The New Perspective on Paul

While taking Tom Schreiner’s class “Theology of the New Testament” and reading his excellent book New Testament Theology, I have given some thought to the “New Perspective on Paul.” In trying to wrap my mind around the New Perspective, I’ve done my best to distill its main tenets here and give what I believe is a proper response to it.

The so-called “new perspective on Paul” is a label that covers a variety of attempts to better understand the writings of the Apostle Paul. Perhaps the theme that unifies these new perspectives is the notion that the Reformers fundamentally misunderstood Paul’s writings. The Reformers’ “old perspective” held that Paul was speaking against legalism–attempting to gain a right standing with God by adhering to the law. This new perspective (as represented by James Dunn) claims that Paul does not speak against works-based salvation, but against Jewish exclusivism that stressed the need for specific identifiers such as circumcision, keeping the Sabbath, and the purity laws. Paul was concerned that this ethnocentrism excluded non-Jews, who did not wear the badges of Jewish identity.

Much of the debate hinges on what is meant by “works of the law” in Galatians and Romans. The new perspective sees the “works of the law” to mean those external badges of Judaism. The traditional perspective sees the “works of the law” to mean “those actions or deeds required by the law” (Schreiner, 527).

Dr. Schreiner and other New Testament scholars find the new perspective unsatisfactory. Paul was not arguing that the Jews were excluding the Gentiles based on their failure to wear the external badges of Judaism. Rather, he is arguing that both Jews and non-Jews are guilty because they have failed to perfectly uphold God’s moral law. No one keeps everything the law requires; therefore all are guilty before God. It is difficult to maintain that Paul’s references to the law always meant those external badges of Jewish identity.

We can learn some things from the new perspective on Paul. For example, E. Sanders’s Paul and Palestinian Judaism chastens the idea that Judaism was solely about legalism. But the danger of the new perspective appears to be that it weakens Paul’s polemic against works-based righteousness. The glory of the Gospel is that it offers us that which we cannot gain by working for it. In offering the “alien” righteousness of Christ, the Gospel both slays our pride and gives us the only righteousness God will accept.

Rare Video Interview with Martyn Lloyd-Jones: Success in Preaching, Views on Fundamentalism, and Authority in Preaching

In this rare video interview of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the eminent doctor-turned-preacher answers questions about his success as a preacher, his views on Fundamentalism, and why his preaching appealed to young people. I was particularly struck by his answer to the question, “What do you believe would make a successful preacher?” Dr. Lloyd-Jones replied, “I really was never concerned about that. My concern was with what needed to be preached. And it was with this burning conviction as to the message needed that drove me on.” As a preacher, I need to lose my obsession with methods and “success,” and become consumed with the only message that truly matters: Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).

Go to position 2:40 for the part about success as a preacher.

If for some reason you can’t view this video here, you can view it here on YouTube. I wasn’t able to figure out when the interview was recorded, or by whom. If anyone has access to that information, feel free to include it in the comments or e-mail me at jthrelfall@biblebaptistministries.org.

Also, hundreds of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ sermons are available for free on MP3 at mljtrust.org.

Spurgeon: Keep to the Old-Fashioned Gospel

While re-reading some sections of Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students, I came across this stirring exhortation to keep Christ at the center of our preaching.

I urge you to keep to the old fashioned gospel, and to that only, for assuredly it is the power of God unto salvation.

Of all I would wish to say this is the sum; my brethren, preach CHRIST, always and evermore. He is the whole gospel. His person, offices, and work must be our one great, all-comprehending theme. The world needs still to be told of its Saviour, and of the way to reach him. Justification by faith should be far more than it is the daily testimony of Protestant pulpits; and if with this master-truth there should be more generally associated the other great doctrines of grace, the better for our churches and our age. If with the zeal of Methodists we can preach the doctrine of Puritans a great future is before us. The fire of Wesley, and the fuel of Whitfield, will cause a burning which shall set the forests on fire, and warm the very soul of this cold earth. We are not called to proclaim philosophy and metaphysics, but the simple gospel. Man’s fall, his need of a new birth, forgiveness through an atonement, and salvation as the result of faith, these are our battle-axe and weapons of war. We have enough to do to learn and teach these great truths, and accursed be that learning which shall divert us from our mission, or that wilful ignorance which shall cripple us in its pursuit. More and more am I jealous lest any views upon prophecy, church government, politics, or even systematic theology, should withdraw one of us from glorying in the cross of Christ. Salvation is a theme for which I would fain enlist every holy tongue. I am greedy after witnesses for the glorious gospel of the blessed God. O that Christ crucified were the universal burden of men of God. . . .  I would sooner pluck one soul from the burning than explain all mysteries. . . . Blessed is that ministry of which CHRIST IS ALL (127-129).

As I prepare a sermon for next week, I am resolved to make much of Christ.

Worship Moment: God’s Knowledge of Me vs. My Knowledge of God

I have been using this Bible memory plan to focus on key truths about God throughout each week. The first two passages, Psalm 139:1-4 and Romans 11:33-36, form a powerful pair. Together, they contrast God’s knowledge of me and my knowledge of God.

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether” (Psalm 139:1-4).

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:33-36).

I draw two contrasting truths from these passages–truths that compel me to bow in worship.

1. God’s knowledge of me exceeds my knowledge of myself. We humans are incredibly complex creatures. The science of the human body itself evokes fascination and wonder. Yet the biological complexity of a human is only part of the picture. The working of our minds presents a vast and often bewildering frontier for psychologists, psychiatrists, and neurosurgeons. It is ironic that we humans know so little about ourselves. We think we know our personalities, interests, likes and dislikes–only to be surprised as we continue to discover who we truly are. God’s knowledge of me is complete and thorough. He is not intimidated by my complexity. He has mastered me.

2. My knowledge of God will never be exhaustive. God is certainly knowable. It is his nature to reveal himself. But I can never know God fully. Paul’s rhetorical question expects a negative answer: No one has fully known the mind of the Lord. His ways and judgments will for all eternity remain a boundless frontier of exploration and delight.

How Mortimer Adler Helps Me Read Philosophical Literature

When I introduce people to Mortimer Adler’s classic guide on intelligent reading, How to Read a Book, most merely give it a dismissive glance and ask, “Why would anyone read a whole book on how to read a book?” The more politely inquisitive might go so far as to ask, “If someone doesn’t know how to read a book, how would he be able to read that book?”

Adler soundly answers these questions at the beginning of his book. Simply recognizing the meaning of the words on a page and reading a book well are radically different things. I was reminded of this fact yesterday when I found myself dragging my eyeballs across the readings in Philosophy of Religion, trying to follow the strands of William Alston’s argument for a perceptual model of religious experience. “If I hope to get this,” I thought, “I need to refine my skill in reading philosophical works.”

I couldn’t think of anyone more qualified to help me than my friend Mortimer. He has a section in How to Read a Book specifically devoted to the reading of philosophical literature. His most helpful (and probably most important) piece of wisdom is this: when reading works of philosophy, seek to discover the problem the author is seeking to solve or the question he is seeking to answer. Sometimes the author will state the problem or question. Sometimes he will not. Nevertheless, if I as the reader fail to grasp this, I will inevitably go away scratching my head in confusion.