Thursday, June 10, 2010

Dissension Amongst Protestant Theologians :- New Perspective on Paul

Two years ago, in my post titled Protestant Theologians Re-Examining St. Paul and Justification, I commented on what is now being commonly referred to as the New Perspective on Paul.  I have recently come to learn that this New Perspective on Paul is causing much more controversy in Protestant circles than I could have anticipated.

Every month, me and some Protestant and Catholic friends get together to discuss theology.  The last time we met, we spent a little bit of time discussing the New Perspective on Paul, which is currently being promoted by many renowned Protestant theologians (Angilcan Bishop of Durham N.T. Wright, James G. Dunn, E.P. Sanders, Krister Stendahl).  I had recently read about the conversion of Dr. A. David Anders, to the Catholic Church in the May 2010 issue of the Coming Home Network Newsletter, and he mentioned that the New Perspective on Paul played a role in his conversion.

He writes,

According to Stendhal and others, justification by faith is primarily about Jew and Gentile relations, not about the role of morality as a condition of eternal life...My discovery of this “New Perspective” was a watershed in my understanding of Scripture. I saw, to begin with, that the “New Perspective” was the “Old Perspective” of the earliest Church Fathers. I began testing it against my own reading of Paul and found that it made sense. It also resolved the long-standing tension that I had always felt between Paul and the rest of the Bible. Even Luther had had difficulty in reconciling his reading of Paul with the Sermon on the Mount, the Epistle of St. James, and the Old Testament. Once I tried on the “New Perspective” this difficulty vanished. Reluctantly, I had to accept that the Reformers were wrong about justification. [1]

During the meeting with my friends, I asked them if they have ever heard about the New Perspective on Paul and what do they think about it.  One of my Protestant friends, who is a chaplain, had heard of it, and mentioned that it is causing a stir in the Evangelical Protestant community as a whole.  This, of course furthered my curiosity in the matter.  I decided to see what exactly my Evangelical Protestant brothers and sisters were having a hard time with, in regard to this New Perspective.

I happened upon a letter written by Dr. Bryan Chappell, who is the President and Professor of Practical Theology at Covenant Theological Seminary, titled An Explanation of the New Perspective on Paul.  In it, he has many positive things to say about the New Perspective including [2]:

  • We are not saved alone
  • Saving faith is not alone
  • The sacraments are not signs alone
  • The Bible is not propositions alone
However, as a Christian in the Presbyterian tradition, he does have some concerns about this New Perspective.  Namely [2]:
  • An unnecessary and dangerous ambiguity regarding the nature of justification
  • An unnecessary and dangerous lack of clarity regarding what the sacraments accomplish
  • An unnecessary and dangerous eagerness to critique historic understanding rather than enrich it
There are so many reactions that I am having to this subject that unfortunately, I do not have the time now to get into all of them.   Instead, I am going to save those reactions for different posts.

Overall, I find this ground swell occurring in Protestant circles very interesting and the impact will hopefully be felt by many.  Think about it.  The New Perspective is causing Protestants to consider the possibility that the Reformers were not right in how they were interpreting Paul.  Can you imagine the impact that may have one someone's faith?  If not, just ask Dr. A. David Anders....

God bless...

[1] - Coming Home Network May 2010 Newsletter - Dr. A David Anders
[2] - An Explanation of the New Perspective on Paul - Dr. Bryan Chapell

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Recommended Read: How John Calvin Made Me a Catholic

Living in a predominantly Calvinistic city, I found the article, How John Calvin Made Me a Catholic by Dr. David Anders, a very interesting read.  Here are some quotes that struck me:

I discovered that Calvin upset my Evangelical view of history. I had always assumed a perfect continuity between the Early Church, the Reformation and my Church. The more I studied Calvin, however, the more foreign he seemed, the less like Protestants today. This, in turn, caused me to question the whole Evangelical storyline: Early Church – Reformation – Evangelical Christianity, with one seamless thread running straight from one to the other. But what if Evangelicals really weren’t faithful to Calvin and the Reformation? The seamless thread breaks. And if it could break once, between the Reformation and today, why not sooner, between the Early Church and the Reformation? 

Calvin shocked me by rejecting key elements of my Evangelical tradition. Born-again spirituality, private interpretation of Scripture, a broad-minded approach to denominations – Calvin opposed them all. I discovered that his concerns were vastly different, more institutional, even more Catholic. Although he rejected the authority of Rome, there were things about the Catholic faith he never thought about leaving. He took for granted that the Church should have an interpretive authority, a sacramental liturgy and a single, unified faith.

I would highly recommend reading this article.