Thursday, July 9, 2009

No More “New Perspective” (for me, anyway)

On the theological front, I have been reading (and listening to podcasts of) a relatively young but brilliant British scholar named Simon Gathercole, a fellow at Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge. Gathercole takes a modified traditional reformed position toward the “New Perspective on Paul,” the latter being an insight into the problem of justification in Paul’s writings, based on work in the ‘70s by E.P. Sanders and popularized of late by N.T. Wright. Broadly speaking, the New Perspective says that justification is about “getting in” and, more precisely, “staying in” the covenant people of God. “Boundary markers” like Sabbath observance, circumcision and kosher dining are, in the age of the indwelling Holy Spirit, no longer necessary to distinguish the family of God.

Gathercole agrees with that statement so far as it goes; but he criticizes the baggage that tends to accompany the New Perspective: a downplaying of the severity of personal sin, a muddying of the importance of the atonement, and a slide toward universalism, or what he more specifically designates as “non-conversionism,” i.e., the gospel being not so much about converting lost souls to the sin-bearing Redeemer as inclusion of people in God’s great big happy family.

To get a sense of the issues involved, one can listen to a slightly meandering but nonetheless fascinating discussion with Gathercole and his colleague, biblical textual scholar Peter J. Williams, here (at the time of the interview both men were teaching at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland; both are now at Cambridge).


Anonymous said...

Try substituting "Body of Christ" for "God's great big happy family" and see if the sentence makes the same sense. Anyone who thinks that it does probably agrees with the author's assertion that the Church is "an assembly of individuals." Herein lies the problem with "conversionism."

Chuck said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chuck said...

To be clear, when I wrote "God's great big happy family" I had in mind the current attitude of those liberal, Protestant denominations like TEC that (with the exception of a few faithful parishes and dioceses) no longer believe the Bible, in sin, in the identity of the Person and work of Christ, the uniqueness and claims of the gospel, ad infinitum...

Regarding conversionism, I reckon that persuasion at some level draws a person into the Church, or holds him there if he was raised in it.

I'll probably have more to say about Mr. Gathercole. His view of the role of works in final justification is rather different from the mainstream reformed view. I need to read his book Where is Boasting, first.

Anonymous said...

The best parts of NPP point the way to an authentically covenantal theology, away from the unbiblical schemas that the Reformed, for instance, foist upon God's election and salvation.

Calvinism and the Evangelicalism it has spawned (including the anti-Calvinistic versions), is structurally warped by individualism and conversionism.

The Covenant theology of Calvinism really undermines the Covenant, and NPP, despite the errors to which its various proponents subscribe, helps to regain some biblical perspective on election and salvation.

NPP / Federal Vision points to the way, while not itself being the way.