Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Justification and New Perspective 3

posted by Scot McKnight

NTWright.jpgWe are discussing Tom Wright’s new book , a book that responds to John Piper’s criticism of Wright and the New Perspective (Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision
) and we want to dip today into chp one and Tom’s graphic opening image.

But first another point: read this book, please read this book. If you don’t like the new perspective and all things Tom Wright or Jimmy Dunn or EP Sanders, you especially need to read this book. And if you do like Tom Wright, you’ll read this book anyway. Know what he is saying before making the claim that new perspective stuff is wrong-headed.

Back to his image: Tom imagines having a friend who thinks the sun revolves around the earth; he tells the friend it’s not so and provides evidence and charts. The friend takes him to the edge of the village early in the morning and watches the sun rise and says, “Well, there you go.”

This illustration immediately sets the tone — it’s kind of enough but it suggests that the critics of the new perspective can at times sound pre-Copernican. Wright says this: “And the problem is not that he [Piper], like many others, is disagreeing with me. The problem is that he hasn’t really listened to what I’m saying” (21). Well, I don’t know I’d put it that way and I want to explain myself …



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When I first taught the book of Galatians from a new perspective angle way back in the late 1980s, one that emphasized a salvation-historical approach that came more from Sanders than even Dunn, I had a strange experience. One of my students was a Lutheran and the entire semester, no matter how hard I tried to explain myself in simple and clear prose — and I’m confident that what I said was clear and he affirmed my points were clear — this student couldn’t get it. And it wasn’t because he wasn’t sharp; he was a very good student.

The problem was a paradigm shift at such a level that everything was different — but until the whole was comprehended, the parts couldn’t be comprehended. This student’s experience has been typical for me whenever talking new perspective stuff to those who are thoroughly Lutheran or Reformed — and, as I have indicated, the issue is an Augustinian anthropology and starting point for the problem the gospel actually addresses and resolves. So I think Piper does listen; he just thinks about the very same texts is different ways.

Back to Wright… “My friend [here he's referring his critics] has simply not allowed the main things I have been trying to say to get anywhere near his conscious mind” (21). Wright is saying that the anti-New Perspective critics operate in a Reformed view that is imposed from without and not from the meaning of the texts in Paul’s context. In other words, it is the defense of a tradition instead of exposition of the letters of Paul.

And Wright thinks the primary question that his critics think Paul is addressing is the individualistic one: “What must I do to be saved?” But we are not the center of the universe Tom observes. We are in orbit around God and his purposes — that is what this debate is about for Tom Wright.  And he thinks a cultural shift is at work that makes this issue — this very issue about the new perspective — so volatile (25-26).

In one of the more personal sketches, Wright makes it boldly clear that there is no such thing as the “new perspective” and that there are major differences between these scholars, and plenty who rarely get mentioned — Richard Hays, Douglas Campbell, Terry Donaldson and Bruce Longenecker. Then he observes how so much is simply left out in the sketches of Paul’s theology in its Jewish context by those who are in the Reformed and Lutheran camps and criticizing the new perspective (he says a few things here about Stephen Westerholm).



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Mike M

posted May 8, 2009 at 12:27 am


I’m not comfortable with lumping in Luther with Calvin. Is it really Lutheran AND Reformed? I was raised Lutheran and the view of the resurrection of the saints is closer to Wright than to Piper. Having said that, the view that “Christian Lutherans” are saved by God’s grace and everyone else is condemned to eternal punishment sounds very Reformed (sans TULIP). I haven’t read Wright’s newest work (yes, I will, based on Scot’s advice) but the main difference may be how we live life now: is today an insignificant part of eternity or is today the most urgent opportunity to help extend God’s kingdom?



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The Charismanglican

posted May 8, 2009 at 1:50 am


Saw Bishop Tom at St. Andrews Presbyterian in Newport and he touched on these themes.
What a smooth-talker, to get away with the things he was saying in that setting and for people to enjoy it :)
I was only bummed when my brother-in-law asked a question about Hauerwas and Yoder and Tom gave the tired ‘withdrawal vs. engagement’ feedback. (Anglicans!)
Other than that, the man is a hero.



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eliasT

posted May 8, 2009 at 6:01 am


hey,
I think that the way pastor John piper defines the righteousness of God; “God’s concern for God’s own glory.” can tell us about the spectacles through which , i think, he sees scripture and God. I remember reading a post on “God is the Gospel” and you said there scot that the gospel according to john piper has many good points although it has little good news for us. (I?m not quoting you I?m summarizing what I understood when I read the post) . although we may understand many things about God from the OT (eg.God`s glory, holiness, righteousness etc.) it is Jesus who reveals God fully. so when St. John speaks of the Glory of God it is a cross shaped glory that is characterized by self giving love . ( I say this because some will want to quote the OT in order to prove that God only cares about his glory which I think is a wrong reading of the OT)
I think that the way St. John describes the glory of God is very different from the way Pastor John Piper describes it.
Am I misunderstanding Pastor John Piper or am I misunderstanding St. john or there is some truth in what I said?



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Tim Gombis

posted May 8, 2009 at 6:34 am


I’m reading through this book, presently, Scot, and I do think his opening analogy is a very good one. Frankly, it is quite similar to why Barth was never really received–until recently–among evangelicals for the last 50-60 years. It is a radically different starting point for theology, a completely different theological vision. Piper, in many ways, is talking about a “benefits received” model of salvation, focusing on the ordo salutis involving individuals. Wright is talking about the vindication of God, a theocentric soteriology. This difference ensures that the two camps will continue to not hear each other. Hopefully, the interchange between Piper and Wright will break through the impasse a bit, at least among evangelicals.



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John C

posted May 8, 2009 at 6:41 am


It’s perhaps worth noting – following up on Mike’s post – that Wright is tougher on Lutherans than on the Reformed, who generally had a more positive view of the moral law and a bigger emphasis on union with Christ. It’s also worth pointing out that various early modern Reformed theologians – from Martin Bucer to Richard Baxter – heartily endorsed the claim that final justification (at the judgement seat) is based on the whole life lived. One of Wright’s earliest books was an edition of the writings of a 16thC English Reformer, John Frith, and in his student days he (Wright) was very much a conservative Calvinist. So he knows that tradition from the inside. I think he still sees himself as within the Reformed tradition – though doesn’t feel bound by the Reformed orthodoxy defined by the confessions, only by the Bible. He wants a Reformed tradition that is always reforming, always learning from Scripture afresh.
My only concern is that shifting the focus from ‘what must I do to be saved’ may undermine one of the great strengths of evangelical Protestantism – its restless evangelistic energy.



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joanne

posted May 8, 2009 at 7:34 am


I think some people have too much at stake to listen to the New Perspectives. Piper has written a lot on roles and God’s sovereignty and everything sort of fits together. I think New Perspectives are too much of a jarr to his whole world view. I don’t think he really can listen openly.



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EricG

posted May 8, 2009 at 7:40 am


With all respect to Piper, who I think makes a couple of points in his book that are worth considering, I had the same reaction Wright describes in reading Piper’s book: At a few points it seemed like Piper didn’t really even understand what Wright has been saying. It was very odd.



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Scot McKnight

posted May 8, 2009 at 7:41 am


Tim #4,
Tanks for that. Theocentric soteriology is a good one of summing up Wright, and add to that a cosmic soteriology too. Piper’s focus is much more both on ordo salutis and the mechanics (double imputation). In my A Community called Atonement I do conclude that double imputation makes sense, but a sound sola scriptura theology must admit that, no matter how mechanically attractive double imputation is, there is no unambiguous text in the Scripture that teaches it. Once one admits that, one should back down from making it the center of everything.



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Scot McKnight

posted May 8, 2009 at 7:44 am


John C, let’s be honest — no much evangelism goes on by many of these folks anyway. Historic Calvinism has not been evangelistic, so I can’t see that pushback against the NPP being of much value. Tom, so far as I can tell, is doing much for evangelism — depending of course on how the gospel is defined.



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John C

posted May 8, 2009 at 9:36 am


Scot
I agree that many of the most aggressive Calvinist watchdogs come from small and strict denominations that are not renowned for their dynamic evangelism. But historic Calvinism has often been very evangelistic (think of Whitefield, Edwards, Carey, Spurgeon etc), and the individualistic focus of Reformation Protestant soteriology has been a hallmark of modern Evangelicalism. So it remains to be seen how a ‘big picture’ soteriology will work on the ground in terms of church growth (both spiritual and numerical).



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Derek Leman

posted May 8, 2009 at 9:37 am


“Wright thinks the primary question that his critics think Paul is addressing is the individualistic one: “What must I do to be saved?” But we are not the center of the universe Tom observes. We are in orbit around God and his purposes…”
Absolutely beautiful. Thank you, Scot.
Derek Leman



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Michael W. Kruse

posted May 8, 2009 at 10:37 am


I’ve just started the book but I think you’re observations concerning paradigm shifts are important. Some things in life are a bit like that picture you see in psychology class, where if you look at things one way you see a profile of an old woman with a wart on her nose and from another way it is a young woman with here head turned away. There are multiple sides to the same reality.
Sometimes our perception deceives us, due to surrounding information, and we see what isn’t there. Check out this illusion.
Sometimes I think people have such vested interests in a particular paradigm they can’t make the shift but at least as often I think it is a matter of honestly not being able to escape on viewpoint to see from another.
We always in relation to what we already know and if what we already know is partly illusion, then it makes it very hard to see otherwise.



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Josh Rowley

posted May 8, 2009 at 11:55 am


Scot writes: “Wright thinks the primary question that his critics think Paul is addressing is the individualistic one: ‘What must I do to be saved?’ But we are not the center of the universe Tom observes. We are in orbit around God and his purposes.”
I think Wright is right on this one (“What must I do to be saved?” might have been the main question of a first-century jailer [Acts 16:30], but Paul writes far more about other matters–eschatology, ethics, and ministry to name a few).
The individualism of Luther’s interpretation of Paul was criticized long before Wright by Albert Schweitzer, who traces it all the way back to Hellenism. Schweitzer was one of the first post-Luther theologians to read Paul as more Jewish than Hellenistic. I address the subject of individualism (as well as other related subjects) in a review of Schweitzer’s THE MYSTICISM OF PAUL THE APOSTLE, which I’ve just posted at http://www.postyesterdaychurch.blogspot.com.



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Kenton

posted May 8, 2009 at 1:14 pm


Josh (#13)-
For me, that verse can cut to the chase of this conversation. What was the jailer asking? Was it “how do I know I am going to heaven when I die?” Or was it “how do I save my sorry butt when my superiors find out I was in charge when things fell apart at the jail?”
The first approach is a classic Augustinian context. (It’s all about me.) The second approach puts the conversation in a context of contrasting the Roman Empire with the Kingdom of God (It’s all about God).



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Josh Rowley

posted May 8, 2009 at 1:29 pm


Kenton@#13:
Well put. I find the second interpretation more convincing.



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Patrick

posted May 8, 2009 at 2:06 pm


I’ve enjoyed reading and listening to Wright on the New Perspective and have also read stuff by people like Ligion Duncan, D A Carson (and Simon Gathercole much more gently) critiqing him. So much of the NP makes sense and even Carson doesn’t deny it has much to commend it (and as you say Scot, there are varieties of ‘it’). It’s good to see how the gospel is far bigger than just being about ?me and God?. It’s good to have room in our theology that the law is holy and good. But I wonder if Wright claims too much at times. I’m left wrestling with some questions and I’m looking forward to the rest of the posts:
Can ?works of the law? really be reduced just to ?covenant membership??
Is faith really just a badge of identity?
Does the New Perspective paint too rosy a picture of Judaism?
If justification is all about that we are ‘in’, how do we get in?
Can justification not be BOTH a statement of our membership of the covenant (whatever our ethnic background) AND a statement that in Christ we have met the righteous requirements of the law and been forgiven?



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Bill Crawford

posted May 8, 2009 at 2:27 pm


Kenton #14,
Not persuaded that those are the options, or that they are mutually exclusive. He could have saved his butt by killing the prisoners who tried to escape. The context includes, in part, his seeing and hearing Christians worshiping. No doubt Paul was preaching the gospel as he was wont to do when in prison (Phil 1:12ff). Why is it a stretch for him to want salvation from his sins and their eternal consequences?
I find it ironic that Piper is taken to task for looking at righteousness in terms of God’s concern for his own glory (which strikes me as very God-centered) and also accused of holding a person-centered “it’s all about what I get when I die” position.
From what I’ve read, both he and Bishop Wright want individuals to find peace with God and be used to transform the world. Each emphasizes different sides of this coin depending on the topic, but I think it mis-characterizes each to polarize them.



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Brian McLaughlin

posted May 8, 2009 at 2:49 pm


Bill (17), I appreciate your mediating position. On the cosmic scope of salvation Piper says “I rejoice with NT Wright in the cosmic schole of what the gospel has achieved” (p. 88). Wright often says that the gospel is not “how I get saved” but does in fact result in salvation. It seems that salvation, for both men, has individual and communal/cosmic ramifications. The main difference is one of emphasis. It seems equally damaging to overemphasize the individual (at the loss of community/cosmic) as it is to emphasize the cosmic over the individual.



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Josh Rowley

posted May 8, 2009 at 3:56 pm


Bill@#17:
“The context includes, in part, his seeing and hearing Christians worshiping. No doubt Paul was preaching the gospel as he was wont to do when in prison (Phil 1:12ff). Why is it a stretch for [the jailer] to want salvation from his sins and their eternal consequences?”
You beg the question. Your premise that the jailer wanted “salvation from his sins” assumes that Paul preached an individualistic gospel. The question at issue is whether Paul did in fact have an individualistic gospel. Perhaps he did. Or perhaps generations of Protestants have been more familiar with Luther’s interpretation of Paul than with Paul himself.
As I understand it, the debate (which Piper and Wright chose to join by writing their respective responses to one another) is not so much about whether Paul taught “justification by faith.” The second part of this series made clear that Wright agrees with Piper that salvation is by grace, through faith. Similarly, Schweitzer found basic agreement with Luther’s interpretation of Paul’s doctrine of justification, but added: “[T]he doctrine of righteousness by faith [is] merely a fragment of a doctrine of redemption [in Paul's writings].” It is incomplete.
It seems to me that the debate is largely about the scope of Paul’s understanding of salvation. Luther focused narrowly on Paul’s doctrine of justification, declaring it the center of Paul’s thought and interpreting it as being primarily concerned with the guilt of the individual, from which a person is delivered (thus having peace with God) when declared righteous. Yet justification by faith is just one part of just two letters (Galatians and Romans) in the Pauline corpus. Schweitzer, Wright, and others understandably suspect the apostle was up to much more.
http://www.postyesterdaychurch.blogspot.com



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Kenton

posted May 8, 2009 at 4:12 pm


Josh-
Thanks! (I was just about to post something similar, but it wasn’t as eloquent.)



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Bill Crawford

posted May 8, 2009 at 4:14 pm


Josh,
It is clear from Rom 8 that Paul taught cosmic effects of the work of Christ. My question (and the answer I think best fits the description of events in Acts 16) is that the jailer was responding out of concern for his well-being. The fact that he was baptized shows that his concern was personal/individual (laying aside the issue of household baptism for now).
I hear echoes of Peter’s Pentecost sermon which elicited a similar respone – “What shall we do?” The answer Peter supplies is “Repent…be baptized.. for the forgiveness of your sins. Isn’t that the emphasis of Piper and company – the forgiveness of people’s sins?
What do you think Paul had said, and what the jailer meant by asking what he must do to be saved? It does not make much sense to me to view the jailer responding to some call to join the forces of the kingdom to participate in the cosmic renewal now that his old master (Caesar) was going to be quite upset that he had been asleep at his post. But this may not be what you’re saying.
Maybe my paradigm is too firmly cemented in place for me to see this! (He said with tongue in cheek.)



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Josh Rowley

posted May 8, 2009 at 4:58 pm


Brian@#18:
I agree with your comments re: emphasis, but would add two things:
1) If the cosmic is emphasized, then one will get to the individual (which the cosmic encompasses); if the individual is emphasized, then one may never get to the cosmic (as the individual does not encompass the cosmic).
2) Another significant difference between the New Perspective and the older reading of Paul is in its understanding of Judaism. The older reading has often imagined that Paul wrote what he did about justification by faith as a correction to works-righteousness, which (it was claimed) characterized Judaism (in a sense, according to this view, Paul was trying to save people from Judaism). The New Perspective sees Paul as more Jewish than Hellenistic; thus, his belief that salvation is by grace, through faith, likely has Jewish roots (see Galatians especially)–meaning Judaism was not likely a religion of works-righteousness. The New Perspective sees the primary issue on the ground in Paul’s day and place as Gentile inclusion. Jews resisted it, so Paul (using Abraham as an example) taught that faith in Jesus Christ, not works of the law, was the badge (or evidence) of inclusion in the covenant. These things have ramifications for the problem of anti-Semitism (I doubt that Luther’s anti-Semitism and his interpretation of Paul were coincidental).



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Josh Rowley

posted May 8, 2009 at 6:10 pm


Patrick@#16:
“Can ?works of the law? really be reduced just to ?covenant membership??”
Should “works of the law” have been expanded to refer to any good works? (As Morna Hooker puts it, “Luther’s emphasis on faith over against ‘works’–now re-interpreted to mean acts that were believed to give an individual ‘merit’, rather than ‘the works set out in the law’–became not just the rallying-cry of Protestants against Catholics, but a defence of ‘Gospel’ against ‘Law’, and so of ‘Christian’ against ‘Jew’.”)
“Is faith really just a badge of identity?”
In older interpretations of Paul, doesn’t faith become just a glorified work–the one work that saves you? Faith is first and foremost a gift from God (something on which traditional Lutheran thinkers, traditional Reformed thinkers, and New Perspective thinkers can agree); Wright’s description of it as a “badge of membership” speaks to its function.
“Does the New Perspective paint too rosy a picture of Judaism?”
Have older perspectives painted too terrible a picture of Judaism? What have the historical consequences of Luther’s picture of Judaism been?
“If justification is all about that we are ‘in’, how do we get in?”
Grace.
“Can justification not be BOTH a statement of our membership of the covenant (whatever our ethnic background) AND a statement that in Christ we have met the righteous requirements of the law and been forgiven?”
Anything’s possible.



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Josh Rowley

posted May 8, 2009 at 6:22 pm


Mike@#1:
It seems to me that if anything the New Perspective challenges Lutheran readings of Paul more than Reformed readings (of course, I’m Presbyterian). The doctrine of justification by faith alone was emphasized more by Luther than Calvin. Calvin was more concerned with God’s sovereignty and the doctrine of election–which had the effect of making salvation entirely God’s work, thereby making debates about the “how” of salvation less important (however it happened, God alone did it). Also, Calvin placed more emphasis than Luther on sanctification. Part of Schweitzer’s critique of a focus on justification by faith and not works has to do with the logical difficulty of then doing ethics.



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Brian McLaughlin

posted May 8, 2009 at 8:35 pm


Josh (22). I think I agree with you for the most part. It is true that a strong individualistic emphasis never gets to the cosmic, I see this in some forms of dispensationalism. I agree that the cosmic includes the individual, but it can also include all individuals in a universalist sense, which I’m pretty sure Paul would have a hard time with.
I understand that the core issues of NPP are ecclesiological (gentile inclusion in Rome and Galatia). I’m in basic agreement with that. However, I still maintain that Paul’s solution of Gentile inclusion has strong soteriological ramifications. I believe Wright says as much. So even with the NPP, it seems legitimate to speak of the implications for individual salvation, even from Gal. and Romans.
Josh and Patrick – Gordon Fee would say that the Spirit is the badge of membership. He makes a strong case and is worth considering in the whole discussion.



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John W Frye

posted May 8, 2009 at 9:33 pm


With Piper, it’s not that what he writes isn’t biblically informed, it’s his idiosyncratic and pick-and-choose exegesis. To define “God’s righteousness” as “God’s concern for God’s own glory” is exegetical fantasy. The O.T. and N.T. terms for “God’s righteousness” cannot be dismissed and something defined out thin air put in their place. Of course, God is concerned for his glory, but to dismiss well-founded lexical, cultural and theological meanings for something novel is incredible. Piper can’t or shouldn’t get away with it.
I think Michael Kruse (#12) points out the core issue–a whole new paradigm for understanding Paul’s, I repeat, Paul’s view of justification over against the Reformed/neo-Reformed views. Sometimes people get too invested in traditional views that even Jesus himself couldn’t convince them differently (a little hyperbole there) much less new perspective(s) on Pauline theology.



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Bob Reid

posted May 8, 2009 at 9:59 pm


Scot, thanks for reviewing this book. I am reading it now, along with Dunn’s big book on Paul. My background is in the Evangelical Free Church and the PCA. I love my PCA brethren and my Free Church brethren and I have benefited greatly from some of those who are now taking Wright and Dunn to task. I left the PCA not long ago because I sensed that there were many in the PCA who had abandoned the spirit of the reformation (always reforming). One of the great debts we owe the Reformers is their stalwart commitment to go back to Scripture. This is what Wright and Dunn have done. They have gone back to Scripture. Bless them for it. I find it hard to imagine that any serious historian of theology would deny the benefits of the scholarship of Renaissance Humanism that accrued to Luther, Calvin and others – in the sense that it gave them useful ways of re-examining the New Testament and the Patristic literature. Well, here, Wright, Dunn and others have done the same sort of thing by opening up the language and categories of 1st Century Judaism to us in a fresh way. For those who are reading this blog and have placed a certain definition of the gospel based on Reformed scholasticism above a commitment to find out what Scripture actually teaches: I beg you to reconsider your Reformed roots. Grace and Peace.



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Eric

posted May 9, 2009 at 12:18 am


How is this for irony: We are blogging about a chapter in a book that is very critical of blogging.



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Brian McLaughlin

posted May 9, 2009 at 9:26 am


John, we’ll grant you that one on Piper and God’s glory (which is the motivating theme for everything Piper does). However, this does not negate every other point he makes on NPP. On this thread people have been talking about Piper and the scope of salvation, individualism, etc, which, if anything, Piper’s lens goes against. It would be like me saying that Wright gives too much credibility to 4QMMT in defining first century Judaism so therefore I dismiss everything else he is saying.
Again, I’m a Wright fan, but let’s keep in mind that Piper isn’t the only one viewing the world through a lens. Wright does as well. I would agree that Wright’s lens is a little clearer on this one, but he is not immune.



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Josh Rowley

posted May 9, 2009 at 11:03 am


Bill@#21:
Acts 16 has become (intentionally or otherwise) a red herring. The conversation here is about the New Perspective–which is a perspective on Paul, not Luke (the writer of Acts) or a first-century jailer who asked, “What must I do to be saved?” The New Perspective seeks to know what question(s) Paul was addressing in his writings–which may or may not be the question the jailer asked.
Brian@#25:
I wonder whether Fee and Wright would find themselves in disagreement on this one–the Spirit, after all, is the giver of faith.



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Mason

posted May 9, 2009 at 3:29 pm


“The New Perspective seeks to know what question(s) Paul was addressing in his writings-”
Josh, I think that hits on one of the most important issues of the debate, whether or not we are asking the right questions of Paul to begin with. Too often I feel as if there is this assumption that the Bible must answer particular questions which were perhaps off the radar completely of the original authors.
Though no one is perfect, I think (as I say in the review I’m working on) that Wright is much more willing to go back to the sources and let the text say what it will, while Piper’s writing feels as if he is determined to have specific Reformation era questions answered regardless of if they not be the point of the text.



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Patrick

posted May 9, 2009 at 7:50 pm


# 23 Josh
Hear what you are saying – Wright’s NP is very persuasive in lots of ways and I’ve no stake in defending a particular tradition. I’m just not convinced by that ‘suddenly’ this generation at last understands Paul correctly (on justification anyway). I wonder if there are other cultural shifts going on in the embrace of the NP.
You imply “works of the law” should never refer to any good works – Yes Luther read in the issues of his day – and a start of this whole debate was Kasemann’s lecture on the Introspective Conscience of the West. But to say this does not invalidate the point that ‘works of the law’ can mean more than simply ethnic boundary markers. Simon Gathercole disagrees with Wright here arguing they are best seen as ?doing the whole law? (keeping it in its entirety – not just the ?ethnic marker? bits).
On faith i think there are differences? Faith as a ‘badge of identity? in the new covenant people seems to be a narrower way of looking at faith. Yes justification DOES have a wider community basis ? but each person participates, each person is forgiven and accepted into God?s people. I know this isn’t an exegetical argument, but the NP does seem to make it harder to get a grip on an ‘entry point’ to the gospel.



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Bob Reid

posted May 9, 2009 at 8:19 pm


to Brian’s point on 29: I totally agree with the point that everyone is working through lenses that are conditioned by all sorts of things; Wright freely admits this and expects to be found wrong on certain points by future scholars – he says as much early on in “Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision”….. I can’t seem to find Piper saying that sort of thing in the same way… thoughts?



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Eric

posted May 9, 2009 at 9:09 pm


Patrick (#32) –
You say “‘works of the law’ can mean more than simply ethnic boundary markers.” Wright doesn’t suggest that works of Torah are *just* ethnic boundary markers; his point goes well beyond that.
On this issue of whether “works of law” means that Judaism was a religion whereby Jews earned their status by their works (of Torah or otherwise), I found the following points in Wright’s book very persuasive:
The Jewish people were defined as the “people of God” in the OT based on God’s sovreign election in calling them (sounds rather Reformed!). It was therefore about God’s graceful election, the same way Paul talks about God’s grace and election in the NT. So Judaism never defined who was in our out of the covenant based on works of law. The law was, in fact, given to Moses and Israel 400 years *after* the covenant. Indeed, Paul himself makes this very point when discussing justification. The law was, therefore, simply not what led to status for the Jews as God’s people.
Does Gathercole make a response to these points, which I personally find compelling?



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Patrick

posted May 10, 2009 at 5:32 pm


Thanks Eric. I find those points compelling and thrilling too. Entry is by God’s graceful election in OT and NT so neither represents a works-righteousness faith. Never has been God’s way!
I think the push back against Wright’s view by some here is while too often OT faith HAS been (and often still is) misrepresented as legalistic / works based, Paul [and Jesus but that's another story] does give the impression that he is tackling a subtle form of self-righteousness where the emphasis on grace has been distorted or lost. In other words, the traditional view might not be all wrong in equating ‘works of the law’ with some form of works. And Paul is dead set against trying to include any value of religious heritage, Jewish identity or ‘works’ in justification. I guess I feel there is room for a ‘both and’ approach.



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Eric

posted May 10, 2009 at 10:32 pm


Patrick,
Thanks for the response. Agreed that you could *potentially* adopt many of Wright’s core views — i.e., that justification is at least partially about God’s single-plan-through-Israel-to-defeat-sin-and-benefit-the-whole-world-and-incorporate-gentiles-in-Abraham’s-family, that “righteousness” has very significant covenant overtones, that the “boasting” Paul discussed at least partly relates to Jewish pride in their ethnic and covenant status, that “incorporation into Christ” is how we are justified, etc. — but *also* see it as both/and — i.e., add in to all of the above the traditional Reformed view that part of the “boasting” and “works of Torah” that Paul was against included any sort of view that moral conduct plays a factor in salvation.
You couldn’t, however, adopt that both-and approach if you agree with Wright’s view on another point, which is probably his most controversal view: Although he and the traditional Reformed both arrive at the conclusion that salvation is secure for people who put their faith in Christ, they arrive at that conclusion in very different ways: Wright says that faith gets us into God’s family, but that we all (Christians included) will be judged by Christ in the end on the basis of what we do. (See Romans 2, Romans 14.10?12, 2 Corinthians 5.10, 1 Corinthians 3). Piper says yes, Christians will be judged, but only in terms of their reward. Wright responds that Piper and the other Reformed are adding to the relevant passages when they make that suggestion, to force the passages to fit their theology. Wright’s view is that, despite the fact that we (Christians included) will be judged by Christ (and not just in terms of our reward), we nevertheless have security because God (the Holy Spirit) produces in us the conduct that is necessary (he cites several passages for this — “He who began a good work in you,” etc.)
This is his most controversal point, although, IMHO, it makes a lot of sense of the relevant passages when taken as a whole (more sense, to me, than the traditional view, which does seem to stretch some of the passages). But you can decide not to accept his views on that particular point, and (I suspect) probably take the both/and approach you are suggesting. But if Wright is correct on this point, then your both/and approach wouldn’t work; in that case, Paul’s opposition to “works of Torah” probably doesn’t refer to any sort of reluctance by him to suggest that Christ’s judgment of us will be based on what we do here on earth (see, again, Romans 2, and other passages above).
Of course, Wright suggests he has other reasons to support his views of what Paul meant regarding Jewish boasting and “works of Torah,” including (what looks like to me to be) strong exegesis of Paul, and the second temple literature (i.e., all that New Perspective stuff). I’m just commenting on whether it is *possible* to adopt some of Wright’s overall core views regarding jusification, as well as the more traditional one you suggest (the “both/and” approach).
Anyway, I appreciate your dialgoue on this stuff. It will be interesting to see where the discussion goes with Scot’s later posts; although I lean toward Wright’s views, I’m still working through what I think about many of these issues (including the points you raise).



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John W Frye

posted May 11, 2009 at 7:10 am


Eric #36),
I think you are spot on regarding the controversial hub of the NPP–that “works” are essential for the final justification. Piper and the unsettled neo-Reformed crowd bristle at this because they maintain a theological construct about sheer grace not only in saving, but in living the Christian life. They are bent on making “works” a matter of earning favor rather than defining identity. I personally find Wright’s exegesis defusing the longstanding polarization of “faith and work” and as Wright often comments many, many extraneous and ignored details of the text and theology all find a proper fit.



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Josh Rowley

posted May 11, 2009 at 9:49 am


Eric & John:
I’m reading Piper’s critique of Wright now (about halfway through). Another significant difference that irks Piper has to do with imputed righteousness. Piper insists that to be justified is to have Christ’s/God’s righteousness imputed through faith (he interprets the phrase “reckoned righteousness” in Romans to mean “imputed righteousness”). Wright thinks this view is nonsensical. Piper is preoccupied with Paul’s use of the law-court metaphor.
Also, without ruling out global implications for God’s saving work, Piper does make it clear that he thinks the personal (individualistic?) implicatioons should be emphasized more. And I have read no evidence that he is concerned about how the traditional Protestant understanding of justification in relation to Judaism has contributed to anti-Semitism.



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Josh Rowley

posted May 11, 2009 at 5:37 pm


I’ve posted the first part of a review of Piper’s book (to which Wright responds in his book) on my blog.



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Tim White

posted May 12, 2009 at 5:22 pm


Wright makes the point that his critics are from the reformed tradition. You quote Wright: ??My friend [here he?s referring his critics] has simply not allowed the main things I have been trying to say to get anywhere near his conscious mind.? Wright is saying that the anti-New Perspective critics operate in a Reformed view that is imposed from without and not from the meaning of the texts in Paul?s context.?
You agree with Wright?s view when you state that your Lutheran student?s ?experience has been typical for me whenever talking new perspective stuff to those who are thoroughly Lutheran or Reformed.?
This is also the opinion stated in some of the comments. For example, one comment refers to those who hold to the anti-New Perspective as ?Piper and the unsettled neo-Reformed crowd.?
Not a minor point in this discussion is the fact that NOT all who disagree with N. T. Wright, James Dunn, and E. P. Sanders are from the Reformed tradition. That being the case, the disagreement is not so much theological as it is interpretative. The issue is not what does my tradition believe but what does the texts of the N.T. teach about imputation.
Dr. Mike Stallard, who is a non-reformed theologian, who graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary with a Ph. D., in his evaluation of NPP authors James Dunn and E. P. Sanders, voiced his concern that the NPP is denying ?the doctrine of justification by faith alone.? Dr. Stallard comments of Dunn?s Galatian mistake: ?Dunn?s comments miss the point. The Reformers would say that any attempt to maintain righteousness after salvation is a repeat of the Galatian mistake whether the Judaizers were Jews outside or inside the Church.? What Stallard says next is important: ?Again, there is trouble harmonizing Dunn?s statement with Romans 11:6 but little trouble harmonizing his statement in principle with Roman Catholic views of justification.



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