The Post After (On the “NP”)

Derek Ouellette —  July 26, 2010

How do you come off the “high” of a blog like the one I just wrote, filled with so much energy and excitement that it actually became viral in some sense? It’s as if people are surrounded by traditional Reformers telling them what to believe in order to remain “orthodox” except that what they are being told to believe does not seem to make any scriptural sense. So I write a post showing where some of the traditional arguments break down and it’s like people are saying, “finally, a breath of fresh air”.

But not everyone was happy with what I wrote (though, oddly enough, few voiced it publically on the blog). They are confused and they think that we are playing fast and loose with semantics, “doesn’t the Gospel = Justification?” “N.T. Wright has muddled the crystal clear teachings of the bible, and now so are you.” “The gospel defined as ‘the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ’ sounds a whole lot like sola fide to me.”

So to get this straight: on the one hand are “Sproul’s folks” who see what the scriptures teach as “crystal clear” and accuse Wright of mucking things up. On the other hand are “Wright’s folks” who see what the scriptures teach as “crystal clear” and believe that it is the traditional position that has gotten into the habit of mucking things up.

But the roots go much deeper than this. The issues are not so clear cut. What is often seen as “crystal clear, it says it right here” is simply a way of choosing not to enter into critical conversation. Frankly, the response to that is: “I see what it says, but you are reading it wrong”. In other words, the deeper issues really revolve around interpretive methods and which tools are we using to uproot (or dig deeper) into the meaning or intent of the text.

I believe that N.T. Wright is closer to the truth on these matters than traditional Reformed dogma. I believe the evidence bares this out. I also believe that unless one is open to thinking these things through critically, rather than digging their heels deeper into the traditional position, on merit of its position being tradition, it is less likely that they will understand what it is this “New Perspective” believes and (more importantly) why.

But will you, please, think openly about what is being said? I am not asking that you agree or swallow everything hook, line, and sinker, but only that you seek to understand. I think good dialogue begins when we understand each other, because only then can we raise our concerns legitimately and ask our questions sincerely.

In what follows will be my honest assessment of what I believe to be some of the key issues (and areas of confusion) in this debate. I invite you to follow along as I attempt to untangle some of these issues and iron out some of the key themes. I invite you to listen and interact with my posts by asking your sincere questions (no doubt they will be tough ones) and allowing for my reasoned responses (which I don’t always promise will satisfy you, but I will do my best).

And for everyone who got behind my last post: God Bless You! It’s nice to be reminded that I am not alone on an island wrestling with coconuts. :)

A Word on the New Perspective[s]

It’s really important to keep in mind that there is no such thing as the New Perspective on Paul. After a short survey of the positions of E.P. Sanders and Jimmy Dunn, N.T. Wright writes:

“I say all this to make it clear that there are probably almost as many ‘New Perspective’ positions as there are writers espousing it – and that I disagree with most of them. Where I agree is as follows…” (Here)

He goes on to explain that the common feature which defines the so-called “New Perspective” is the desire of NP scholars to locate and interpret Paul within his Jewish context. As this relates to Justification, Wright states that “It is blindingly obvious when you read Romans and Galatians… that virtually whenever Paul talks about justification he does so in the context of a critique of Judaism and of the coming together of Jew and Gentile in Christ.” In order to understand Paul’s critique of Judaism you first need to understand first century Judaism which – according to NP proponents and thanks largely to the work of E.P. Sanders – was not a “works-righteousness” system similar to 16th century Catholicism.

This is all that NP proponents have in common: the interpretation of Paul in his Jewish context. But this has called for a re-evaluation of how Paul has traditionally been interpreted and has resulted in many new interpretations. Thus there is wide diversity within the “New Perspective” camp as each scholar wrestles with overcoming his traditional presuppositions in a effort to reinterpret Paul within his Jewish context.

I find N.T. Wright’s interpretation of Paul to be the most fruitful, well argued, and best articulated of both “old” and “new” perspectives. So in the posts to follow (at least the ones in keeping with this theme), I rely almost exclusively on the theology of Wright with a “tweak” here or there of my own.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • Craig L. Adams

    I agree with you that Wright is closer to the truth than Piper and Sproul, etc. But, the point is *not what SIDE one is on! The point is to understand what the apostolic Gospel really was and is! History illuminates the Bible: as we learn more we gain a better understanding. The issue is to keep on learning and keep on growing.

  • Derek Ouellette

    Amen Craig!