Monday, May 4, 2009
Justification and New Perspective
Scot McKnight posted a topic about some current theological debate regarding justification and atonement on his jesuscreed blog today. Some of it revolves around something called the “new perspective on Paul” and includes a debate between John Piper and Tom Wright.
My apologies to those of you that do not like substantial theological discussion but let’s talk about this. Brian and I have been chatting off and on about various perspectives of the atonement and this post by McKnight makes a good springboard into that discussion. For the more activist oriented, you can check out of this and go to skunklings.com and participate in some possibility thinking for mission.
I am pasting in some of McKnight post. To read the entire post or to participate in the discussion on jesuscreed click here. Even if you are not very familiar with 20th century theologians, if you click on the links below you can get a quick overview of the development of this area of Pauline studies.
…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?
First, 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.
….McKnight gives a brief historiography here of the development of the new perspective leading up to N.T. Wright….
Then 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 C.H. 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...
1976, Krister Stendahl, Paul Among Jews and Gentile.
1979, E.P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion.
1982, James Dun, Jesus, Paul and the Law.
.....................Paul Among Jews and Gentile.
Tom Wright, Justification: God's Plan & Paul's Vision.
John Piper, The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright.