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Definition

The New Perspective on Paul argues that the traditional-Protestant understanding of justification is mistaken; rather than opposing works-righteousness, Paul is, according to the New Perspective, opposing Jewish boundary markers in the New Testament people of God. One standard view within the New Perspective on Paul is that initial justification is by faith and recognizes covenant status (ecclesiology), while final justification is partially by works, albeit works produced by the Spirit.

Summary

The New Perspective on Paul, a major scholarly shift that began in the 1980s, argues that the Jewish context of the New Testament has been wrongly understood and that this misunderstand has led to errors in the traditional-Protestant understanding of justification. According to the New Perspective, the Jewish systems of salvation were not based on works-righteousness but rather on covenantal nomism, the belief that one enters the people of God by grace and stays in through obedience to the covenant. This means that Paul could not have been referring to works-righteousness by his phrase “works of the law”; instead, he was referring to Jewish boundary markers that made clear who was or was not within the people of God. For the New Perspective, this is the issue that Paul opposes in the NT. Thus, justification takes on two aspects for the New Perspective rather than one; initial justification is by faith (grace) and recognizes covenant status (ecclesiology), while final justification is partially by works, albeit works produced by the Spirit. However, Reformed theologians argue that the New Perspective’s reconstruction of the Jewish context is not altogether correct and that it is easy to find examples of works-righteousness that Paul could have been opposing in the NT. Additionally, taking the entire witness of the NT letters (rather than only Romans, Galatians, and Philippians) points towards the traditional-Protestant understanding of justification.

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Evangelical Wonder

In a recent article entitled “Fundamentalism Vs. Wonder,” The American Conservative writer Rod Dreher suggests that evangelicals tend to be hostile to spontaneous expressions of awe and wonder at the grace and power of God. Such expressions are often mystical in nature, because we find ourselves dumbstruck at the mysteries of God. Dreher argues that while this kind of Christian mysticism is “an ordinary part of Catholic and Orthodox theology and spirituality,” evangelicals unfairly pounce upon it with unfounded accusations of New Age heresy. It’s not a new accusation; G. K. Chesterton wrote that where Christ turned water into wine,...

Justification’s Double Liberation

“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” –Lam. 3:24 Our tendency in our evangelical universe is to articulate justification by faith alone morally, for the past (conversion) and future (entrance into heaven), without applying the soothing salve of justification emotionally and psychologically, for the present. We embrace Christ for forgiveness of sins but move on to other ideas and strategies when it comes to our emotional life and the daily pressures that do not lie directly in the “moral” realm. This is a great mistake and a recipe for worried, half-hearted Christians, dabbling...

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N.T. Wright and the Doctrine of Justification

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary sponsored a significant panel discussion entitled “N.T. Wright and the Doctrine of Justification.” Participants included Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Dr. Denny Burk, Dr. Tom Schreiner, Dr. Mark Seifrid, Dr. Brian Vickers. An audio recording and a video download of the panel are available via Southern Equip, and Southern News provides a summary of the highlights of the discussion.

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