Monday, June 8, 2009

Clowney on the New Perspective

As I'm working through the Preaching Christ in a Postmodern World podcast, Ed Clowney made the following observation regarding the New Perspective on Paul*:

Romans 4:13: For not through the Law was the promise made to Abraham or to his Seed, that He should be heir of the world, but through the righteousness of faith. For if they that are of the Law are made heirs, faith is made void and the promise is made of none effect. For the Law works wrath, but where there is no Law, neither is there transgression.

So, you see the Law works wrath because it exposes our sin, it stimulates our sin, it bars the way to life, it condemns us, it shows us we can't do it and it's all because it is given--in the history of redemption--to point us forward to the fulfillment of the promise. That's all! Galatians says--Paul says this in Galatians all the time, doesn't he? He keeps talking about the time of the Spirit. The coming of the Spirit. Life through the Spirit. And Paul's doctrine then, is against the works righteousness of the synagogue.

Now, I know the arguments made by Sanders and others that we've had a wrong take on the Pharisees; that they were really very much into grace. You can quote rabbis that show grace in things they say.

I mean, c'mon, we're hearing from a guy who was one!
I'd have to agree with Clowney, that though New Perspective theology may be academically stimulating and intriguing, it just seems to deny arguments that Paul is making. Consider:
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.--Romans 3:28

Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.--Galatians 2:16
It sure seems like Paul understood second temple Judaism to be works-oriented. Acts 2 tells us that many priests came to know Christ, so it should not be surprising to find some teachers who would be oriented toward grace. However, we should remember that all of humanity, since the time when Satan tempted Adam and Eve to strive for god-likeness, that man has attempted to work his way to God.

*The New Perspective on Paul is a view that says most Jews at the time of Christ did not believe they were justified by their works but depended on God's grace for justification. This view attempts to bridge the gap between Catholics and protestants formed during the Reformation, by stating both sides get the text slightly wrong. It claims the purpose of Romans and Galatians is more racial unity and how people should act once in the church, rather than explaining how one becomes part of the church. NT Wright is probably the biggest advocate of a New Perspective, and John Piper has a well-written response to NT Wright, if you'd like to investigate further.

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