My name is Jacob Aitken. John kindly invited me to guest blog here. I currently blog at BayouHuguenot.wordpress.com. While I was educated and trained at Reformed institutions, for a long time I was involved with the New Perspective on Paul and other positions. I don’t know if I would call myself a former adherent to the New Perspective, for as many note, it isn’t a unified movement and I certainly don’t want to be tagged with Sanders and Dunn. My post here is to 1) briefly introduce myself, 2) note areas where some found the NPP attractive and then list several shortcomings with the NPP: a) casual dismissing of all previous historical reflection and b) logical shortcomings when compared with the text.
I label this as “Luther-esque” confessions because when I was leaving the orbit of a certain high church tradition and finally examining the NPP on the supposition it might be wrong, I was reflecting on some of Luther’s writings. (While I briefly considered joining a Lutheran communion, I realized that Christological differences made that currently impossible.) I also say “Luther-esque” because Luther is the current whipping boy among advocates of NT Wright (though Wright himself is surprisingly positive of Luther).
My own reflections on Luther’s writings made me realize something: even granting where Luther’s exegesis of specific passages dead-ends, I got worried that many advocates of Wright failed to safeguard certain theological values (neither Sanders nor Dunn has the rhetorical and communicative brilliance of NT Wright, so there isn’t as much need to interact with them).
Similar to above, the casual dismissing of Luther by “Young Turk” NPPists represents a similar dismissing of the history of exegesis–often with embarrassing results (like when NT Wright hints at his revolutionary insights to the Apostle Paul, not realizing that Reformed theologians had been employing the covenant for centuries previously).
The Shortcomings of NPP
Most Reformed critics of the New Perspective immediately jump to Galatians 1:9 and apply it to their adversaries. This has several unfortunate results: 1) deep criticism of where the NPP might be truly wrong is often overlooked, or never attempted, and 2) it hardens young students into defending the NPP at all costs.
I think the NPP is correct to note several achievements. I have no problem admitting that table fellowship was a key locus in early Christian soteriology. My problem is that making it the paradigm of soteriology can’t account for other texts (like in Acts where the Philippian jailer asks what he must do to be saved. Had Paul discussed Jewish-Gentile table fellowship–well, you get the idea.