A good Christian friend of mine is currently reading a book called The Writings of Paul by James Dunn. When I last spoke to him he was arguing some very different perspectives on salvation, the Holy Spirit, etc. After doing research I found out that this guy James Dunn is an outspoken proponent for the "New Perspective of Paul." In a nutshell, could you summarize the teachings of this movement and how it compares to the traditional perspective of Paul. Also, can you give me some pointers for a counter augument to my friend's new found position, as I feel like this New Perspective theology is somewhat heretical?
Post by Mike Miller on Mar 30, 2011 8:36:50 GMT -5
Hey, Todbou. I'm sorry, but I'm traveling this week, so it will be next week or the week after before I can post a response. Had you asked a simple question with a short answer, I could have responded more quickly, but I know that's not the way you work.
I'll be back soon, and I'll get you an answer as soon as I can.
In the mean time, if someone out there is familiar with the NPP movement/controversy, please feel free to chime in.
The little bit that I've read about the "New Perspective" movement seems to be an indictment on the reformed orthodox interpretation of Paul's letters. The NPPers claim that reformed orthodox views on Paul's letters are scewed because we (reformed orthodox) tend to read Paul's letters through the lense of Martin Luther. Luther challenged the Roman Catholic Church on their requirements (works) for salvation. Luther's, and reformed orthodox's, view on salvation is, of course, Sola Gratia, Sola Fidelis (by grace alone through faith alone).
NPPers say Luther interpreted Paul's letters in light of his struggle with the church, therefore, reformed orthodox's understanding of Paul's outcry against the Judeaizers is not accurate. NPPers say Luther thought of Paul's qualms with the Judeaizers in the same manner he thought of his own struggle with the Catholic Church.
Therefore, NPPers are proposing a different view of 1st centruy Judeaism and Chirstianty that tends to "reinterpret" Paul's letters towards a more works based salvation.
If anyone knows anymore, please share, or if I'm misunderstanding the NPP movement, please correct me.
Post by Mike Miller on Apr 26, 2011 16:38:37 GMT -5
All right. Here we go, but I'm going to be fairly short, then we can go from there.
To begin with, the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) is a much more complex movement than it is frequently described. Moreover, there is diversity within the movement. While I would not want to paint NPP with the broad brush of heresy, some NPPers are further out of orthodoxy than others. In fact, James Dunn and N. T. Wright are two who have been moderating voices in the NPP camp. Also, for those unfamiliar with NPP, it has not been a major issue in Baptist circles, but it has been and continues to be a pretty significant issue within Presbyterian circles.
NPP is just what the label indicates--a new perspective for reading and understanding Paul. That new perspective is rooted in a new perspective on the Judaism of Paul's day (frequently referred to as Second Temple Judaism). The traditional understanding of 1st century Judaism is that it was legalistic--that adherence to the law was seen as necessary for obtaining salvation. This perspective is largely derived from Paul's teaching against the idea that the law had ever had any power to save and that no one could ever keep the law perfectly. However, the NPP arose from some scholars who called that perspective into question. Most notably, E. P. Sanders and Heikki Raisanen popularized the idea that Second Temple Judaism was not legalistic. They contended that Jewish writings from that period reveal a Judaism steeped in the grace of God. Jews, they said, understood that salvation was only by grace through faith, but that the law was nevertheless to be kept in response to God's grace and as a sign of covenant faithfulness. NPPers suggest, then, that the only reason anyone reads legalism into early Judaism is because of the influence of Luther, who saw such legalism in his reaction to the Catholic church. In other words, traditional perspectives on Second Temple Judaism are Lutheran instead of Pauline.
Therefore, since Paul could not have been rebuking legalistic Judaism (since it didn't exist), a new perspective on his writings was needed in order to interpret him correctly. The result is that the NPP crowd essentially says that Paul's issue with his Jewish opponents was focused on their nationalism and ethnocentrism. Jews were insisting that Gentiles had to adopt the markers of Judaism (circumcision, dietary laws, Sabbath, etc.) in order to be included in the people of God. The Jews were contending for a unified ethnic identity, thereby opposing Paul's open door to the Gentiles. So, instead of Paul's negative remarks against the "works of the law" referring to keeping the law, NPPers hold that he was referring to those markers that would exclude Gentiles from identifying with the people of God.
So, do NPPers believe that the law is necessary for salvation? Yes, but so do those of us of the old perspective. We simply believe that Jesus kept the law on our behalf, and that He now imputes (credits) His righteousness to us. Dunn and Wright reject the doctrine of imputed righteousness, but they still contend that salvation is by God's grace. This will be a bit of an oversimplification, but essentially, the NPP teaches that it is not "faith" that saves us, but "faithfulness" (which is a valid translation of the Greek word pistis, depending on context). However, rather than a purely works-based salvation, whereas I believe that God's grace leads to faith which leads to salvation which leads to good works, they believe that God's grace leads to faith which leads to good works which leads to salvation. Again, this is a broad description that might not represent the views of everyone in the NPP camp.
You asked how to counter your friend's argument. First, I think you need to show your friend how the NPP view of 1st century Judaism is greatly overstated, as there is much evidence from Jewish sources that keeping the law was tied to obtaining salvation (see sources below). Moreover, a reading of Romans on its own merit leads to a more traditional understanding of Paul. In other words, an old perspective on his writings makes much more sense based on what he said. One must first adopt the presuppositions relative to Second Temple Judaism to reach NPP conclusions, and like I said, the basis for those presuppositions is not as strong as they would have you think.
I know this is very short, but I hope it helps. Much of the reading I've done on NPP has been in scholarly journals, and not everyone has access to those. However, I recommend the following books (especially the one by Schreiner, as it is short and easy to read).
Thomas R. Schreiner, 40 Questions about Christians and the Biblical Law.
Simon J. Gathercole, Where Is Boasting? Early Jewish Soteriology and Paul's Response in Romans 1-5.
Stephen Westerholm, Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The "Lutheran" Paul and His Critics.
thanks, mike, although i would have dreaded reading your "long" answer.
do you think the npp stance of "faithfulness" over "faith" is supported by James' epistle (faith without works is dead)?
i do not believe that is does support their argument, but i can see where a lot of folks who are not diligent in their study would have a big "ahha" moment if they read James with that npp perspective. is this an area where we should "contend for the faith"?
Post by Mike Miller on Apr 27, 2011 8:27:33 GMT -5
Actually, many people are already arguing over this issue (and have been for over 20 years now), but NPP does not seem to be a major concern except in certain circles of evangelicalism. For example, I just read a recent article by Schreiner concerning Wright's view of Justification, but it was in a scholarly journal (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society). I think one reason NPP hasn't made such a big splash throughout evangelicalism is that it's a pretty complex issue requiring historical knowledge and exegesis beyond what most laypersons (and even most pastors) are familiar with. Personally, I find myself having to contend more against moralism, word-faith theology, and all kinds of issues relative to Roman Catholicism. If I were a Presbyterian pastor, I'm sure I'd be dealing with it much more extensively and frequently.
And yes, NPPers find support in James 2, but they tend to focus more on Paul.