What is the New Perspective on Paul?

In the past week, I had two of my closest friends ask what on earth the New Perspective on Paul was about. I really did enjoy talking through some of the bigger issues like the shape of Paul’s theology, specifically his revised Jewish understanding of election, justification, and eschatology because of his central belief that Jesus was promised and long desired King of Israel. An exhaustive look at the NPP is something completely beyond me, but I am about 3/4 of the way through N.T. Wright’s massive book¬†Paul and the Faithfulness of God. I also own, but have not read, James D.G. Dunn’s book entitled The New Perspective on Paul and E.P. Sander’s Paul and Palestinian Judaism.¬†

This short video features two well respected New Testament scholars, and also two of the important emerging voices from amongst the more properly titled New Perspectives on Paul (emphasis on the plural). You might note from their words that before there can be a NPP, the foundational work has to be in a new perspective of Judaism–which is why Sander’s book takes such an important role as an initiator of NPP studies. Let me know what you think:

N.T. Wright’s Justification: Introduction

Wright’s response to John Piper’s book “The Future of Justification” (which also happens to be a response…) is entitled “Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision.” I’m hoping that my posting regarding my reading will hold me accountable to finish the book and think well about each section. I have to say I am looking most forward to the ending sections where he exegetes through Romans and Galatians. In case you’re not already interested in what Wright (who admittedly holds but one of the many emerging “new perspectives” on Paul) has to say, Al Mohler accuses him of seeking to completely undo the Protestant Reformation. That’s probably an overreaction, but I’m hoping it at least intrigues you if you’re not already familiar with any branches of the New Perspectives on Paul or NPP as it will appear henceforth.

I’ve tried to compile the most essential parts of his introductory chapter. Keep in mind that most of what he does here alludes to areas that will be expounded upon in future chapters and that my brief synopsis merely alludes to his allusions.

1. Wright discusses what salvation is, particularly noting that the reduction of the concept to ” going to heaven when you die” is cursory and inadequate. In the Bible, salvation is not the rescue of people from the world but the rescue of the world itself. Here he notes that the reformed tradition represented by Piper would mostly agree. Wright is hopeful that viewing salvation in this larger framework will affect the way readers think about the questions, namely that of Justification, that follow.

2. Formerly discussing the what of salvation, Wright moves to address the means of salvation-that is how it is accomplished. He agrees with Piper that it is accomplished by the sovereign grace of God, operating through the death of Jesus Christ in our place and on out behalf, appropriated through faith alone. But there is something missing–or rather, someone missing. Where is the Holy Spirit? “The work of the Spirit is every bit as important as the work of the Son.” This brief mention of the essential Spirit’s work in the life of the Christian will play into Wright’s larger plea that the development of Christian character over the course of a lifetime is significant to justification. It also sends the person firmly planted in Piper’s reformed garden the message that Wright thinks of justification as a process requiring good works of the spirit. More on that when it becomes relevant in the book.

3. Finally is the claim that salvation and justification, although used interchangeably since Augustine, and certainly since Luther, are separate and to consider them the same is to be untrue to scripture itself. This allows Wright to transition into the separate question, apart from salvation, of what is justification? It’s purpose and meaning? Piper insists that it means imputation of righteousness, but Wright sees it as the place where four themes meet: The work of Jesus as the Messiah of Israel, the covenant, the divine law-court, and eschatology.

In conclusion, Wright says that all the debate rests on the text of Paul’s letters, which is where he plans to move in the coming pages. He calls for fresh readings of scripture, not heavily conditioned by tradition, though he insists not all tradition is dismissible. He realizes of course the scope and severity of his claims, and also understands the challenge of hundreds of years of reformed tradition and it’s understanding of salvation and justification. In a turning of the tables, Wright cleverly aligns himself with Luther and Calvin in a historical allusion: “There is considerable irony, at the level of method, when John Piper suggest that, according to me, the church “has been on the wrong foot for 1500 years.” It isn’t so much that I don’t actually claim that. It is that that is exactly what people said to his heroes, Luther and Calvin. Luther and Calvin answered by fresh readings of scripture; the Council of Trent responded by insisting on tradition.”

Looking forward to all that remains in this important book. Its argument is at the forefront of the Evangelical divide.