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In Defense of the New Perspective on Paul: Essays and Review, reviewed by Amos Yong

Pneuma Review Fall 2007

paul_essays_and_reviews__300Don Garlington, In Defense of the New Perspective on Paul: Essays and Reviews (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2005), viii + 245 pages.

Garlington earned his MDiv and ThM degrees from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and his PhD in New Testament at the University of Durham under James D. G. Dunn. He taught from 1987-2002 at Toronto Baptist Seminary, and has served since as an adjunct professor at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto. Previous to this volume, he had authored four others on various aspects of Pauline theology, including book length treatments of the epistles of Romans and Galatians. From the beginning of his academic career, he has been defending a version of what has come to be known as the New Perspective on Paul (NPP).

What is the NPP? The NPP was initially articulated in 1977 by E. P. Sanders in his important book, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, although it was not given this title phrase until Dunn did so in his Manson Memorial Lecture in 1982. In brief, the NPP can be summarized as making three sets of interlocking claims. First, rather than holding to an exclusively defined religion of works-based righteousness, Second Temple Judaism embraced a form of what might be called “covenantal nomism” (Sanders) whereby God established a covenant relationship with his people (in this case, Israel) which required, as a proper response, human obedience to the commandments of the law. Second, that when understood against this background, St. Paul neither advocates a superseding of the law nor offers a polemic against the law as a means of gaining merit; rather he should be read as defending a view of the law as a way of living within and according to the covenant. Finally, then, the Pauline dictum of justification by faith alone is one aspect of a wider covenant that includes rather than excludes the transformed life and the works of faith. Within this scheme of things, one does not “get into” the covenant via keeping the law; instead, one “stays in” the covenant according to one’s faithful obedience to the terms of the covenant (reflected in the law), even if God also graciously provides for the atonement of sins that are inevitably committed by those who fall short because of either faithlessness or disobedience.

What is the New Perspective on Paul?

The NPP has had its share of critics and interlocutors within the broader academy over the last thirty years. Since 2000, a number of volumes engaging the NPP thesis have appeared from evangelical exegetes and scholars. The subtitle of Garlington’s book, Essays and Reviews, nicely summarizes what it is about: a sustained interaction with the ongoing conversation. But one would not know that Garlington is focused especially on engaging this more recent evangelical scholarship unless one looked at least at his table of contents. After two chapters summarizing the NPP debate and revisiting specifically the exegetical issues surrounding the interpretation of Galatians 2:15-16 relative to the NPP thesis, the remaining six chapters of the book critically review the following five volumes: 1) D. A. Carson, et al., Justification and Variegated Nomism (2001); 2) John Piper, Counted Righteous in Christ: Should We Abandon the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness (2002); 3) Simon Gathercole, Where is Boasting? Early Jewish Soteriology and Paul’s Response in Romans 1-5 (2002); 4) Mark Adam Eliot, The Survivors of Israel: A Reconsideration of the Theology of Pre-Christian Judaism (2000); and 5) Gordon J. Wenham, Story as Torah: Reading Old Testament Narratives Ethically (2000). While some of these reviews are much longer than others—e.g., almost 100 pages is devoted to assessing Piper’s book, and only ten pages to Elliott’s—in every case Garlington fairly overviews the arguments of the books and authors before respectfully and systematically subjecting their proposals to critical analysis. With regard to Piper’s Counted Righteous in Christ, two chapters are presented: the first being Garlington’s review of Piper’s book, and the second being Garlington’s rejoinder to Piper’s response which was published in the same venue as the original review essay. So in this one case, readers are treated to (at least one side of) a scholarly exchange.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Fall 2007, Pneuma Review

About the Author: Amos Yong is Professor of Theology & Mission and director of the Center for Missiological Research at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena. His graduate education includes degrees in theology, history, and religious studies from Western Evangelical Seminary and Portland State University, Portland, Oregon, and Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, and an undergraduate degree from Bethany University of the Assemblies of God. He is the author of numerous papers and over 30 books. Facebook

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