Aug 13, 2012

THE NEW PERSPECTIVE ON PAUL AND THE REFORMATION

*this is my 4th post in this series on the NPP
THE NEW PERSPECTIVE AND THE REFORMATION[1]
The NPP has a much different take on the Reformation and its resultant theology than the “average Protestant” (to mention nothing of the “average Calvinist”!). In general, they see the Reformers as interpreting Paul in light of their own situation – to a fault. NPP writers believe the Reformers read the New Testament and essentially saw Second Temple Judaism as the legalistic forefather of medieval Roman Catholicism. NPP authors think the Reformers relied too heavily on their own contemporary context and not enough on the first century context of the New Testament. Further, the NPP sees (what they describe as) the over-analytical, guilt-ridden, ever-introspective collective conscience of the West as a severe liability in their hermeneutic.[2] Martin Luther is generally painted as the epitome of this problem.[3] The NPP believes this caused the Reformers to read books such as Romans in a deformed manner and then create a theological construct all about asking “how can a guilty sinner get right with a holy God,” when this is not the point of Romans or Paul’s doctrine of justification.[4] The NPP believes this created a needless theological war with Rome, a mutilated understanding of justification, and a distorted view of first-century Judaism. The NPP believes it can rectify some of these problems with a deeper, more subtle and more contextually-driven reading of Paul.


[1] In this section, I do my best to faithfully represent the general concerns and hopes of the NPP. I pull from my reading of Sanders, Dunn, Wright, and Garlington in hopes to reproduce their general thought. This is in order to synthesize their big ideas, creating a general overview of what they believe they are offering. A great place to start is the New Perspective’s perspective on the Reformation.
[2] Krister Stendhal refers to the “introspective conscience” as a “Western plague” in Paul among Jews and Gentiles (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1976), 17. Stendhal sees this in direct contradiction to Paul’s “robust conscience”. For evidence of this take on Paul’s inner thought life, NPP sympathizers usually turn to Philippians 3.
[3] Seifrid drew my attention to a quote by Luther which helps dispel this myth: “…sin dwell in us through faith. … by faith alone we believe that we are sinners … . … it appears most often that we are not conscious of it. Therefore we must keep silent before the judgment of God and believe his words in which he says that we are unrighteous, because he cannot lie” (Table Talk 56, 231:10-11).
[4] For a rebuff of this, see Timo Laato’s essay in Volume 2 of Justification and Variegated Nomism (343-359) where he shows that Paul’s vision of sin is much “uglier” than the NPP view suggests.

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