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I get asked this about once a week, often in an e-mail: “What is the New Perspective on Paul?” Let me answer that question with three brief lines, but first I provide what inspired me to think through the NPP so I could get it to three lines. I was in Lubbock TX and heard Randy Harris summarize the message of the Book of Revelation in three lines:
1. God’s team wins.
2. Choose your team.
3. Don’t be stupid.
Yep, the whole message of Revelation in three lines. Now the New Perspective in three lines, though mine are not as funny or clever:
1. Judaism was not a works-earns-salvation religion.
2. Paul was therefore not opposing a works-earns-salvation religion.
3. Therefore, the Reformation’s way of framing the entire message of the New Testament as humans seeking to earn their own redemption rests on shaky historical grounds.
What do you know about the New Perspective? How do you summarize it? Do you think my three lines gets to the heart of it? What light has the NPP shed for you? What do you think are its major weaknesses?
Another way of summing up the NPP is this: the Augustinian anthropology that
undergirds much of Reformed theology (humans as depraved and totally
dead and in need of grace and humans, in true Pelagian fashion, want to
prove themselves before God) may well be true but it is not what Paul
was talking about.
There are so many good books about the NPP today, and one simply has to mention the writings of EP Sanders, James D.G. Dunn, and N.T. Wright. Recently, many in the Reformed tradition, including John Piper, have criticized the NPP, especially Tom Wright, so there is quite a dust-up about this at work today. A recent book that shows how resurrection theology is connected to the NPP is by Daniel Kirk.
Daniel Kirk’s dissertation has been published and the thing is readable
and important. His concern is resurrection theology at work in the book
of Romans. His contention is that Easter really matters. Many of us
have observed from time to time that the gospel is reduced too often to
Good Friday. But the gospel Peter and Paul preached included the cross
and the resurrection. I think the problem for many, tragically, is what
to make of the resurrection. Indeed, everyone knows resurrection was
part of the earliest Christian preaching, but the question we ask today
seems to be: What are the implications of the resurrection? It’s got to
be more than a major element of our apologetics. This is why I’m happy
to commend your study of Daniel Kirk’s new book: Unlocking Romans:
Resurrection and the Justification of God .
Here are some highlights: Unlocking Romans: Resurrection and the Justification of God
Here are some highlights:
First, Judaism had at least four themes of the significance of resurrection: (1) it would vindicate God’s people and prove God faithful; (2) it buttressed the appeal to do what is right — yes, if there is a resurrection, there is a judgment; if there is a judgment, we better be ready; (3) it promised a future restoration of earth and body and cosmos; and (4) Israel would be restored.
In Romans we see the people of God redefined by a resurrected Messiah and participation in that resurrection. Jesus’ own resurrection sets the restoration process into motion. And here’s a big point for Kirk: the people of God must be defined in light of the Christ event — life, death and resurrection. This means, Kirk argues, the litmus test for association with brothers and sisters in Christ is Calvary and the Empty Grave. This leads to proper church unity, and Kirk pushes back against some of the attempts to find doctrinal unity as the proper basis for church unity.
Yes, Kirk gets into the justification debate and he leans toward Tom Wright’s stuff. Here’s one of his points: “grace” vs. “works” is not two principles humans use– we either use the grace principle or the works principle — but instead two particulars: “grace comes in Christ” and “works” is connected to Mosaic Torah.