Paul, the New Perspective, and a C.T. Article

I am quoted in the June issue of Christianity Today. A blogger friend, Trevin Wax ( put together an article and wanted reaction from some pastors (and rabbis, in my case) about how recent writings and theories on Paul affect congregations at the practical level.

The issue is the New Perspective on Paul, which is not just one viewpoint, but a range of re-readings of Paul which reject the Lutheran and Reformed understanding of Paul’s battles with Judaism in his day. Luther, via Augustine, assumed that the “works” which Paul spoke against were a kind of Pelagianism or self-help salvation. He did not have much information about the Judaism of Paul’s time and saw his own opponents in the Catholic church as an image of Paul’s battles with his fellow Jews.

To put it simply, here is a contrast of the old way of reading Paul with the new:

OLD: Paul’s opponents believed in a self-help gospel (do good works and earn God’s salvation).
NEW: Paul’s opponents opposed Gentiles beings accepted by God without converting via circumcision (salvation by works).

OLD: God’s purpose is to save some and damn others.
NEW: God’s purpose is to save as many as will respond and use them in his plan to heal the world.

OLD: God gave the Law to teach people they are condemned.
NEW: God gave the Law to bring about goodness in Israel.

OLD: The gospel is about eternal life by belief in the death of Jesus.
NEW: The gospel is eternal life because of the faithfulness of Jesus.

The article in the June issue of Christianity Today goes further in explaining the distinctions between N.T. Wright (NEW) and John Piper (OLD) about Paul and the meaning of justification in the Bible.

How does this affect congregations on the practical level? I think it is a vital difference. The old perspective is reflected in the long-standing and lamentable evangelical tradition in which the teaching of the church is week in and week out a lesson in how to attain eternal life. If you have been a part of a church which preaches salvation each week, you know how monotonous and unsatisfying this can be for those who desire to grow in knowledge and application of Biblical righteousness.

Here is the part of the article in which I am quoted. Rush to your bookstore (might have to be a Christian bookstore) to get the June issue. It may eventually be on the Christianity Today magazine website as well:

But even those two concepts do not adequately describe the Chris-
tian gospel, said Derek Leman, rabbi of a Messianic Jewish congrega-
tion in Atlanta. “The issue is God redeeming and bringing to perfect
consummation all things and calling us to be part of it, a process which
begins with justification. Justification is entering school, not graduating
from it. I do not make the focus of my teaching how to be justified, a
point I regard as elementary and to be moved far beyond,” he said.
Additionally, Leman said, “as a Messianic Jewish [church’s]
leader, it is important to me to keep issues of Jewish and Gentile
identity in the New Testament at the forefront—something I feel
Wright does far better than Piper.”


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christian, Gospel, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Paul, the New Perspective, and a C.T. Article

  1. mchuey says:

    The NPP is certainly something that opens up many doors for re-examining various passages in Paul’s letters of Galatians and Romans. It cannot be ignored. While not a highly creative title, the book The New Perspective of Paul is a compilation of most of the articles by James D.G. Dunn on the subject, from the 1980s to the present. If anyone wants to engage with the various proposals, this would be an excellent addition to your library.

    Much easier to follow, though, is Wright’s Paul in Fresh Perspective.


  2. jonboze says:

    “OLD: The gospel is about eternal life by belief in the death of Jesus.
    NEW: The gospel is eternal life because of the faithfulness of Jesus.”

    I especially like that one. The first time I saw “faith in Christ” rendered as “the faithfulness of Christ,” (NET bible) I could feel my whole perspective shift. Good post.

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