Aug 15, 2012

BRIEF CONSIDERATIONS ON THE APPEALS OF THE NEW PERSPECTIVE


*this is my 5th post in the current series on the NPP
This last consideration especially is part of the appeal of the New Perspective on Paul: it seeks to heal some of the rifts not only between Rome and Geneva but also between Germany and Jerusalem (in a manner of speaking). The latter hope arises out of the thought that now that the anti-Semitic caricatures of first-century Jews have been purged from Protestant professors and their pens, perhaps both groups will realize that our ‘pattern of faith’ is more similar than we ever realized. The hope is we will see both faiths as religions of grace. We need no longer accuse Judaism of teaching merit-theology or works-righteousness. Protestants can now excise all of the puffed-up and trumped up criticisms of Judaism - both old and new - and get down to the real issue at hand: is Jesus Lord or not? The NPP says “yes” and this means that Gentiles can now be fully included in the people of God.[1]
The hope for some ecumenicism with Rome is somewhat similar. We now longer need to see Catholics as modern-day first-century Jews – and even if we do, that is not so bad after all! Many evangelicals desire to find more common ground with Rome and much of NPP soteriology more comfortably comports with Roman Catholic views. For example, if imputation is eliminated from our understanding of justification, we have removed a big stumbling block between us and Rome. However, the NPP’s language of ‘staying in’ via works meshes more smoothly with Rome’s system. I have not personally heard all of these sentiments directly from NPP authors, although there is some material out there on these considerations, but some of these hopes would be natural outgrowths of NPP constructs.       
After a brief excursus on potential “selling points” for the NPP,[2] I want to return to a question previously broached: was the Reformation reading of Paul and justification correct? One tenet flowing out of the Reformation was “justification by faith alone”. This was especially trumpeted over and against any type of merit theology, which the Reformers would see as compromising sola fide by adding works of the law to faith. Already, we are at an impasse, for the NPP defines ‘faith’ and ‘works of the law’ differently than the Reformers.  


[1] If it is unclear how the fact that ‘Jesus is Lord’ is directly related to ‘Gentiles can be in the covenant community’, it is either because I am not understanding and/or explaining the NPP mindset correctly or it could be that any basic summary is truncated and therefore incomplete; this can make things more confusing, especially to someone unfamiliar with the issues. Or, and I think this is probably the primary reason, it may sound unclear because it is unclear in the NPP sources themselves. I do not remember where I heard it but someone said the NPP still has not made it very clear (in the context of their theological framework) the connection between Christology and Soteriology. Wright is beginning to attempt to smooth out these rough edges but I am skeptical of his chances for success. Why? I think the whole NPP set-up does not allow for much clarity in this regard; in fact, it seems to be an inherent part of the system that the person of Jesus is almost removed in any logical and coherent way from the work of Jesus and its manifold benefits – especially salvific ones.
[2] See a fantastic overview of the attractiveness of the NPP by J. Ligon Duncan in The Attractions of the New Perspective(s) on Paul. A transcript of a paper given in Jackson, Mississipi and Glasgow, Scotland. Hosted at theAlliance of Confessing Evangelicals websit

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