Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Monday, September 26, 2011

God's Covenantal Love in Light of Paul's "New Perspective," Part 2 of 2

continued from -

NT Wright - Introduction to Paul's New Perspective, Part 1 of 2

* * * * * * * * * * *

God's Covenantal Love in Light of Paul's "New Perspective"
by R.E. Slater, September 28, 2011

When investigating E.P. Sander/ J.D.G. Dunn/ N.T. Wright's New Perspectives on Paul (NPP, 1970's and forward) I was recently reminded of the subtle shift within church doctrine that had occurred between the eras of Augustine (400 AD) and that of the later Reformation (1500's) some 1000 years later. A shift between the ancient understanding of God's love towards man that was replaced with the Reformed understanding of God's judgment upon man. During Augustine's day all theology was centered around God's divine love not His divine judgment. By the time of the Reformation, given the circumstances and events demanding it, God was now seen to lead out towards humanity in judgment upon man's sin.

Surprisngly, I had not expect to discover this understated subjectline, but when coming upon it considered it extremely relevant to the discussions that have been occurring between Rob Bell's Love Wins book, and his accusers, who are primarily motivated in maintaining Reformed dogma and traditions that support Reformed theologies. An ideology which pervasively underlies many of today's Evangelical traditions and worship beliefs having replaced Augustine's idea of God's covenantal grace with Luther and Calvin's Reformational ideas of man's depravity (sin) and election (thus creating a post-Augustinian Reformational theology).

Consequently, Paul's emphasis upon Jesus' covenantal love (as nuanced by Augustine) was displaced over time with a re-interpretive Pauline emphasis upon man's sin and election (sic, Reformational theology). Making it no surprise to find Paul's original emphasis upon God's love "rediscovered" when returning to the mileau of first century Palistinian Judaism and its concordant beliefs (what is now being named "Paul's New Perspective"). Because it was a perspective that was lost amid post-Augustinian, Reformational teachings that had re-interpreted first-century Christian theology with a Reformational-bias towards God's judgment upon man's sin, thus creating the resultant Reformational doctrines of election and justification.

What this means is that in light of God's covenanted love to mankind - that is, His divine charter for man's redemption - God leads out with divine love. That God sees man in terms of love first, and only then in sin, second, is monumental. It is because of His love for us that God seeks our restoration back into fellowship with Himself, no less than a man or a woman would seek one another. Not in terms of deficiency, or by traits of sinfulness, but in terms of wholeness, meaning, and well-being. To know God loves us is to see ourselves as He would see (and accept us) in all of our being. Not in terms of our sin, but in terms of who we are in His image. God's covenantal love juxtapositions itself against our depravity. This was the Apostle Paul's understanding that maintained itself through to Augustine's teachings 400 years later. But by the Reformation, a thousands years after that, time and circumstance had changed our pictures of ourselves to one of a sinful, depraved race of beings living under the judgment of God. A judgment that would require a holy divine election in order to receive God's love. An election locked into the capriciousness of God's holy being that without it condemned man to a hell fire of destruction in both this life and the next.

Once Einstein was asked to define what darkness was and he reportedly stated it was the absence of light (or, I may have confused this, and it may have been "that cold was the absence of heat"). So too we may conjecture that sin is the absence of love, that death is the absence of life, that hell is the absence of heaven. These are simplistic statements but one not fully appreciated in light of the current "controversies" over how God's love "wins," or how God's person, being, presence, power, might, design, rulership "wins." But when seen as the absence of each of these qualities  (or manifestations, or whatever), we then get the opposite (that is, strictly speaking on a dualistic level which our present day Western cultural mindset seems to thrive on). And so, it is time to re-right the covenantal understanding of the church by giving precedence in its beliefs and doctrines towards emphasizing God's covenantal love first, before rephrasing it in terms of man's relationship to God's covenant, as broken and sinful.

And so, read on. And as you do, rethink why you haven't recently heard of Christ's atonement juxtapositioned around the OT Covenantal-paradigm... it used to be, but largely has become forgotten in light of Evangelicalism's persistent and opposing systematic ideas of "justification" as a Roman "penal substitutional" act necessitated by modern day Reformers. Reformers who ironically need their own doctrine reformed, having deformed Paul's seminal message of God's love sent to man through His Son Jesus Christ. Who remain presently uninformed themselves by their Reformational doctrines, rather than informed by the Spirit of God's grace.

And when re-grasping the idea of Christ's atonement as a covenant made between God and man, then re-think how God's love is the foundation and motivation for this covenant, and not how man's sin destroys it. How God's love moved him to make covenant with all of mankind through his son Jesus, so that we may have his love restored and renewed into our sinful lives. It is not a denial of the Lutheran / Reformed teachings on sin and depravity, but it is a re-framing of sin and depravity in light of who God is, what He is doing, and not as defined by ourselves, nor by how we respond.

And finally, re-think how Calvinism's ideas of election and foreordination have robbed our understanding of God's pervasive covenant of love made with all of mankind. Only-and-when the latter truth is understood can the terms of "election" and "foreordination" be then discussed. For the one precedes from the other and not the other way around! To be elected into God's love, and foreordained before the foundation of the world into the fellowship of His Trinity and with His being... these are significant, mind-blowing concepts. That God's covenant with man is undergirded by his election of man into restored relationship with Him; that He foreordained these events to become a reality made through His Son Jesus as Israel's Messiah and as the Gentiles Savior should move us to praise and worship for God's greatness and love. These are not first and foremost soteriological terms, these are covenantal terms made as a charter with all of creation, with all of mankind, throughout time without end, eternally! Praise God!

Consequently, we must place God's Word first, our doctrines second. God's revelation first, our words second. We must understand Scriptures biblically first, and less so systematically and/or dogmatically. The entirety of this blogsite has shown the importance of this again, and again, and again. Remember what you are reading. Put it together in your hearts and souls. Don't let these ideas be so soon displaced by another teacher, prophet and soothsayer, no matter their popularity and the reception of their sheep-like followers. Remember God's words. Remember the Spirit's teachings. Be a shepherd and not a sheep. Learn to lead and no longer follow. Learn to discern God's word, to carry it in your hearts and being, and to desire strong meat and no longer milk. Stand up, and in love, declare God's love in every way possible, in every way imaginable, to the glory of the Almighty.

RE Slater
September 28, 2011
* * * * * * * * * * *
Further Necessary Observations and Conclusions
RE Slater, September 28, 2011

In light of NPP I have overlooked a couple of important developments, but these will become evident when reading through this document. Those several issues are as follows:

One, a re-appreciation of late Judaism and how God worked within the Old Covenant using Israel's ideologies of culture and customs pertaining to worship and faith practice to percolate their faith and faithful observance. And as a subsequent idea, how the Americanized gospel of today's evangelical modernism must relax and allow for cultural accommodations of the gospel within global heritages and customs (rather than the older missiological idea of Westernizing the gospel through Inquisitions, crusades, martyrdom's, banishings, and pulpiteering).

Two, a further point of NPP is that of its emphasis on faith-works as a natural response and outflow of God's renewing love restored into an individual's life or a tribal customs. It yet maintains the Protestant standard of faith-alone without works, but also restores the practice of having gracious works in one's Christian life. Thus the emergent Christian Church's emphasis on "cup of cold water" ministries both individually and corporately alongside the older denominational dogmas of holiness and righteous living. Of orthopraxy over orthodoxy.

God's Covenant to all the Nations
Three, one might even take the added step of visualising NPP as it moves towards Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy beliefs and practices to make allowance for the variety of human apprehensions of the gospel of Christ which view faith through the actual performance of worship and good works. You see this in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox faith, but yet, Reformational Protestantism's declaration by-faith-alone, though true, may not fit all men and women's expressions using this dogmatically declared abstraction. As example, the early church's practice of baptism was once synonymous with a declaration of faith but in modern times we have separated the faith act from the baptismal ceremony. So too have evangelicals separated the decision of faith from the actions of faith. Whereas in biblical times it was more common to see faith expressed alongside of, and in conjunction with, acts of faith. How much more likely then is it that an individual's believing faith-act be similarly declared as a sinner's faith decision once-and-for-all-time?

The Abrahamic Covenant
enacted by faith
Our Western understanding would divorce this behavioral practice for many so that abstract concepts like "faith alone" remain bare of meaning for many poeple unless translated first into "faith-acts" which at that self-same moment gives birth to one's decision of "faith." As example, Abraham declared his faith, but he also acted on his faith by hearing God's calling to leave Ur of the Chaladees and proceed into the wildness laced with Mesopotamian caravan routes. Without his faith he may not have left Ur; but without leaving Ur his faith was yet an "un-faith." He had to act. Which is what both the Old and New Covenants of God require of us to do. To submit to them and to act upon them through observation of their Convenantal requirements. The old covenant seemed full of requirements, and yet, as Jesus remarked, there was but two... "Love God and love one another." Supremely summed up in the New Covenant made in his blood. So then, we see that faith is barren without action, and action is meaningless without faith. So then, lets give our non-Reformational brethren some credit and behave our over-eager doctrines a little more contritely before those that differ from our own.

Four, moreover, this latter understanding, is actually the real understanding of those "faith-alone" Christians who, when practising their faith, who actually renew their faith, making it real for both themselves and those around them whom it affects. It is not a foreign concept at all. Just not one understood in this manner. And thus, the matter of linearity is eclipsed (the idea of which comes first, faith or act) within the greater substance of the very faith-act itself. For how would one know if he or she is of faith unless it is revealed and practiced (per James, Paul, etc)? If there is no change in our demeanors then the reality of our faith is on paper without subscription, without conviction, without transformation.True reformation is transformation in action.

Fifth and lastly, to Scot McKnight's concluding remarks at the end of this document, I wish to add the above observations and summarizations as further commentary to Sanders, Dunn, Wright's initiating works. Further, Tim Gombis has just released a book on this very subject of NPP, and so I would recommend it as a further iteration to today's modernistic, evangelistic mis-apprehension of God's covenant in his son Jesus in the links just below. However, as Andrew Perriman observes, Gombis did not go far enough in his evaluations and differentiations with modern day evangelicalism, being found in the heart of evangelicalism himself.

May God's grace and peace be yours,

RE Slater
September 28, 2011

Tim Gombis - The Paul We Think We Know

* * * * * * * * * * *
Understanding the New Perspective on Paul

by Scot McKnight
August 6, 2007

This document is found at www.vanguardchurch.com/mcknight_npp.pdf
This series was originally published at www.jesuscreed.org

Beginnings: E.P. Sanders

In Christianity Today (CT), Simon Gathercole of Cambridge University has a lengthy and fine study of the good and bad of the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) (see “What Did Paul Really Mean?”, Christianity Today, August 2007). What is the New Perspective on Paul? The most significant development, outside of historical Jesus studies, in biblical studies in the last 50 years. Today I want to begin at the beginning and see if I can explain it. I will continue this throughout the week as we take a readable look at the New Perspective and hope to stand next to Simon’s piece in CT.

The opposition to certain elements of the NPP has become so fierce for some that denominations have gathered to see if pastors who represent that denomination adhere to the NPP or not — if they do, they’re out.

The NPP begins, oddly enough, with a public lecture on 4 November of 1982 by my then-mentor in PhD studies, Jimmy Dunn. I didn’t hear it; but I heard plenty about it. It was published the next year and it changed NT studies by giving a handle to what was going on. But it took awhile for what was going on to take on the name “The New Perspective.”

What was it that Jimmy said? In 1977, five years earlier, E.P. Sanders published Paul and Palestinian Judaism and Jimmy basically captured the shift in perspective that Sanders unleashed in his expression “new perspective on Paul.” At the time, nearly everyone was captivated by Sanders but there were voices like this: “Let’s not get too excited” or “He’s basically right but that’s not the whole story” or “This is so innovative we have to think about this some more” or “There are some problems here but I’ll have to do some careful work in Judaism to show it.” Some said, with Dunn, “The tide has changed. We have entered a new world.”

Here’s what Sanders in essence said:

1. Judaism was not a religion of works where if you built up enough credits you’d find final approval with God. Paul can’t be understood saying that about Judaism.

2. Turning Judaism into a “works” religion flies in the face of all of Jewish scholarship, emerges from Luther’s problem with the Catholic Church and gets imported onto Paul, and is out of touch with the vast bulk of ancient Jewish sources. (Sanders allowed some, but not much, works-type religion in Judaism.)

3. Judaism’s understanding of salvation (which is a Christian way of capturing the reality) is rooted in two themes: God’s election and the covenant. God chose Israel and this gave Israel salvation; Jews were not worried about final redemption and were not striving to gain eternal life by accumulating merit. The Covenant is the foundation of all of Jewish religion. To suggest that Jews were accumulating merit because this is human nature is not true according to Sanders.

Israel's reaffirmation of God's Covenant
4. The Law, or [the] observing and obeying [of] the Law, is how Jews “maintained” their relationship to the covenant and God and not the way of entering into that covenant. To say Jews followed the Law to get salvation misses why Jews loved the Torah.

5. Righteousness describes behavior that conforms to that Torah.

Thus, Sanders put all this together in what he called “covenantal nomism” — a covenant that creates a community called to obey the Law (nomos); any offense of the Torah requires appropriate sacrifice and atonement. Those who live this way — within the bounds of the Torah — are righteous.

This basic set of factors is at the heart of the New Perspective on Paul. Sanders himself proposed that Paul believed the Church had entered into the eschatological day — he called Paul’s theology participationist eschatology. But Sanders’ proposal on Paul wasn’t his major contribution.

It was Jimmy Dunn who took Sanders’ view of Judaism and gave us a new Paul and a new understanding of Paul’s relationship to Judaism and therefore a new perspective on Paul.

[Note to CT: I see resemblance in the caricatures of Beza, Luther, Calvin, Wright and Sanders, but that picture of Jimmy Dunn looks more like Bruce Chilton than Jimmy. Anyone else observe this?]

Second Phase: James D.G. Dunn

Today we will look at the second phase of the New Perspective on Paul. The first phase is the work of E.P. Sanders in 1977. The second phase was the work of Jimmy Dunn, and that began in 1982 and came to full fruition with his pumpkin book, The Theology of the Apostle Paul, in 2000.

Dunn basically agrees with Sanders on Judaism: election-based, covenant-shaped relationship for Israel with God to whom God gives the Torah to know how to live as God’s people.

Where Dunn shifted things was with Paul, and he argued at first that Paul’s problem with his Judaizing opponents (not the same as “Judaism” as a whole) was that they were constructing a nation-based righteousness, a nationalistic righteousness, that kept Gentiles out because it was simply a nation’s faith.

Over time Jimmy shifted his language to the “sociological markers” of a community so that “works of the Torah” were not “merit-seeking works” but “boundary-marking works.” That is, the Judaizers were trying to make the Gentile Christians become Jews [Judaizing, Proselytising]. The “works of the Law,” then, were not merit-shaped works but specific things like sabbath, food laws and circumcision. (Think concretely, Jimmy was asking us to do, when we get to this expression “works of the Law.” Avoid thinking of the expression the way Augustine and Luther and Calvin do.)

For Paul, one was a member of the Church, the people of God, by faith and not by works (by adhering to such things as circumcision, sabbath, and food laws — the works that separated Jews from Gentiles). So, Paul’s idea of faith was the way all people — [both] Jews and Gentiles — could gain access to and enjoy the saving work of God in Christ.
Teaching God's Covenant to
future generations
Fundamentally, Paul’s mission was to form a new people of God, the Church, on the basis of faith and because it was by faith and not works (boundary markers) it was a people of God that could include Jews and Gentiles. Justification was God’s work of declaring and making righteous those who had faith in Jesus Christ.

Much more could be said, but our focus this week is on the core issues that are causing a stir for so many.

Third Phase: N.T. Wright

The first phase of the New Perspective on Paul was E.P. Sanders; the second was the work of James Dunn; the third phase is the work of N.T. Wright, whose earliest book was a study of Paul and who then began to unleash his massive set of volumes on Christian Origins and the Question of God.

[Note added: As Tim Gombis reminds us in a comment, it is not like 1-2-3 in the relationship of Sanders-Dunn-Wright; it is not that Sanders said it, Dunn then added, and then along came Tom Wright to add some more. The relationship of these three scholars can be said to be post Dead Sea Scrolls and part of the awakening to Jewish sources of the 70s. The three are actually dialectically related to one another and they sharpened one another’s ideas in mutual interaction and debate. When it comes to formative writings, writings that shaped us, the relationship can be reasonably said to be Sanders-Dunn-Wright.]

Wright’s books begin with is Climax of the Covenant, move to What Saint Paul Really Said, and now in Paul: In Fresh Perspective. It’s a bit hard to sum up Wright in a paragraph or two but I’ll give it a whirl and let the experts on Paul chime in for corrections and modifications.

Wright’s early work was a macroscopic understanding of Paul in light of how he understood Jewish history unfolding. His big insight, which he applied with potency and probably too often, was the theme of exile. Israel was “in exile” still at the time of Jesus and Paul — even though Israel was back in the Land, the promises of Isaiah and others hadn’t been completely fulfilled. Paul’s theology was shaped by this conviction and by covenant and by new creation.

But Wright agreed basically — as did Dunn — with Sanders’ perspective on Judaism: election-based, covenant-shaped work of God, to form God’s people to whom God gave the Torah, to show to them how to live before God in righteousness.

In other words, Judaism was a religion of covenantal nomism. It’s pretty hard to read the OT and not see the potency of Sanders’ perception of the pattern of religion for Israel.

Where Wright differed from Sanders (participationist eschatology) and Dunn (sociological markers of the Torah and community of Israel) was on how Paul reworked that covenantal nomism (Wright’s view of Paul is hard for me to bring to a single expression)... [It went something like this... At the] "end of exile," Jesus is recapitulating [(recapturing? resummarizing?)] (i) Israel’s covenantal history and their need to be “in Christ,” (ii) their yearning for new creation, and, (iii) - in his most recent augmentation - their anti-empire ideology.

The Church in Covenant Community
with the God of Israel
Justification, of course, gets revisioned in the New Perspective. Sanders isn’t known for this so much and Dunn’s view has shifted a little over time, but Wright came out swinging on this one and has recently done a little shifting as well. But, Tom said that justification described not how to get into the people of God but identified who was in the people of God. It was not a “salvation” term but a “covenant” or “ecclesial” term. It said something about who was already in and not something about how to get into the people of God.

Tom has suffered from serious misrepresentations; he has made some adjustments; and his view of justification has some breadth and depth and some width. What perhaps annoys most is that he’s intent on out sola-scripturing the Reformed camp; what annoys someone like me is that I hear too much on the part of the Reformed camp that Wright’s views are not consistent with the Reformation. How ironical is that? Isn’t the question: What does the Bible say? [and not, what does Reformed Theology say!?]

No one has captured the young scholar more than Tom Wright. One reason is because there is no one out there who writes as well; combine that with a fertile, creative, courageous mind and a life dedicated to the church and you come up with Tom Wright. Do I agree with him all the time? Nope. But, like Jimmy Dunn and Ed Sanders, I read their every word.

Correcting Some Misperceptions about New Perspective

With these three summaries now on the table, and with some fine clarifications by others, I wish now to state what we have to do when we start talking about the “New Perspective” because I’m hearing lots of things that I think are gross distortions. Simon Gathercole’s piece in CT is a nice summary; I have only little quibbles with it but I have more than quibbles with what I sometimes hear.

First, there is no official “New Perspective Institution” or “NP Denomination” that filters everything through a grid to make sure it is sound. What Jimmy Dunn called “the new perspective” was a trend emerging out of the rediscovery of Jewish sources and how Paul fit into how people were re-construing Judaism. But, there is a wild diversity out there of people who have plowed their own furrow. Please avoid saying the “New Perspective” says “X.” Try to connect with a name as much as possible.

Second, the only “new perspective” I know that can be said to be represented across the board is a new perspective on “Judaism.” There is a common thread: Israel was elected by God, brought into the covenant and given the law to regulate how covenant people live. Thus, Sanders’ covenantal nomism is a common thread — even if Dunn and Wright have modifications and differences with Sanders. Dunn’s and Wright’s modifications are really more than that: they have both investigated the Jewish sources themselves. And on top of them are all kinds of offshoots and variations, but there seems to me to be a general consensus that Judaism — and this is not the same as the “Judaizers” Paul went toe-to-toe with — was not a works-based religion but a covenant-based religion in which works played a prominent, sometimes more than other times, role.

Third, when it comes to Paul, there is wide variation in Sanders, Dunn and Wright. It is unfair to say these three are the same when it comes to what they think about Paul. I’m not sure there is such a thing as “The” New Perspective on Paul. Those who say this aren’t reading the books of these authors. Sometimes they are drawing unities that don’t exist. To speak of a unified theory of Paul in a New Perspective is inaccurate. What I’m hearing today is mostly criticism of NT Wright; what is being said about Wright would not always be applicable to Dunn and Sanders. Which means, perhaps most importantly for theological debates, that…

Fourth, there is no real “systematic theology” at work in this New Perspective on Paul. Much of the criticism I’m hearing attributes what “New Perspective” folks believe at the level of systematic theology. Sanders doesn’t care about this; Jimmy Dunn is not a systematician; and Wright isn’t really one eitherthey are biblical theologians and historians. NT Wright, of course, is the Bishop of Durham and that means he’s Anglican — and if anyone knows what systematic theology that is you’ll have to tell us, but the 39 Articles really isn’t a “systematic theology.” Let’s not forget this. To suggest there is a systematic theology at work here, and to suggest there is one systematic theology at work, is poppycock. Most of what I hear at this level is an invention by those who infer what the systematic theology would look like if Sanders and Dunn and Wright composed one. It is never wise to make up a theology and then criticize it.

Fifth, the NPP does give rise to [an] exegesis of Paul that, however, can lead to some major shifting in theology and, in particular, how to understand salvation. Next I will give a final consideration and I hope it will give us something to understand.

Augustinian Anthropology and Criticism of New Perspective

The crux of the fierce criticism of the New Perspective on Paul is what I will call an Augustinian anthropology. Hear me out because I think this is behind nearly every criticism I’m hearing of the NPP, and many times I’m not hearing that it is this that is actually prompting the criticism.

The New Covenant established
(cut) in Christ
Behind the Reformation is Augustine; behind much of modern evangelicalism, especially in the Reformed circles today, is the Reformation. Therefore, at the bottom of the evangelical movement in the Reformed circles is Augustine and his anthropology. The New Perspective, by and large, probably does not adopt a fully Augustinian anthropology but it is rare that such an issue arises in the discussion. At times I hear the NPP doesn’t have an adequate theory of sin — well, I think NPP would say “Neither does the Reformation. So there!” So, let’s dig into this just a bit today and see if we can shed some light on the NPP and help us all.

What is Augustine’s anthropology? (I’m no specialist on this, but this is how I understand it. Experts chime in.)

1. Humans are born in original sin.

2. Humans are bound to their sinful natures.

3. Humans have an incurable itch to justify themselves and seek merit [e.g. we are legalists at heart].

4. But humans cannot please God because they are bound to those sinful natures that cannot please God.

5. Humans are therefore “naturally” condemned before God.

6. They are in need of God’s awakening grace and new life — through the Holy Spirit.

7. The only way out of this condition of self-justification and merit-seeking is to surrender that selfish, proud self-image and cast oneself on God in the mercy of Christ through the regenerating power of the Spirit.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

[A friend and colleague, an Augustinian scholar, reworks my points into this:

I think Augustine would agree to some form of each of the statements you have listed. However, I don’t think it quite gets at the core of Augustine’s thoughts or concerns. Or to put it differently, it identifies Augustine’s positions as they emerged in his debate with Pelagians and not so much with the rest of his thought.

Both Bride and Bridegroom
say "Come"
I think he always remained a rhetorician rather than a systematic thinker, so the images he employs are often more fundamental than an abstract statement of his doctrine. In his Confessions, the guiding image is that of the prodigal son (kind of overlaid on some semi-Plotinian metaphysics). I don’t think Augustine’s first word in his anthropology is “sin”. I think it is “love.” Sin is just love gone bad — as evil is good gone bad.

So maybe to rephrase it, using the vocabulary of the earlier Augustine:

1. Humans, like God, are lovers.

2 and 3. Humans though are bad lovers, redirecting their love from God to the good things God made. This creates in them disordered desires.

4. Humans have become incapable of loving God for himself (instead of themselves) and loving other things in” God.

5. Humans are incapable of being happy, like the prodigal son who exchanged his father’s table for eating husks with the pigs. etc.]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

[Per the aforementioned encapsulation of Augustine by Reformational theology re "sin" and "depravity"... ] each of these elements shapes the Reformers’ perception of the gospel, [that of] salvation, and how to understand Paul. But there is more…

Standing next to Augustine’s anthropology is the way to attack the human (is this too strong?) in preaching the gospel: show [how] humans are selfish, merit-seeking people who are in need of seeing their sinfulness and need of grace. Show them they need to trust and give up on their own works. The starting point for Reformed gospel preaching is an anthropology; that anthropology for many is Augustinian [(or is it, the Reform's view of Augustine?) - skinhead... ]; [and] that anthropology is pure selfishness.

The Law factors into this as far as I can tell in this way: the Law is how corrupted humans seek to earn favor with God; they climb the Law to find their way to God. But, Paul is interpreted to say that’s not the way; that way is legalism and death. The gospel, which this view tends to pit over against the Law in the severest of ways, is the way to redemption — through grace, by faith, and faith alone.

Man's covenants with God
If the New Perspective teaches — rightly or not — that neither the opponents of Paul nor Jews in general were merit-seeking humans, then the central foil of the gospel — how to understand the human condition and how to attack human nature — is undercut and the entire framework of the gospel is changed. Thus, the critics of the New Perspective are aiming at the soteriological framework of the NPP that they (the critics) have assumed to be right, that they have inherited from Calvin-Luther-Augustine, and which they believe was at the heart of Paul’s theology. I am not saying that all of the Reformed contention here is what I sometime ago called “grace grinding” (talking about grace but doing so only to grind a human into selfish dust), but what I am saying [is] that the Reformed tradition operates with a self-conscious anthropology that derives from Augustine (who provided an interpretive grid for the NT texts).

Stendahl and Sanders laid blame on Luther for seeing in the Judaizers the Roman Catholic Church. That may or may not be the case. What to me is the case is that the real opponent of Paul for the old perspective is not the Catholic Church but Pelagius. NPP folks need to harp less on Luther and his Catholic polemic and start focusing on Augustine and Pelagius. Did Augustine get it right? Did Augustine get it right when he saw in Pelagius the human condition writ large?

The question is this: Was this the anthropology of Paul? Of Judaism? of the Old Testament? Was Paul’s gospel shaped by this anthropology?

There are, of course, other elements, and one of them is central and I’d beg you to listen to this one: if one finds an element or two in the NPP inaccurate that does not mean that the whole thing has to be tossed overboard. I’m seeing far too many “all or nothing” approaches to this issue — from both sides.

The New Covenant of Peace and Hope
in Christ Jesus our Lord Messiah God