Aug 16, 2012

WHAT IS “FAITH”?


*this is my 6th post on the NPP
The NPP does not think Paul views faith as primarily about trusting in God to forgive sin. The NPP sees faith as an identity marker – a badge of sorts – for those who belong in the people of God. Faith could perhaps be thought of as a proof of membership for those in the covenant community. In the former covenant, it was made clear who was ‘in’ the covenant by their ‘works of the law’, which the NPP sees as identity badges that one is ‘in’. These restrictions - such as food laws and circumcision - created boundaries which made it difficult for Gentiles to be fully included in the covenant. In the words of Dunn, “justification by faith is a banner raised by Paul against any and all such presumption of privileged status before God by virtue of race, culture or nationality”. Dunn says these are “spurious distinctions by practices that exclude and divide.”[1]  Now, since Christ has come, these ‘works of the law’ (which are seen as evidence one is in the covenant), such as keeping Kosher and the like have been replaced with a new identity badge: faith. Faith is seen as the new and better identity badge of those who are in the people of God – not as Paul’s confessional formulation against the “dark backdrop” of Jewish legalism.[2]
Galatians is a battleground book in which the exegetes on both sides wage their war of interpretation. Longenecker’s comments sum up the NPP position: “The issue being debated in Galatia was not …: ‘How can I, a sinner, be saved by a just God? Is it by my works or by my faith?’ Instead, the issue is one of covenant theology.”[3] Longenecker sees the “more modern” way of interpreting Galatians as “individualistic”. Reformed theologians have often thought of themselves as paying attention to covenant (or even biblical) theology – they are not opposed to looking at things through this lens.[4] However, Longenecker’s language has a very specific meaning within the NPP framework and it is placed in opposition to the question of individual justification. These considerations make me think it is not what the NPP affirms that is a problem but rather what they deny (or downplay or minimize or truncate or under emphasize). 


[1] James D.G. Dunn, “The Justice of God: A Renewed Perspective on Justification by Faith.” Journal of Theological Studies 43 (1992): 15.
[2] A pastor who is sympathetic to the NPP used this phrase (“dark backdrop”) in a radio broadcast; I utilize it here.
[3] Bruce Longenecker, The Triumph of Abraham’s God: The Transformation of Identity in Galatians (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1998), 106.
[4] As a parallel to this discussion, see Robert Yarbrough’s essay in Volume 2 of Justification and Variegated Nomism (297-342).

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