Thursday, 24 September 2009

Two thoughts on New Perspective

Just read Guy Prentiss Waters' article 'Justification undermined' in Churchman.

It is very helpful indeed, and reminds me again of two key confusions in the New Perspective.

1) The understanding of faith as an alternative to the so-called boundary markers of Judaism such as circumcision. On this view it is not a means of salvation, but a sign we are one of God's people. By contrast, there seem three key aspects to faith in the New Testament: It (a) trusts - that Jesus has been declared Lord by his resurrection from the dead (Rom 1v1-6); (b) receives - of his righteousness and pardon as a gift established by his obedience and made possible by his death on the cross (Rom 3v21-4v8); it therefore (c) obeys - not in a meritorious sense, because it we have just noted it receives righteousness and pardon (b), but in a faithful sense, in proving one genuinely trusts or recognises that Jesus is Lord (a).

2) The understanding of future justification as a reward of works done in the power of the Spirit (akin to to that within Roman Catholic soteriology). Yet by asserting the imputation of Christ's righteousness (see previous article), the NT specifically rejects such a meritorious view. Rather it is as if God's eye in judgement surveys those before him, and sees (a) some whose deeds do not stem from faith in/faithfulness to Christ and therefore union with him. They are therefore judged according to their deeds and inevitably condemned; (b) those whose deeds are those of faith in/faithfulness to Christ. For these, God's eye then looks immediately to Christ to whom these people are clinging and are united with, and so he justifies them on the basis of Christ's righteousness and blood, rather than condemning them for their still significant unrighteousness.

So a likely meaning of Romans 2v7 is to see "those who by patience in well-doing seek glory, honour and immortality, God will give eternal life" (v7) contrasted with those who are not "repentant" (v4) ie. do not demonstrate the obedience that stems from faith, and those who "do not obey the truth" (v8), ie. do not obey the call of the gospel. They are therefore true believers whose lives proved their faith, rather than somehow meriting their justification. v13 could therefore simply be a way of saying "those who prove their faith by their deeds will be justified." Although, it is perhaps still most likely that this verse is a declaration that absolute obedience is needed for meritous justification if one doesn't trust Christ for it.