Saturday, November 12, 2005

Weighing criticisms of the 'New Perspective' – Pt. 2

A second line of criticism against the 'New Perspective' (NP) involves taking issue with the association of justification simply with the ethnic issue of how Gentiles can be 'people of God' like Jews. That's just not central enough!

As I mentioned in the first part in this small series, Stuhlmacher, in Revisiting Paul's Doctrine of Justification, is at pains to argue that the doctrine of justification grows out of the early Christian confession that Christ 'died for our sins'; it was not magic-ed out of insignificance to deal with mere contingent problems in Galatia and Antioch. Its roots go far deeper. Indeed, as Kim would have us believe, our topic can be traced right back to the Damascus Christophany. Of course, such concerns as these are often Germanic in flavour (… remember that bloke called Luther), and reflect the horroried reaction to a displacing of justification from its rightful centre stage in Pauline theology. And sensibilities have been all the more tenderised since Schweitzer's famous 'subsidiary crater' talk.

Just a few thoughts:
  1. If we speak of the roots of justification, we are surely speaking of the heuristic concepts that Paul applied to develop his teaching on justification. And if that is all that is being said, I'm not sure how this would be a criticism of the NP.
  2. While the roots of Paul's doctrine of justification may indeed go deep, the way in which we find it presented in Galatians and Romans is the matter on the table. And in these contexts, the NP arguably makes a good deal of sense in terms of Gentile / Jew relations. A study of what Paul means by 'the truth of the gospel' (Gal 2:5,14), should help make that clear.
  3. As suggested in the previous post in this series, we ought not divide what Paul holds together. The death and resurrection of Christ is about faith-community formation in anticipation and outworking of new creation. In other words, Paul's talk of justification in Galatians, understood in light of the NP, is necessarily about the cross and resurrection and its dealing with sin. Death and resurrection isn't 'over here', with a more social understanding of justification 'over there'. In fact, this may be so blatantly obvious to Paul, it would even be inappropriate to speak of the doctrine of justification 'growing' from the story of Christ's death and resurrection. It is a slower process for us simply because we are trying to think the thoughts of someone very different from us in time, space, world-view and culture.
  4. Besides, I suspect that Stuhlmacher may be over-pressing the 'died for sins' motif. Let me explain before my German friends run me through with a stake, or burn me tied to one. Gal 2:19-20 states: "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." This isn't merely about some root motif and doctrine, but about a living and vibrant relationship with the risen Christ – albeit one based on his 'self-giving'. And it is the believers' relational belonging to this present and active Christ that intertwines with Paul's doctrine of justification throughout Galatians. Admittedly this paragraph needs unpacking, but this post is already too long.


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