Saturday, February 13, 2010

Questions on the NPP

Last night our church hosted a lecture on the New Perspective on Paul, and unfortunately I was not able to attend. This is a teaching I've read a bit about and frankly still don't understand tremendously well, so I was hoping to get some of my questions answered. Since I couldn't go last night and I know some brilliant, well-informed people read the stuff I write (for reasons I can't quite comprehend), I thought I'd throw some of my questions out there and see if anyone can help me out.

1) What if the NPP is correct - how exactly does that change anything about the faith from how it's been passed down (specifically in reformed/protestant/evangelical circles)? How would it change evangelism?

2) If the NPP interpretation of early Romans is correct, how does that lead to the objection of Romans 6? For example, when I'm teaching about the doctrine election, people will generally raise several objections. Frequently these objections will perfectly match the objections Paul raises and answers about election in Romans 9. I think this is a good confirmation that the way I'm presenting this doctrine tracks well with how scripture does, because it brings about the same responses.

Similarly, when teaching through the first five chapters of Romans (or presenting the gospel) in the 'traditional' understanding, one big objection frequently comes up - that we might as well sin all we want if we're forgiven anyway. A natural/logical response to the ideas of sin/wrath/atonement/forgiveness is for people to latch onto the 'forgiveness' part and pervert it into a license to sin (an accusation papists still bring against Christians - much as early unbelievers apparently leveled it against Paul). Romans 6 is Paul's presentation of this objection and his response to it. If Romans 1-5 are understood in the 'traditional' way, it makes perfect sense for this objection to be raised. My question is, if the NPP is true, how does its understanding of 1-5 lead to the objection of 6?

3) Whenever a 'traditional' scholar critiques the NPP, its best-known proponent (NT Wright) will respond by claiming they just don't understand it. Not that they understand and don't agree, nor even that they're intentionally distorting his teachings; no, they're giving a good-faith effort, but they somehow fall short of comprehending. This has come out most clearly in his interactions with John Piper, who Wright credits for diligently studying the NPP and writing the best critique he could, but apparently for some reason he just can't grasp what's being taught (otherwise he'd agree, of course). Don Carson has received similar commendations and rebukes.

Now, by any reasonable measure, Piper and Carson would be considered intelligent and well-educated. Yet both are supposedly incapable of comprehending what the NPP actually says. You will note that never does Wright accuse them of intentional misrepresentation or intellectual laziness. He credits them with honest, good-faith efforts to understand. But they are supposedly incapable of doing so.

So my question is.... can such teaching possibly be the gospel?

Should this not be a huge red flag? The gospel was understood by those who were "not wise according to worldly standards." The poor, uneducated, illiterate slaves of the Roman Empire were fully capable of intellectually grasping the message. It was proclaimed by fishermen who weren't exactly Harvard-edumacated. Those who rejected it are never portrayed as lacking the intellect to comprehend, but lacking the spiritual eyes to embrace. They regard it as folly, not as unintelligible technobabble that flies over their heads.

But in this case, a form of the gospel is presented. Godly scholars, well-educated and intelligent by any measure, make a diligent study of it in order to faithfully re-present its claims. And when they disagree, it's supposedly because the message flies over their heads. Let that sink in. The Bible claims the gospel was easily understood by children and uneducated slaves. This gospel supposedly cannot be understood by godly scholars of the highest order. Something don't line up.


Buz said...

So, what is the gist of this new perspective on Paul? I read a summary that seemed to indicate that the foundation was a greater emphasis on good works.


Robert said...

I always thinking of a flashing neon sign saying "WARNING: CULT!" whenever I hear of somebody sayign that he is the only authority of what the Bible really says and that others just don't get it. I guess Wright thinks we should go back to having the Bible printed in a language that only those in the priesthood can understand. I mean, why leave the Bible in the hands of us poor misguided folks who might misinterpret (and thus, misappply) it?

Isn't that the same type of thing the Jehovah's Witnesses say? that they have the only valid interpretation of the Bible and that ours are wrong?

Ma ~ said...

I found this teaching by James White that helped me to understand the gist of it..I guess. RED FLAGS for sure: