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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.