Weighing criticisms of the 'New Perspective' – Pt. 1
One of the main criticisms levied against the 'New Perspective' understanding of Paul's teaching on justification involves a critique of Sanders' 'covenantal nomism'. Sanders' understanding of the variety of first century Judaism(s) simply cannot handle, it is argued, a judgement 'according to works' (cf. e.g. 4 Ezra 8, 4QMMT and the papers in Justification and Variegated Nomism, Carson etc.).
But is a gracious-covenantal framework for understating YHWH's relation to Israel incompatible with a 'judgement according to works'?
1) For starters, 'judgement according to works' is, of course, part of the Christian tradition (cf. Matt 25:31-46; Rom 2:5-11, 2 Cor 5:9-10 etc.).
2) Additionally, a possible solution perhaps involves a reconsideration of what the purpose of the gracious-covenantal election is. What is election for? If it is for the glory of God by being for the good of this world, then surely such election itself determines the necessity for a judgement according to works. And by works, I mean those actions that encourage and strengthen 'community building', neighbourly love, with the goal of new creation.
2) Furthermore, I suspect that this apparent criticism of Sanders only makes sense if the meaning of covenant itself is misunderstood. OT scholars have long been insisting that the covenant is a relational concept (cf. especially Eichrodt and Vriezen). Paul's letters demonstrate that he saw new creation being anticipated and the lordship of Christ effected through believers adopting a new relation to the risen Lord (faith, devotion). It was this relation/ship that fuelled and was itself the goal of this risen lordship (cf. eg. Rom 14:7-9) that Paul so passionately preached. Transformation is part of the new covenant relation with God in Christ – even is the new covenant relationship. This covenant relationship is for, fuels, and is itself 'good works' understood beyond a mere individualistic and economical privileged western perspective. This is why justification in Paul's letters can simultaneously be linked not just to the contingencies of the status of Gentile and Jew as people of God in the province of Galatia, but also, as Stuhlmacher rightly insists, to the meaning of the death and resurrection of Christ (cf. his Revisiting Paul's Doctrine of Justification).
This criticism of Sanders arguably sunders apart what should be firmly and necessarily forever joined.