An Audio-Visual Primer on the New Perspective on Paul

What is the New Perspective on Paul?

Over the last few months, this subject along with the biblical doctrine of justification has caught a lot of media attention.  From the release of John Piper’s book on the subject confronting N.T. Wright (2007), to Wright’s response (2009), to the series of panels and discussions found here at SBTS (2009), there is much that has been said. 

In case you haven’t had the chance to keep up with the discussion–one that is important and having an impact in the church already (think: Rob Bell and Brian McLaren)– here is your chance.   Here is a run-down of four online resources that can help fill in the gaps and get a handle on the New Perspective, which really isn’t new at all (read Galatians).

(1) Last Spring, Dean of Boyce College, Denny Burk led a panel discussion on the subject of N.T. Wright’s new book, Assessing the Piper-Wright Debate on JustificationBurk was joined by SBTS professors Tom Schreiner, Mark Seifrid, and Brian Vickers.

(2) As a follow up, on September 8, 2009, Albert Mohler led a panel discussion with SBTS Professors Tom Schreiner, Mark Seifrid, Denny Burk, Brian Vickers and N.T. Wright and the Doctrine of Justification. VideoAudio.

(3) Just before the panel on-campus, Albert Mohler, on his radio program, interviewed John Piper and Ligon Duncan to converse about justification by faith and the New Perpective on Paul.  The Challenge Of The New Perspective To Biblical Justification (August 27, 2009).

(4) Today, Tom Schreiner lectured on this subject as well.  Here are his 4 majors points:

  1. Proponents of the New Perspective are too optimistic in their re-constructions of Second Temple Judaism.  
  2. The New Perspective misreads the works of the laws, even if they contribute some helpful nuances in understanding the Judaism into which Christ and Christianity was born.
  3. The New Perspective wrongly argues that Paul was only called, not converted.  In truth, Paul saw a radical distinction between his life before and after his Damascus Road encounter with the risen Christ (cf. Acts 9, 22, 26).
  4. The New Perspective misunderstands justification as being only covenantal faithfulness.  The righteousness of God fulfills the covenant through judgment and salvation, but justification is not co-extensive with covenant faithfulness.

(The audio is not up yet (9/16/2009), but will be soon.  Check SBTS Resources).

In sum, the New Perspective on Paul is a major issue in New Testament studies, systematic theology, and in the church at large today.  Through the popular works of N.T. Wright it is becoming more mainstream as it appeals to growing anti-Western notions in society and as it diminishes the God’s justice meted out on those whose sin offends his holiness.  That is news that every sinner wants to hear, its just not the biblical gospel (cf. Rom. 1:1-7).  In the end, it redefines and distorts grace.

The New Perspective, as a theological subject, is one that faithful teachers of God’s word should become conversant with, in order to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. 

Suggested Bibliography (in chronological order):

Thomas Schreiner, The Law and Its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law (1993)

D.A. Carson, P.T. O’Brien, and Mark Seifrid (eds.), Justification and Variegated Nominism: Volume I: Complexities of 2nd Temple Judaism. (2001)

D.A. Carson, P.T. O’Brien, and Mark Seifrid (eds.), Justification and Variegated Nominism: Volume II: Paradoxes in Paul. (2004)

Stephen Westerholm, Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The ‘Lutheran’ Paul and His Critics (2004)

Brian Vickers, Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Imputation (2006)

John Piper, The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright. (2007)

N.T. Wright, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision (2009)

By Grace Alone, Through Faith Alone, dss