Monday, March 30, 2009

The New Perspective and the Wesleyan Tradition

If I were to write a chapter or essay on the question, "The New Perspective and the Wesleyan Tradition," it became clear to me this weekend how I think I would structure it. Here is the outline:

1. What is the "new" perspective?
  • First, at this point of the game, calling the trends of this essay "the new perspective" is probably unhelpful. All that is meant by the term is 1) the re-appraisal of the nature of Judaism that took place in the late twentieth century in the light of new discoveries and, especially, some harsh political mirrors held up to the West, and 2) the re-appraisal of exactly what Paul was saying in this light.
  • Hardly anyone--not even those high level scholars who resist these trends--has been unaffected. Even those who are more "old perspective" have changed. The only ones who have not changed are those who do not really read Paul with a view to what he original meant at all, but almost entirely read him through traditional glasses (e.g., John Piper, who for this reason does not completely count as a scholar of the original meaning).
2. Krister Stendahl, Paul, and Introspective Consciences
  • Stendahl's (a Lutheran) main contribution was to show the falseness of the Lutheran model of Paul as so vexed with his guilty conscience that he finally turned to justification by faith alone, understood as having nothing to do with action at all. Rather, Paul had a "robust conscience" both before and after he believed on Christ. His turning to Christ was more of a call to the Gentiles than a conversion and in any case was not in his mind a conversion from one religion to another.
  • Romans 7 thus was not Paul's current struggle with sin, an acknowledgement made now even by the most prominent original meaning scholars in the Calvinist tradition (e.g., Moo).
  • The end result is that Paul had a much greater emphasis on a blameless life than the primary representatives of Protestantism had allowed.
3. E. P. Sanders, Judaism, and Staying In
  • If Stendahl and others opened the door, Sanders gave critical mass to the recognition that Judaism almost always had acknowledged the primacy of God's grace over Jews being able to earn God's favor. The Jews did not understand keeping the Law to get them in but to be the appropriate response to God's grace and essential for staying in the covenant.
  • This schema fits well with both Calvinist and Arminian understandings of post-justification righteousness. The Spirit empowers us to keep the righteous requirements of the Law after we have been justified by faith. However, it is the Arminian tradition that correctly understands the importance of blamelessness for staying in after justification by faith.
4. James D. G. Dunn, Paul, and Works of Law
  • Dunn correctly has recognized that "works of Law" in Paul are not best understood as bald "works" in general. Most of the time, the phrase "works of Law" has overtones of the Jewish particulars of the Law rather than law-keeping in some general sense. This recognition significantly diminishes the Protestant polarization of faith and works.
  • Dunn also has shown the lack of focus in readings of Paul that focus on some supposed absolute moral perfection being God's expectation. This is a reading of a verses like Galatians 3:10 or 5:3 that puts an artificial emphasis on "all" or "whole," as if Paul is painting a picture of God's character in which he must have justice for every last drop of sin. But God's justice is not the centerpiece or fountain of Paul's theology, or of the theology of any part of the New Testament. God's righteousness has more to do in Paul with God's proactive character in saving His people and the world, which fits very well with Wesleyan theology.
5. N. T. Wright and (Final) Justification
  • Wright's primarily contribution, in terms of Wesleyan-Arminian theology, is his recognition of the importance of works in final justification, chiefly in passages like Romans 2:5-10; 14:10-12; and 2 Corinthians 5:10. Wright also correctly sees the Spirit as establishing in reality what God does on the basis of faith when one first believes on Christ. The missing piece for Wright is the importance of blamelessness for "staying in."
  • Wright follows in the train of the majority who now see Romans 1:16 as a reference to God's righteousness rather than some righteousness from God, which again fits with a greater emphasis on love as the driving characteristic of God in salvation, not a drive to work around His justice.

6. Conclusion

  • These developments thus support love (righteousness) as the central character of God in relation to salvation, not God's justice.
  • They point out the importance of literal righteousness as a product of the Spirit, essential for final justification, that faith and works are not contradictory.
  • They recognize that Romans 7 is in fact exactly the opposite of the situation of the believer. It is exactly the problem that the Spirit solves for the believer.

6 comments:

Angie Van De Merwe said...

The NT was written to maintain solidarity for "all humanity", thus, the writers of the NT used "love" as a solidifying term which was loaded by the NT writings.

Love is not the word for "world politics", justice is. The church as a "speicific community" used "love" in personal terms, for social control of the community. But, love that is not based in equality, is not love or loving because it is not just...

Therefore, "staying in" was a choice of being "obedient" to the demands of "social control" determined by the text, or community of faith.

This is why those who challenged the social control of the Church in the past either through the questions of Luther or the discoveries of Galileo were "ex-communicated". But, it has always been so, look at Socrates.

Truth is personal value that is played out within the political realm. Luther thought that the absolute power of Church authorities in mis-using their "religious jargon" to maintain "social control" over the individual consciences of others was immoral. I do, too! This is why I question "religious tradition", in general.

All scientific discoveries have challenged the Church's understanding of pivotal "truths", whether the natural world or the human person. And thus, the science/religion interface.

As to your thoughts about justice in the NT...religion maintains "social order" and "social control" therefore, it is a conventional level of moral development. Justice is a more refined and developed way of understanding morality and ethics. And our nation's understanding of the "rule of law" is the highest value or moral level of understanding justice. Love is just, otherwise, it is not love.

Ken Schenck said...

Angie, when you are writing on your own topic and on your own playing field, your thoughts are often very cogent and even insightful. I am able to follow them.

I'm not sure if you realize, however, that you chronically take the words of others and then run with them in ways completely foreign to what they were talking about. Your comment here, for example, would be like if someone was telling me about being in a car wreck and I were to begin to talk about motion and forces and the anatomy of the face.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Point well taken, I will have to "discipline myself", though..because I don't often see how anyone cannot follow what I am saying, as I presuppose others know all my connecting ideas...

Your point about blamelessness as to God's righteousness, the individual must determine and decide how that righteousness is lived out. Or otherwise, choose to negotiate what that means in his real life. Negotiation means that the individual is of significance in relation to God, and others, which communal understandings sometimes disallow.

There should be no attempt to undermine or de-value an individual's own voice in this process (of what, where and how), otherwise, there is determinism, which is outside force upon another life, which is immoral. And this is even the case when it is for the "cause of Christ" or for "virtue ethics", as this determining of purpose is, again socialistic, which does not allow individual self-governance.

The Scriptures cannot be used in today's world of understanding justice, as the Scriptures were written within a tribal, communal understanding of life, apart from coming to understand science and all of its implications upon the text.

I think the problem becomes when you are talking in one "world" and using those terms ideas, values, and limiting another "world".

Harper said...

Sorry, Angie, I have to second what Ken said...and you're doing it again in your reply...I kind of get where you're coming from, and your thoughts about your favourite issues are interesting to interact with by themselves. But when you re-define Ken's words and terms to fit your paradigms, then Ken's voice is lost. Ken sounds like you rather than Ken, and he definitely did not mean what you were saying...

Heh. Doing some Literature modules now...and encountering Saussure and Barthes...watching this dialogue between the both of you is like watching their theories in action. Pretty cool beans.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Harper, I recognized that when I used the word "world" and Ken's living within it, I was doing the same thing in using my "world". I can but live in my "world" because I believe it is a "better way" of understanding the complexity of life without dissolving the importance of the individual.

I think you are right when it comes to postmodernity...

billy v said...

great job giving a succinct outline to the issues, thanks