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

As the title of this volume under review announces, Garlington’s objective is to defend the NPP against its (evangelical) critics. Yet to call this book a “defense” may be a bit overstated for various reasons. In the case of Carson’s book, for example, Garlington rightly points out that many of the contributors to that volume actually embrace one or another aspect of the NPP, and this results in the NPP apologetic being targeted really only at Carson’s introductory and concluding essays, and at one other article (by Mark Seifrid) on the idea of righteousness in the Hebrew Bible. Next, turning to Garlington’s sustained engagement with Piper, the former is at his rhetorical and exegetical best in this part of the book. But Piper’s polemics are directed less at the heart of the NPP debate than at one of its side trajectories: that regarding the doctrine of imputation, especially as seen in the work of Robert Gundry (who Piper considers a representative of the NPP position, if not an actual participant in that “movement”). Of course, Piper and those in his camp are right to be concerned that the NPP has implications that might undermine the traditional view of imputation. Yet the response to Piper could be made, arguably, apart from the NPP. Last (because of space constraints) but not least, Gathercole’s thesis is an interesting one, honed in extensive discussion with his doktorvater, Jimmy Dunn: that the NPP’s overall interpretation of Second Temple Judaism is essentially correct, but not its reading of St. Paul. Rather, Gathercole believes, from what Paul writes in the first five chapters of Romans, that Paul does indeed oppose the view that justification is linked to Torah-obedience. So on this issue Garlington’s defense may be more of St. Paul than the NPP interpretation of Paul.

Overall, however, Garlington consistently makes the following NPP-related triad of arguments: that “covenantal nomism” involves not only the doctrine of justification but also that of liberation from sin and the transformation of believers into conformity with God’s covenant; that while the doctrine of justification includes the classical doctrine of imputation as retrieved by the Reformers, yet the wider framework of St. Paul’s soteriology involves the believer’s life of obedience accomplished through “union with Christ”; and that God’s final judgment requires both faith and “works,” the latter understood in terms of the obedience related to covenantal faithfulness. These theses may place Garlington “outside” the halls of contemporary Reformed-evangelical orthodoxy. However evangelical apologists, whether of the stripe of Carson, Piper, or others, will need to grapple with Garlington’s challenge to approach the texts of the NT in the context of Second Temple Judaism (a central pillar of the NPP) rather than through a confessional theological stance (even if that is one shaped by Reformed and Westminster orthodoxy!).

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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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