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Will the Real Paul Please Stand Up?

“If I understand NPP devotees, they are not arguing for less grace but for more grace.”

In his sermons (e.g., “The Scripture Way of Salvation”), John Wesley defined justification as a relative change in standing before God but insisted on new birth and sanctification as a real change in nature. He thus emphasized more of a full-orbed pneumatological soteriology. One might say truly Christian salvation is not only about transaction but also transformation. For Wesley, justification is essentially synonymous with juridical acquittal while regeneration and sanctification effect ontological transformation. All are essential. These redemptive experiences are distinct but not divided. Similarly, Pentecostals tend to stress the unity of redemptive experiences. Hollis Gause says, “Justification anticipates and requires holiness. Regeneration anticipates living in the Spirit.” Additionally, adoption “anticipates the life of a son of God”. Spirit baptism, is “distinct from those experiences which anticipate it” yet “all the prior experiences are bound up in the life in the Holy Spirit” (Living in the Spirit, 1980). Any view of justification that does not insist on concomitant and symbiotic relation with transformation proves inadequate for Pentecostal spirituality and theology. Defining salvation as justification totally in declarative terms and identifying it as the redemptive experience is dubitable biblically and theologically. Imputation and impartation of divine righteousness through faith in Christ are inseparable. In other words, legal standing and moral change go together. Yet another way to say it is that forgiveness of sin and cleansing from sin are both “part and parcel” of redemption in Christ. Though not altogether mistaken, an overemphasis on the declarative, forensic nature of justification by faith resulting in a doctrine of the imputation of righteousness that does not coalesce with the richness of overall soteriological redemptive emphases is misdirected. Though not necessarily always so, the traditional view of justification, especially in its Reformed framework, has oft times displayed this unfortunate antinomian inclination (cf. John Fletcher, Checks against Antinomianism). NPP perhaps offers some challenging and stimulating insights for this dilemma.

Nevertheless, “the old perspective,” an admittedly pejorative description implicitly signaling its own demise but which even its proponents use, is gallantly guarding against compromising essential traditional principles of the Protestant Reformation. No loyal Protestant can afford to take their concerns lightly. Yet casting this discussion in terms of fidelity to sola gratia (grace alone) is patently inaccurate. If I understand NPP devotees, they are not arguing for less grace but for more grace. In other words, they do not wish to minimize the Christian emphasis on grace at all, but rather to maximize Christian acceptance of grace in Judaism. Therefore, caricaturing NPP as laying less stress on grace is incorrect. It actually sounds more like a discussion about whether Christianity has a monopoly on grace. That is a different talk altogether. Even aside from Paul, the Scriptures support the existence of grace in ancient Israel prior to the rise of Christianity or the writings of Paul (e.g., Prov 3:34; Isa 26:10; Jonah 2:8). In fact, obviously Pauline arguments for grace arise out of the Jewish scriptures (cf. Rom 4-5; Gal 3:15-18). Judaism therefore clearly contains a traditional grace motif.

The preceding observation also applies to casting this discussion as a contest between faith and works. Neither does it appear to be the case, as is occasionally implied, that the old perspective values the Cross, Resurrection, and Pentecost more than the new. In other words, the debate between the traditional view and NPP is not (correctly) boiled down to a resurgence of the Pelagian-anti-Pelagian controversy. Gathercole rightly warns against the tendency to read into Paul later historical controversies. We might also warn against reading into contemporary controversies issues from earlier ones. Throughout Church history, some have found it convenient to accuse of Pelagianism or Popery anyone who disagreed with Augustinianism/Calvinism. For examples, though none takes it too seriously today, common charges against Arminius and the Wesleys in their own days were that they were secretly Pelagians or Papists. Part of the problem, of course, was/is that some are all-too-easily persuaded that only their own interpretations are completely compatible with Protestant orthodoxy. Gathercole does not take it that far but the assumption that only a certain version of Reformed theology properly represents Protestantism does seem implicitly evident.

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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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