Paul’s New Perspective

Those who walk down the middle of the road, it is said, are likely to get run over by both sides. That is where Garwood Anderson has chosen to daringly place himself in his Paul’s New Perspective. In the current debate on justification between those who hold to the Traditional Protestant Perspective (TPP) and the New Perspective on Paul (NPP), Anderson charts a third way.

Generally

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adherents of the TPP see justification as the essence of Paul’s theology concerning how humans get right with or are reconciled to God (“get saved”). It becomes the central, driving metaphor regarding God’s work in Christ around which all other terms orbit. For many interpreters, “Justification is like a person with three full-time jobs surrounded on every side by the underemployed” (384).

The NPP offers a helpful corrective to, on the one hand, unnecessarily narrowing justification to individualistic concerns. They see justification as covenantal membership. On the other hand, the NPP views the Christ event as being even more expansive than justification, while including that. Paul’s much larger vision is that God’s purpose is to bring all of creation, both seen and unseen, together in Christ.

What does Anderson think of all this? That both perspectives are right–just not at the same time. Both see true aspects of Paul’s thinking, but Paul emphasized them at different times as his own thinking developed. Both the TPP and the NPP tend to see all of Paul’s letters (or at least the undisputed ones) has having been written in a very short span. Therefore, they are often studied as virtually a single work. Anderson contends that the letters were written over a longer span and show development in Paul’s thinking, though without changing his mind. Paul began with a specific idea that Torah obedience (“works of the law”) is not able to reconcile us to God and later expanded this idea to cover any kind of merit.

As

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Anderson argues, “Justification is the language of choice when at stake is the place of Gentiles in the covenant or the relationship of Jews and Gentiles to each other” (284). When his concern broadens, so does his vocabulary. In Paul’s later writings, for example, he uses salvation to describe ultimate deliverance from wrath to come and a restoration that is also forthcoming. Salvation, the larger term, includes justification (308). In addition, Anderson contends, Galatians is not a brief summary of Romans, despite having certain features in common. It was written significantly earlier with Romans showing important developments in his thinking.

To summarize: “The thesis of this study is that the [NPP] is Paul’s oldest perspective and that the ‘old’ perspective [TPP] describes what would become (more or less) Paul’s settled ‘new’ perspective (p. 379).

One of the values of the book is the very clear summary of the TPP/NPP debate which has been going on in academic circles for at least fifty years, some aspects of which have recently reached into the congregational level. Anderson then gets to his own constructive proposal in the second half of the book. For students and others ready to go deeper, here is a worthwhile resource.

Another virtue is Anderson’s attention to style, making the book a pleasure to read throughout. Even his footnotes benefit from this, as when he says: “I realize that I risk diving into deeper hermeneutical water here than my swimming ability justifies” (385).

Speaking of risk, is Anderson’s project worth the threat of getting hit by traffic going both ways? I think it is.

Author: Andy Le Peau

I've been an editor and writer for over forty years. I am passionate about ideas and how we can express them clearly, beautifully, and persuasively. I love reading good books, talking about them, and recommending them. I thoroughly enjoy my family who help me continue on the path of a lifelong learner.

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