Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Raised on a New Perspective

I have begun to read the masterful book by Westerholm entitled Perspectives Old and New On Paul.  Thus far, I have begun working through a couple chapters exploring the Old Perspective (perhaps better discussed as the historical perspective) on Paul.  Paul read through the lens of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley.  This book has brought me to a very interesting conclusion:

I am not an Old Perspective guy.  I never have been.

I was raised primarily within the Christian Church movement.  This movement was a "back to the Bible" group, which in recent years has been painted in a negative light.  The negative is the assumption that we want to go back to acting just like the people of the first century church (not true).  In reality, it is our goal to read the Bible with as little theological baggage as possible.  In other words, read Paul to find out what Paul said.

No need to ask Luther or Augustine.

I grew up reading the Bible and learning a simple rule:  context.  Don't just read a verse and assume its meaning, look at the surrounding context.  The first lesson I ever taught was about the circumcision  debate as discussed in Philippians.  What was the application:  We don't need to be Jews to follow Christ!  It wasn't about works righteousness or justification by grace alone through faith alone.  It was reading the Bible as it was intended.

In college, I really became aware of the ancients.  Great guys, most of them.  I remember reading the theology of Augustine, Luther, Aquinas, and many others (my favorite was Philip Jacob Spener).  I read Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God and many other famous sermons of the post-Reformation era.  And the entire time I read, I felt something terrible in the pit of my stomach.

Do they not realize that they are missing the point?

So often, the issues of the day were being used to create a rhetoric that became a theology.  Paul's first century debate is not about whether we earn salvation or not through our good works, it is focused greatly on the racial issue of Jews and Gentiles!

Furthermore, I find that as I read more about Luther and Augustine, the more I find that their view of justification and grace is predicated by misunderstandings of other crucial doctrines, especially Original Sin.

The bottom line:  I feel like I am living outside of the debate on Paul.  I do not think that the New Perspective, at least the core of its argument, is really anything excessively new.  I find that, like so much, simply reading Scripture more than we read about Scripture would clear up a lot of debate.

What about you?  Where were you raised?  When you read passages like Ephesians 2, Galatians 3, or many others, what do you think of as works?  What do you consider faith?  What does it mean to be saved?

All important questions, and I hope to continue to write some thoughts on this over the next couple weeks.

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