Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Protestant Theologians Re-Examining St. Paul and Justification

There are some recent developments within Protestant Theology regarding understanding St. Paul's writings - especially on the topic of Justification.

"A significant number of authors, including Kirster Stendahl, E. P. Sanders, James Dunn, and N. T. Wright, have concluded that the standard accounts of Paul's teaching developed since the Reformation are simply wrong, that they read Paul's conflict with first century Judaizers anachronistically against the Reformers' struggle with the Catholic Church and what they perceived Catholic beliefs to be." (Jimmy Akin, Two from Benedict)

As Jimmy goes on to admit in his blog post, these authors have by no means come to an agreement on what Paul explicitly meant.  However, they do seem to agree

"...that when Paul says we are not justified by works of the Law he does not have in mind the common Protestant claims that we do not earn our position before God or that we do not have to "do anything" for our salvation" (Jimmy Akin, Two from Benedict)

Overall, I find all of this development regarding St. Paul's teaching within the Year of St. Paul to be very ironic.  If you are interested in learning more about this "New Perspective", you can find more information on the Paul Page which has many articles and readings dedicated to this topic.

I find this interesting enough to share, because I believe that this line of thought will help to build bridges of communication between Catholics and Protestants.  In the conclusion of an article that is the summary of this New Perspective, Mark Mattison comments:

"Applying Paul's polemic against Judaizing to any and all "good works" is not a correct appropriation of Paul's teaching. True as it is that no one can "earn" salvation before God, that was not Paul's point, and applying his language that way often involves unintended consequences." (Mark Mattison, A Summary of the New Perspective on Paul)

Similarly, Catholics do not believe that you can earn salvation.  We recognize that it is a free gift from God.  Many of our practices are tools to help us on our journey of sanctification.  We look to the lives of the Saints, our heroes, and use them as examples of how to become more holy.  How did they live?  How did they pray?  What are they trying to teach us in their writings?  These "good works" are worthy of imitation, not condemnation.  And I think that this is what St. Paul would have supported as well.

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