Thursday, August 25, 2005

The New Perspective on Paul

From Carl Trueman's lecture, A Man More Sinned Against than Sinning? The Portrait of Martin Luther in Contemporary New Testament Scholarship: Some Casual Observations of a Mere Historian:

Let us be quite clear about what is going on. These people define themselves not just by their careful exegesis of Pauline texts but also by their rejection of the Augustinian and Lutheran trajectories on justification. That is what they consider to be an essential part of what makes them so special, and what makes their contribution so important. What they are proposing in consequence is that the whole Western tradition has for most of the last two millennia been fundamentally wrong- headed about justification.

That is a claim which is staggering in its theological implications and awesome in its ecclesiological consequences. It requires that we be very cautious and careful before we embrace it with open arms. They could, of course, be correct; but surely these earth-shattering implications place them under obligation to deal seriously with the relevant primary texts of the tradition and to demonstrate in their analysis of them the same exegetical and historical sensitivity which they boast of as distinguishing their approach to the New Testament? To reject the entire tradition on the basis of am apparent bibliography that would look less than thin at the end of an undergraduate assignment is a move that can only be described as one of breath taking arrogance and awesome irresponsibility. Reject Luther and the tradition if you wish; but first make sure you know what it is that you are rejecting. And that requires studying primary texts in historical context.

This leads me to my final comment. The story is told of Bernard Shaw being taken to see the lights of Las Vegas late one night. 'It must be beautiful,' he commented, 'if you can't read.' I confess that the New Perspective approach to Luther strikes me a little that way. It too must be beautiful, but only if you don't know the primary texts. Its portrait of the Reformer certainly appears persuasive and impressive but that is because of the confidence with which it is presented to an audience whose culture generally considers novelty a good thing and tradition to be bad. A close examination of his theology in context reveals this portraits manifest deficiencies and palpable errors.

Read the whole thing.