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Jesus Creed

Pope.jpgA couple year’s back Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom co-authored a book with a spiffy little question for a title: Is the Reformation Over?: An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism
. They marshalled evidence to suggest the Reformation had had a powerful impact and the Roman Catholic (evangelical types) and Protestant Evangelicals now had huge connections where there was once massive fissures.

If this sketch is accurate to what the Pope says, two questions: (1) is he old or new perspective? (2) is the Reformation over?

Now the Pope, Benedict XVI, has a book that illustrates this all the more: Saint Paul
. I want to illustrate this connection by briefly sketching the Pope’s view of justification, and his view reveals dramatic connections to the New Perspective as well as to classic (old perspective) Reformation teaching on justification. Now for the sketch, drawn from chp 13 of this fine introduction to Pauline theology:

1. The issues are framed in terms of individual (if not gender inclusive) salvation, as in the old perspective: “How does man become just in God’s eyes?” (78).

2. Paul’s conversion, as esp emphasized in the new perspective, reshaped his view of the relationship of an Israelite to the Torah. This Torah, as in new perspective, is the 5 books of Moses (and not the law principle). In light of Christ, there is an opposition of Law and Grace, as in the old perspective.



3. The focus at the time of the Paul, as we find in the new perspective, is on those works — like Sabbath and circumcision — that built a wall between Jews and Gentiles. Those works had framed “a social, cultural and religious identity” (81). The wall “consisted precisely in the Judaic observances and prescriptions” (81).

4. With Christ the God of Israel became the God of all people, and this meant the wall had been knocked down. This ecclesial emphasis is decidedly new perspective.

5. Union with Christ, faith in Christ — and here old and new, Lutheran and Catholic become one — in fact, Christ himself, “makes us just” (82). “For this reason, Luther’s phrase “faith alone” is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love” (82). Here he shows how Christ is love, union with Christ puts us into the life of love, and all good works are works that flow from this Christ who is love and makes all good works works of love. [There’s nothing here about double imputation, a move that connects the Pope more to the new perspective and not at all to the strident voices today who make justification little more than double imputation. Strike that slightly: on p. 84, when introducing the next chp, he speaks of God conferring his justice upon a person, uniting him to Christ — getting closer to imputation.]

6. So what is faith? “Faith is looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, being united to Christ, conformed to Christ, to his life” (82). The form of Christ’s life is love. Our actions are insignificant; what matters is faith; genuine faith becomes love. Thus, Gal 5:6, where Paul speaks of circumcision not mattering but only faith working through love. On p. 85 he anchors this in the perichoresis. Thus, Paul and James belong together: “faith that is active in love testifies to the freely given gift of justification in Christ” (86).

“We become just by entering into communion with Christ, who is Love” (82).

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