The other day I posted about the so-called New Perspective on Paul. It seems the hubbub is partially due to the Presbyterian Church in America’s recent statement that the New Perspective is not in conformity with the Westminster Standards. Now, I’m sure that the Westminster Standards (the Westminster Confession of Faith, The Westminster Shorter Catechism, The Westminster Larger Catechism, and The Directory of Public Worship) are nifty documents. However, at the risk of offending a few people, I just want to remind everyone that they are not Holy Scripture. They’re just an outline of Reformed (Calvinist) theology.
I’ve come to understand a lot of things about the Church over the years. One thing I’ve never been able to understand is the kind of allegiance people have to Reformed doctrine. Seriously, it amazes me. It’s like you don’t really need the Bible anymore, because you’ve got a systematic theology.
Most people who are upset with the NP appear to be from Reformed camps. Apparently the NP upsets the fine balance of the Reformed theological system, which apparently is “irreducibly complex;” you remove one piece, and it crumbles. The argument against the New Perspective actually goes like this: If the Jews didn’t rely on the Law of Moses for salvation (justification), then Paul’s teaching of “grace, not Law” means something different, and we’ve lost the Gospel (way oversimplified, but you get the idea). Not having a Reformed bone in my body, I don’t have the same issues. I instead find that NT Wright’s version of the NP actually expands the understanding of justification, and I see the Gospel firmly in place.
Christianity Today has an article this month by Simon Gathercole titled What Did Paul Really Mean?, which is an interesting look at the issue. One major flaw in Gathercole’s article (my opinion, of course) is that he lumps all of the NP folks together, so that his criticisms are way too general to really be effective. However, it’s still an interesting piece for anyone who likes to actually study the Bible, rather than just rely on a theological system.