Friday, February 8, 2008


This evening I have been listening to the first lecture on the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) by Dr. Kim Riddlebarger entitled, Why a New Perspective on Paul? What's Wrong With the Old One? which strips the movement down to its bare bones. I highly recommend that anyone interested in the NPP and its implications for the evangelical church take the time to listen to at least some of these lectures. They can be accessed HERE. I have just placed a new category on my sidebar entitled New Perspective on Paul so that this resource and others in this category can be easily found at a later date. I believe this is an issue that is not going to go unfelt in a very broad sense in the evangelical church, and that it is here long-term.

Below are some of the things he said that really caught my attention.

Riddlebarger, in criticism of the NPP, says:

...according to "The Paul Page" (which is pro-NPP) the New Perspective on Paul will help us do the following

1.Better understand Paul and the early church
2.Reconcile contemporary biblical scholarship with theology
3.Build common ground between Catholics and Protestants
4.Improve dialogue between Christians and Jews
5.Flesh out a theological foundation for social justice.

Riddlebarger repeats the first two and says:

Then...Look at 3, 4, and 5 - Build common ground between Catholics and Protestants. That's not on my agenda. I don't know if it's on yours, but it's not on mine, and the reason is because until Rome repents of the decrees and canons and the Counsel of Trent I view Rome as a false church...Improve dialogue between the Christians and Jews which is very important in the ecumenical climate of today because the surest way to lose your job today as an evangelical Bible scholar is to be at a university and say Jews aren't going to heaven, you're gone...and so there's a real pressure here to establish ecumenical ties and to speak of evangelical Christianity in a way that does not offend Jews...and that's part of the problem. And then fifth, this is where the New Perspective is going, and the latest writings of N.T. Wright are headed in this direction: to flesh out a theological foundation for social justice. So where is New Perspective going to ultimately take us? To ethics. And N.T. Wright, in his latest stuff, ...has come out and ripped the Bush administration, ripped the United States for it's Iraq policy, which is fine with me - fair enough, it's fair game for discussion, but he does it in the name of Paul. Why? Because Jesus came to conquer principalities and powers. He didn't come to save us from sin, he came to triumph over the forces of paganism, and to truimph over the pricipalities and powers and what's the greatest manifestation of these principalities and powers in the world today? - Don Rumsfeld and George Bush and the United States military in Iraq. So that's where this is going to go. It's going to have a conservative political/theological sound to it, but at the end of the day it's now being enlisted to serve the left-wing political position. Whether that's right or wrong is irrelevent, the fact that it's being enlisted for that end ought to tell something about its true nature."

It is interesting that this really ends up with a political agenda and has strong implications politically. The proponents of the NPP are social activists above all in their theology. This is where their theology takes them. He mentions that it becomes about ethics. It really comes down to focusing on doing good works and leaves the message of the cross out of the picture or minimizes it. They want to make Christ Lord, but not Savior. They want to reform society so that they can build a physical kingdom of God on earth, because they don't believe in a literal second coming of Christ, or believe that He will only return when Christians "possess the land".

Riddlebarger later says this about their erroneous views on Judaism and justification ~

...the revision of Second Temple Judaism and New Perspective folks argue that Judaism is not legalistic. That's the work of E.P. Sanders. That Israel practiced a religion of what was called "covenental nomism", that we are in by grace, we stay in by obedience, and that God has provided means of atonement, and so on, for the people in the (Jewish) covenant. And so New Perspective is saying that we get in by grace, we stay in by obedience...and so justification gets completely redefined. Instead of there being a right standing before a holy God, justification is the identification of who's in the church. It doesn't have anything to do with individual salvation. It has to do with who is in the convenantal community and who's not.

Justification essentially becomes a process rather than a one-time legal declaration and imputation of the righteousness of Christ (in NPP theology). It becomes something that must be maintained by the believer rather than by Christ. There is a confusion between justification, and sanctification, which is progressive. According to Scripture, justification happens once, sanctification is ongoing, and both happen through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is one of the main theological corrections of the Reformation, and now the NPP attempts to undo that correction by saying that Martin Luther was culturally biased and misunderstood Paul. As I have examined this issue it is abundantly clear that Luther got this one right, even though he made other errors (baptismal regeneration, for instance), that he understood Paul correctly. It is Wright and his contemporaries who get it wrong on this one, when you examine the entirety of what Scripture says on this topic and when you examine the New Covenant in His blood and who it applies to ~ all people, not just the Gentiles. Salvation, Old Testament and New Testament, for Jews and Gentiles, was salvation by grace through faith. There was never salvation in law-keeping, which is the religion of the Pharisees. The law had its purpose - the law was a tutor or schoolmaster lead us to Christ. Abraham had faith in the promised One before the law was even given, and so it is with all who have faith in Him and are received by Him. See Galatians, the entire third chapter.

In answer to a question later on, he talks about the NPP's problem with their understanding of salvation, how they believe in corporate salvation rather than individual salvation, and that they have trouble explaining the atonement and the purpose of Christ's death (as in Colossians 2). They have trouble understanding that Christ's righteousness is imputed to those who accept it by faith, contrary to the Jews of Christ's day who thought they were righteous because they kept the law.

In answer to a question about the NPP being a threat against the gospel ~

New Perspective is a real challenge because it argues that justification is not about the imputation of Christ's righteousness to the sinner, but justification is about God's actions being righteous. God has acted righteously, and you believe in God, therefore, you are righteous. That just guts all those passages in Romans 3 and 4 and Galatians 3 and just empties them of any meaning, so that's one place that the gospel is under direct assault.

Riddlebarger says:

"New Perspective's here to stay."

He closes in prayer:

Our gracious God and Father we are thankful for the gospel that you have revealed in the New Testament. That gospel with great power and clarity reminds us that your gospel is about our individual salvation and it is about the salvation of your people , that it is about Christ's triumph over the principalities and powers, that it's all of these things, not just one. So Father, we're thankful for that reminder that Jesus Christ has indeed done for us what we could not do for ourselves, that He has taken people from every race and tribe and tongue under heaven and made them one because He has died for them, because He has borne Your wrath and punishment in His own body, because He fulfilled all righteousness and that righteousness is imputed to us. So Father we're thankful for the gospel and for its great clarity and we pray that as we work through these matters our understanding of that gospel would grow and we would come to greater and greater clarity of your Word. So Father we're thankful for this and we ask and pray this in Christ's name. Amen.

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