Whatever happened to the New Perspective on Paul?

Not too long ago the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) was a topic of not a few conversations.  Now I really don’t hear too much about it.

Of course, ever since Krister Stendahl’s 1960 essay, “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West” (which challenged the Protestant Reformation’s understanding of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, positing that the Pauline doctrine of salvation included a works component), E.P. Sanders Paul and Palestinian Judaism, and then the subsequent works of notables like James D.G. Dunn and N.T. Wright, the NPP generated a number of books, journal essays, lectures here and there, and so on.

But I’m not hearing a lot on the NPP these days.  Perhaps N.T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God (the fourth installment in his Christian Origins and the Question of God) will spark a new wave of discussion, or more likely–a regurgitation!

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2 Responses to Whatever happened to the New Perspective on Paul?

  1. Tim says:

    It seems to me that when the NPP(s) first came on the scene, it was jarring because it sounded so different from the “old, old story” as Protestants had typically articulated it. This probably wasn’t helped in the early days by some of the ways that some of its proponents framed the NPP in sharp antithesis to the traditional view: i.e., ecclesiology, NOT soteriology; covenantal nomism, NOT legalism; boundary markers, NOT works righteousness, etc. I think both sides (unfortunately) defined themselves in antithesis to one another all too much early on, and dug in to their respective anti-traditionalist/anti-NPP perspectives.

    I think one reason we’re hearing less about the NPP these days is because many of its important insights have been absorbed into mainstream evangelical scholarship. For instance, Michael Bird’s work represents an excellent appropriation of many of the NPP insights within a fairly traditional framework. Similar with Scot McKnight. Even Tom Schreiner, who’s generally a strong critic of the NPP, expresses appreciation for some of its insights in his Galatians commentary. In general, both sides seem to have backed off some of the either/or rhetoric, taking more of a both/and approach. Dunn is now saying that his perspective is complementary, rather than opposed to, the traditional view. Wright seems to be speaking in somewhat more traditional terms lately, presenting his work as an exegetically-richer way of arriving at the same fundamental insights as the traditional view.

    So I think that’s one reason we’re seeing less hubbub about the NPP debate (though clearly, some such as Piper are still very vocally critical).

    • TC says:

      Tim, thanks for this concise and informative comment. I’m glad you mentioned Bird, McKnight, Moo, and Schreiner, esp. Moo and Schreiner. You’re exactly right about both. I too have noticed the appropriation of the best that the NPP has to offer while not surrounding the traditional view.

      As you know, in the history of Christianity, each new generation of believers has been forced to and compelled to defend and refine and better articulate what it believes. This is noteworthy and seems to be the way our body of divinity is forged.

      Yes, Wright and Dunn have tempered some. Let’s see what “new” stuff is in Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God.

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