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Will the Real Paul Please Stand Up?

One might say that true Christian salvation is not only about transaction but also transformation.

One of the most attractive features of this article by Gathercole, in addition to its obvious learnedness and lucidity, is that it is genuinely balanced and moderate. He recognizes the benefits of NPP even while he criticizes what he sees as its problems. Furthermore, one of the benefits he acknowledges is the ecumenical inclusiveness of NPP regarding Judaism. Anti-Semitism has been a perennial problem in Christian-Jewish relations. Even where blatant anti-Semitism is not present, failure to appreciate the richness of the Jewish religious tradition often is present. Some blame Paul. NPP does a great service to show that not Paul but Paul’s interpreters are more likely to blame. To his credit, Gathercole seems to assume that the desirability of a more inclusive attitude toward Jews and Judaism today is a given. His interpretation of Paul apparently includes both the traditional view of justification by faith and a contemporary inclusivist assessment of Judaism. In itself, that is something of a “new perspective.” It is also refreshing.

Yet how inclusive is this inclusivism? Is it inclusive enough for heirs of the Protestant Reformation and Roman Catholics to interact ecumenically? Recent developments suggest some room for rapprochement. Conversations between Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Lutherans, suggest a move toward a more consensual view of salvation, including on the relations between forensic and effective justification (Veli-Matti Karkkainen, One with God, 2004). Incredibly, Hans Kung quite some time ago demonstrated that Catholic and Protestant views on justification are not as polarized as many propose (Justification, 1964). Is it possible that in the midst of all the angst and animosity of the Reformation some on both sides shared similar concerns and commitments? If so, the force of that conflict certainly overshadowed and overwhelmed them. Could it be that some degree of conciliatory recovery is possible today? Can the NPP help? Though Gathercole appreciates ecumenical inclinations in NPP, does he adequately address anti-ecumenical aspects of the traditional view? That the old view engages in eisegesis in interpreting Paul through reading back into him their contentions with Rome seems generally agreed upon by contemporary scholars of both positions. Going even farther, does it also misread Rome at important points as well? That the Protestant Reformation was justifiable (no pun intended) is not debatable for this reviewer. However, to what extent were the Reformers reacting against abuses that were also betrayals of the best of Roman tradition? The subsequent occurrence of the Catholic Counter Reformation suggests some feasibility to this possibility. To the extent that that may be so, reexamining justification cooperatively and objectively appears recommendable. NPP appears to offer some assistance here with Roman Catholics as well as on Judaism.

This discussion is not a contest between faith and works.

Near the end of his article when Gathercole finally discloses more fully his own personal view on justification his Reformed framework becomes more explicit. His insistence that “God is the sole operator in salvation” and that “he alone does the whole saving work” sounds like typical Augustinian-Calvinist monism after all. On biblical and theological grounds, the Pentecostal tradition does not concur with its deterministic implications. Then he ties this to what seems like a totally declarative and forensic view of justification vis-a-vis NPP. He does not address transformation, that is, regeneration and sanctification, or its relation to justification. This negligence to nuance justification with the overall unity of soteriological experience is cause for concern. In his review of Don Garlington’s In Defense of the New Perspective on Paul (2005) for The Pneuma Review (Fall 2007),[1] Amos Yong repeatedly points out the importance for this discussion of considering the wider framework of Paul’s soteriology. Some proponents of NPP especially argue against construing justification as merely the imputation of righteousness or transfer of merit from one, that is, Christ, to another, that is, the believing sinner. The focus in that view is on legal transaction versus spiritual and moral transformation. At this point, the Wesleyan-Arminian/Pentecostal arguably has much to offer.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Pneuma Review, Summer 2008

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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