proclaimed by the earliest Christians? Thank God for NT Wright, and others such as Dallas Willard and S. McKnight and those NP scholars Scot mentions in the post. As I got to thinking about all the ramifications of that question, and others, I kept running into a wall, and Scot expresses it well:

    “What Spence has is a theory of justification that no one in the Old Testament taught (unless one thinks Gen 15:6 is Abraham’s personal salvation), for which there would have been no back story in the New Testament and which is then assumed to be the true gospel of the apostle Paul.”

    In terms of both relating to God and wrestling with theodicy, it was a wall of despair. Wright cut a big hole through that wall. I found something I could tell people that was actually good news.

    Later I came to find out that a whole lot of Wright’s implications were congruent with the EOrthodox view of things, and the wall came tumbling down…


  • i think lunking in the background is the view that if the reformed view of justification is not 100% correct, breaking with Rome wasn’t legitimate. Justification is the gospel (on which the church stands or falls), rome has ‘another gospel’, and therefore, we can break with rome.

    But what if our view wasn’t right? shouldn’t we have stayed?

  • Luke Allison


    Moo has been lauded by Wright himself, I believe, as a respectful and thoughtful Pauline scholar.
    But Schreiner seems to be the living embodiment of Wright’s critique that few people seem to understand what he’s saying. Did you follow the ETS debates in 2010 between Schreiner and Wright? What’s Schreiner’s main critique of Wright? That he puts things “from the background into the foreground” and vice versa.

    But then he argues that Israel’s primary problem was “sin/idolatry” as opposed to Wright’s view of “the failure to bless the nations”. Isn’t this a false polarity.

    Then (and this is where his Reformed position just doesn’t get it right, and I’ll stand by that statement) he goes so far as to say that the main point of the OT narrative of Israel is “to convey the impossibility of law-keeping”. HUH???? How could you possibly get there if you weren’t previously predisposed towards reading everything through the light of “works righteousness vs. grace”?

    Then Schreiner puts “sin and the need for redemption” into the foreground as the primary message of the Bible. Really? Doesn’t it take a quite a few theological jumps in order to get there? One could just as easily interpret the primary message of the Bible as “Creation and Consummation” or “Covenant and Blessing”.

    I agree with you that there has been good interaction with the NPP from the Reformed end of things, but I still think they can do better.

  • Kyle


    After reading Wright and Piper’s book on ‘Justification,’ I came away thinking that maybe the “reformed” are so reluctant to see anything Wright says because they hold very traditional eschatological views. I almost felt I would not have been able to grasp or accept the NP’s framework for justification if I had not already been so amazed by Wright’s “Surprised by Hope.” Thoughts?

  • Scot, thanks for “facilitating” and sifting this issue. And I appreciate the various comments trying to answer the question, “Why are the neo-reformed so resistant to see?” I share many of the same ideas.

    In casting the net a little broader, why do the most vocal to resist the NP also the ones who are vocal to resist women as equal? Is the connection and refusal to see historical context? Is the resistance simply to resist something that is new? Is the resistance that they didn’t come up with it first? Is the resistance embedded in 1517?

    My sister attended Bob Jones University. When she was there, they had strict rules about music. One of the rules, however, was that you could play music that was 75 years old (if I remember the age correctly). It had nothing to do with the content and everything to do with the age. Are the neo-reformers (neo-puritans) acting similarly?

  • scotmcknight

    Kyle, depending on what is meant by eschatology, I don’t see that much — big picture — difference between Wright’s eschatology (other than his emphasis on a more earthy kingdom on earth, but remember it is a transformed earth) and, say, Ridderbos or Vos — it is inaugurated eschatology, Second Coming, glory of God in Christ, resurrection … now if this is what you mean, I’m not sure the bristles are hard at that point.

  • Kyle

    Sure! thank you, and I agree. I guess I refer more to what I find in us laypeople and not scholars… at least that I run in to. Personally, my friends of the more conservative reformed tradition generally have a response to NP thought as such….’ya ya, Covenant family, Israel, Jesus’ Kingship, New Creation is all interesting business… but they distract from the main point, how do ‘I’ go to heaven when I die or Jesus comes back.’ As you talked at length on in King Jesus Gospel!

  • DRT

    Sorry for the off topic, but the lack of numbers is frustrating in a thread like this. I can’t tell what I have read without going back and reading a bunch…

  • Mike M

    Interesting topic and as a practical amateur theologian, I usually don’t find such topics worthwhile. Maybe we should approach this historically for the Reformers, too. Luther and Calvin were both anti-Semitic so anything tasting of Judaism made them puke. For them to think Pharisees could be worthy of note went against the grain so they took Jesus’ and Paul’s anti-legalism statements way out of context. But neither Jesus nor Paul was anti-Semitic so that’s where the friction begins begins to rub.
    BTW: I have read both Wright & Piper. Tom I found intriguing but elusive. Piper I just found insulting.

  • Alan Spence

    Hi Scot, I’ve been lurking on your blog, but perhaps this is the appropriate time to put my head above the parapet.
    1. Of course it was silly of me to get Sander’s name wrong. I am afraid I do it all the time. I am still very unlikely to get Schleiermacher(?) right without the text in front of me. T&T Clark are perhaps to be praised for sorting out as many of my misspellings as they did.
    2. I sought in this sketch to address one small book of one author. I know that Wright might feel he has moved on from ‘What St Paul really said’ but it is a fascinating and brilliantly conceived study which continues to be deeply influential among my friends. I don’t think there is any problem focusing on its central argument in this section of my book, but perhaps I should have made it more clear that that was all I was doing.
    3. I know it was provocative to describe Wright’s soteriology in that book as ‘messianic nomism’ but it was an attempt to bring clarity to his particular emphasis. In the same provocative way someone might coin the word ‘soterian’ to described a very constricted view of the gospel.
    4. There are two questions arising from the sketch which I would wish to ask
    a) Do you think that our human faith is instrumental in salvation?
    b) Is Justification about salvation or is it only about ecclesiology?
    P.S. I thought your work in the King Jesus Gospel relating the preaching of Jesus to that of the apostles was stunning and it has inspired a whole set of ideas in my own head.
    Shalom, Alan Spence

  • I don’t fit comfortably into the Reformed camp (I am not a Presbyterian or Reformed baptist). However, there is much that I do agree with. In my naivety I think that where I agree it is because I think they are being biblical in their conclusions and not because of loyalty to a confession or guru (Luther, Calvin or Wright).

    Here are some of the concerns I have with NPP.

    1. I think the Law/Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of works. That is, its principle was salvation by human effort – this do and live. I see this pervasively taught in both old and new testaments.

    2. Given the above, it is not difficult to see how legalism was a C1 problem in Judaism. I see the NT as opposing both legalism and nationalism. Traditionally commentators have noticed both. The NPP did not ‘discover’ nationalism or the Jew/gentile theme in Romans.

    I have no gripe with Wright as such. I read him and benefit from him. Where I differ from him I do so for what I believe to be biblical reasons and not partisan ones. I am sure this is the case for folks like Moo, Carson, Westerholm, Watson, Gathercole and many others.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    I appreciate Alan chiming in and his gracious remarks. I hope Scot responds :–)