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Monday, September 17, 2012

Perspectives by Westerholm

Perspectives Old And New On Paul: The “Lutheran” Paul and His Critics
by Stephen Westerholm

Product Details
  1. Hardcover: 488 pages
  2. Publisher: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
  3. Date Published: 2004

Does anyone know what is going on? Many have become sidetracked and disillusioned with the New Perspective debate. In the burgeoning discussion on Paul's view of Judaism and works of the law, Westerholm provides a seasoned voice to the perspective.

Point: Three options exist for the interpreter of Paul. Paul understood Judaism of the first century, and Luther (et. all) properly interpreted Paul. Or, Paul understood Judaism of the first century, and the New Perspective has righted the misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Luther and his company. Or, Paul did not understand Judaism of the first century.

Westerholm argues that the "Lutheran" interpreters did understand Paul's view of righteousness, works, law, and grace, but the New Perspective has contributed some valuable points of understanding.

Path: The author has divided his work into three sections, each contributing to the overall purpose of explaining what the Lutheran Perspective and New Perspective taught, and how they align with Paul himself. Part one walks through the theology of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley in regard to the foundations of the fall, redemption, the law, grace, and sanctification. These men, though separated by hundreds of years show an agreement on Paul's understanding of "works of the law" and righteousness. They obviously differ in other areas of their doctrine, but Westerholm shows where they agree on Paul.

In part two, the author compiles the work of twentieth century interpreters who have contributed in some way to the New Perspective. Men such as Schweitzer, Sanders, Kümmel, Bultmann, Wright, and Dunn are allowed to present their case through the collection of Westerholm.

Part three evaluates Paul along side of these two systems of thought. Was Paul against works as means of attaining grace, or did he preach against works as an excluding strategy of keeping the covenant a purely Jewish entity? In order to answer these charges, the author asks what Paul really meant when he used terms such as "righteousness" and "law." He then evaluates how Sanders' view of grace aligns with that of Paul. A brief summary is then made of Paul's letters.

Sources: Westerholm does an excellent job on compiling, processing, representing and addressing the major scholars in the debate. His bibliography alone is of great value. His treatment of each side has been tempered with the understanding that not everything old deserves to be cherished and not everything new deserves to be rejected. He patiently walks the reader through the possible minefield of authors and exegesis in order to provide them a broader view and better base of understanding.

Agreement: The author ought to be commended for his work. Through humor, compilation, summarization, and evaluation, Westerholm allows the reader the best possible environment to step into this whirlpool of a debate. Many have been swept up into a frenzy on one side or the other without fully understanding what is at stake, or what has been said. It would do the reader well to read through Paul's corpus before and after this book and be ready to interact with the ideas in those pages.

I appreciated not only the author's style, but also his grasp on the subject. I would not consider myself even a knowledgeable reader on all that is taking place in the New Perspective world, but after reading several works I believe that the authors quoted here would not be upset with their representation.

One particularly helpful portion of the book was Westerholm's summary of Paul's Christian understanding of the Mosaic Law. He gives the reader nine statements concerning the role of the Mosaic Law. The author stresses the fall of man, the gracious giving of God's commands to a marked people group, the depravity and exacerbation of Adam's descendants highlighted by the Law, the work of Christ, and the freedom and fulfillment of the law in the lives of the believer.

Another section worthy of study is his work on dikaiosune. The author wades through the difficulties behind the words around which Paul focuses his argument, and divides his understanding of righteousness into two principle meanings. He states, "But when the terminology is granted its ordinary sense (those who do the right are the righteous, and God will acknowledge them as such) as well as its extraordinary sense in Paul (sinners who have not done the right are, through the death of Christ, declared by God to be righteous), then the difference between Paul's usage and that of Judaism becomes both intelligible and telling" (295-96).

Disagreement: One question which I was left with following my reading was, "in the treatment of nomos, where does the Law of Christ land?" Christ specifically stated "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Matt 5:17). Yet in his fulfilling he left new commands. Both 1 Corinthians 9:21 and Galatians 6:2 (cf. Rom 8:2) address this. These commands, to love God over all and love one's neighbor as oneself, are equally impossible to fulfill in the flesh.

Another area of questions I noticed in the whole debate centers on John the Baptist and his call to repentance. What do both John's and Jesus' scathing remarks to the Jews teach us about the spiritual climate of the first century Jewish religion? Clearly, some of these (namely the Pharisees) would have been pleased with their position with God. Perhaps both because they were considered to be in the covenant, and also because they were doing good works such as tithing, fasting, and command keeping. But in this group we also find the disciples, we find "all of Judea" (Mark 1:5), we find Anna and Simeon (Luke 2), and we find the masses (Matt 13:2). Where did they stand?

Favorite Quote: Westerholm has left the reader with a valuable reminder. "Attending a baseball game in the company of a child is a Good Thing; but the seat cannot be found from which something that a child desires to see is not obstructed from view...No one vantage point captures all that is important in Paul" (226).

It would be worth another read and I would recommend it.

For more information see his article in Justification and Variegated Nomism: The Paradoxes of Paul

and Simon Gathercole's article in Christianity today, What did Paul really mean? <...>

See also Piper's The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright

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Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (Philippians 3:8)