Posts Tagged ‘New Perspective on Paul’

I have just downloaded Gordon Wenham’s Story as Torah in libronix format. It looks like it is going to be a great read.  I became interested in this book for 3 reasons. 1) Gordon Wenham is on faculty at Trinity college, Bristol where I am studying. I figure that if I read faculty books then I may be given extra biscuits at the postgraduate seminars (2) It has implications for the New Perspective on Paul (3) Don Garlington posted a helpfull review.

I came across this great quote from the introduction,

So there is a paradox in Old Testament narrative ethics: on the one hand God is terribly demanding, he looks for nothing less than godlike perfect behaviour, yet on the other, despite human failings, he does not forget his covenant loyalty to his people, and ultimately brings them through the suffering that their sin has brought about. Old Testament ethics are therefore as much about grace as about law: they declare that God, the all-holy, is also God, the all-merciful.


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Multi-Part Review of Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision by N.T. Wright: PArt 1

I received a review copy of N.T. Wright’s ‘Justification:God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision’ a few days ago. It has been written by Wright as a response to a critique of his position on justification by John Piper. John Piper has been a tremendous help and influence, particularly in my late teens and early twenties,on myself. Piper’s writings, sermons, and conference messages introduced me to a passionate Calvinism which is God centred and values the glory and sovereignty of God. For this I am thankful. However, as I look back on these years, I realise that ,although I had a doctrine of God, my theology of creation was stunted. God, I believed, was the creator (literal 6 days) but his plan, to bring glory to himself, concerned his choosing, justifying and glorifying of the elect. The cosmos, the created world, was merely the backdrop and stage in which this saving action took place. I favoured evangelism over what I perceived as a liberal concern for social action and justice. I would not say that Piper explicitly taught a dualistic (secular/spiritual divide) world-view but I think it is fair to say that there was not enough ‘creation theology’ within Piper to counteract the implicit dualism of much on evangelicalism. At this time I began to explore the work of N.T. Wright. I began with ‘Jesus and the Victory of God’ and before long had consumed, with youthful energy, most of the N.T. Wright books I could get my hands on. Instead of a reduced gospel of individualism and evangelism, I was developing a larger theology in which God is calling a people to himself to be a blessing to the world. A gospel which embraced justice and social concern as well as a need to evangelise. So here I find myself reading the second part of a dialogue/conversation/polite argument between these two men of God, and biblical scholars, who have shaped, at two different stages of my life, my thinking. After reading each chapter I will seek to jot down a few comments.

Chapter One

This will be a multi-part review. Here I will offer my comments on the first chapter entitled ‘What’s all this about, and why does it matter?’ which covers 20 pages of the total of 224. Wright begins this chapter with a provocative illustration in which Piper is seen to be similar to a friend who thinks the earth goes around the sun. He offers this illustration for a number of reasons but one of them stands out. Wright says ‘we are not the centre of the universe, God is not circling around us. We are circling around him'(7). I agree wholeheartedly with Wright’s statement but it does seem to suggest that Piper holds to a gospel of ‘it’s about me, I’m the centre of the universe.’ This, if I am reading Wright correctly, is a gross caricature of Piper’s position. In fact I know of no other Pastor/Teacher/Theologian who has consistently taught from such a God centred perspective as John Piper. For those not convinced read John Piper’s The Pleasures of God or spend a few minutes looking around any of his writings. Like I said in my introduction I think Piper is God centred, but from my many years of listening/reading Piper, I find that salvation is to easily reduced to individualism and God’s salvific purposes for the cosmos are not given enough status. …… (more to follow soon)

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Douglas Moo

Douglas Moo offers some fresh insights on justification at Denver Seminary. The audio is available here.

It will be of particular interest to those interested in the New Perspective on Paul.

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N.T. Wright and the ‘New Perspective of Paul’ is the topic of discussion at the White Horse Inn

Thanks to Micheal Bird for the link. he also offers some discussion of the mp3. Here are some notes I wrote while listening to it.

1-3 Mins: Highlights the strengths of N.T. Wright

3-5 mins: Criticism: 1) for Wright faith is the same as faithfulness 2) Fails to distinguish the covenant of Law with the covenant of grace 3) reduces the works of the law in Paul to the ceremonies which distinguish Jews from Gentiles 4) await a future justification based on ‘whole of life lived’ 5) Gospel is Jesus Christ is Lord not Caesar, gentiles no longer need to be circumcised.

Micheal Horten asks: Is what must i do to be saved a foreign import into the gospel? What is the Gospel?

5 mins onwards: Gives some positive insights ‘probably the second best living theological writer’. His work on the Resurrection is outstanding, he can right for the pew and the academy.  Wright is ‘dangerous’, on one side he is on the side of the angels. The problem comes with Paul. He caricatures the whole of protestantism as pietism. Wright fails to offer a nuanced understanding of Calvin/Luther. Wright misunderstands Luther, Judaism, and Medieval Christianity.

Krister Stendahl, Dunn and Sanders are discussed. He ‘rewrites the whole Pauline corpus’. There is reductionism, an overreaction to Bultmann, the law is bad, low doctrine of church, me and my personal relationship with Jesus. When you work with Sanders, Dunn and a bit of Wright, they fail to understand the Cross, they don’t know what to do with it.

Wright redefines righteousness language, it has nothing to do with imputation. Wright mocks a reformation caricature. For Wright it is not about how individuals get saved. Its more about Jesus being shown to be Lord. To say Jesus is Lord is that really good news, If so Why? Its only good news if you are part of the people he has delivered from bondage. The good news need to understood in reformation categories.

16:30 onwards: Includes critical comments from Packer. Robert Gundry argues against imputation so ‘bring Pietists/Catholics together.’  They(Dunn, Wright)  are reading their own theology into it. This is (Wright) Pelagianism. Differences recognised between Dunn, Wright. Wright needs to stop saying that the reformation position is ‘the law is bad’.  Dunn, Sanders and Wright are Arminian in their theological system. They do not stress it is all by grace alone. 22:30 Min. I think they are talking about Wright rather than Dunn. 23 mins McClaren is brought into the picture. ‘At the end of the day this is really the radical enthusiasm of the anabaptists’.

The NPP has stalled in its tracks. 24 min: John Piper’s critique of Wright is mentioned. Also Kim and Francis Watson. When the dust settles the excesses of Wright/Dunn will be forgotten. The influence of this teaching has gone beyond the academy.

They recognise that the bible is often not read as an unfolding story. 28 mins: This shows they understand the narrative dimension of Paul/Jesus. They are closer to Wright than they realise.

31 mins. Wright is dangerous. He denounces the language of ‘perosnal saviour’ but rejects personal salvation is included.

32 mins. Works of the law is discussed. Justification for Wright is ‘who is a CHristian’ not ‘How do I become a Christian’. Dunn makes ‘works of the law’ fit with his thesis, it is the joker in the pack. Romans 2 ‘doers of the law’ there will be a judgement according to the works. It is part of an argument that ends in 3:20 ‘no-one will be justified according to the law’. They say they have tried to be fair and balanced.

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New Perspective of Paul scholar Don Garlington has made a commentary on Galatians available online. Click here for it.

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I figure that you may aswell share essays online which may be of use to other students, researchers or of general interest. The following paper was produced about 5 years ago whilst at Sheffield University. It seeks to anaylse the methodology and hermeneutics of N.T Wright and Karl Barth in the light of their views of the doctrine of justification. Why study these guys? Well it was an excuse to get my teeth into their books.  I have become more sympathetic of the ‘New Perspective’ since writing Chapter 3. However the cristicisms still stand to some degree.





 The essay begins as follows,



Chapter 1

Christian communities have always been faced with the problem of

interpreting the Scriptures theologically. Since it is the very nature of the

Christian church to reflect upon God’s self-disclosure as witnessed by the

biblical texts, these texts have always held a prominent and normative status in

the Christian Community.



Doctrine has served and continues to serve as a vital function in Church life. It forms

the basis for liturgical and sacramental life as well as being instructive for the life of

individual believers and the ethical praxis of the community. Doctrine, or simply

what the Church believes and confesses to be true, stems from an engagement over

time with culture, experience, tradition and reason, but primarily with its normative

foundational document, the Bible.

As post-modern thinking has rightly pointed out, the Bible, as a collection of texts,

can be interpreted in different ways by different communities. Thus, doctrine is not

simply something that falls from the skies but is formed in the ‘hands-on experience’

of interpretation. The Christian Church enjoys some unity in doctrinal matters, such

as the almost universal acceptance of the Nicene and Apostles creed, but it is deeply

divided on some of the central features of doctrine. This is illustrated in the diversity

displayed in the doctrine of justification by faith with different views being put

forward as to what this means by traditional Catholics and Protestants, existential

theologies, and from those that construct their doctrinal affirmations in accord with

the ‘new perspective.’

This plurality in interpretation raises a number of important questions: Are some

doctrines and interpretations more valid than other? Why are the same texts

interpreted differently by different communities? Is there any Archimedean point

from which the true ‘meaning’ of a text can be revealed? Does postmodernism lead to

the death of doctrine and dogma?

The purpose of this paper is not to seek to answer these important questions. Its

limited task, functioning within the backdrop of these larger questions, is to look at

the relationship between text and the formulation of doctrine in the writings of Karl

Barth and N.T. Wright, working in particular with their differing views on the

doctrine of ‘justification by faith’. Although both scholars have found their spiritual

home within the evangelical-reformed community, they both offer an alternative to

the traditional evangelical view of justification. Wright and Barth, as we shall see,

differ considerably in the methods which they use to formulate their doctrines. Barth

uses a theological approach, whereas Wright uses a more historical and exegetical


The format of this paper will be as follows: in this chapter I will set out Barth’s and

Wright’s theologies of ‘justification by faith’ against the backdrop of mainstream

evangelical theology. In chapter two I will analyse and critique the theological

methodology of Karl Barth, followed in chapter three by an examination and critique

of N.T Wright’s methodology.


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