Oct 30, 2011

A Man More Sinned Against than Sinning?: The Portrait of Martin Luther in Contemporary New Testament Scholarship

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To put it bluntly, it seems to me that the current revision of the doctrine of justification as formulated by the advocates of the so-called New Perspective on Paul is nothing less than a fundamental repudiation not just of that Protestantism which seeks to stand within the creedal and doctrinal trajectories of the Reformation but also of virtually the entire Western tradition on justification from at least as far back as Augustine. I do not say this in order to shock or to create bad feeling against its exponents but simply to clarify how serious the issue is. Indeed, the advocates of the New Perspective would, I am sure, find my statement of the significance of their position to be in accordance with how they understand their position. We are not talking here of the old debate between imputation and impartation which has historically separated Protestants and Catholics; we are talking rather of a debate which pits the New Perspective against both Protestants and Catholics on the grounds that the traditional Reformation discussion actually takes place within a tradition which has a fundamentally defective view of what God’s righteousness, and thus the believer’s justification, are all about.

For Protestants, the issue is particularly acute. Given the role of the doctrine of justification by grace through faith both in the theology of the Reformation, and as perhaps the defining feature of Protestantism over against post-Tridentine Catholicism, the kind of revision being proposed by the New Perspective involves a fundamental redefinition of what Protestantism, at least in its conservative, confessional form, is.

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