This past week, former Cincinnati Christian Seminary theology professor Jack Cottrell, the dean of conservative Christian Church theologians, posted a brief “takedown” of the New Perspective on Paul, specifically N.T. Wright. You can find Cottrell’s post here.
This afternoon, I posted the following response.
Respectfully, I see several methodological problems with your response.
1. Although you summarize the New Perspective, you don’t seem to be tracking all the conversations that Wright is part of here. The Davies > Sanders > Wright “school” is ‘re-judaizing” Paul in response to German NT scholarship of the 19th and early 20th century, which de-judaized Paul. Bultmann is the towering example, but aside from a few exceptions (e.g., Schlatter, perhaps Schweitzer but I don’t remember him as well), German NT scholars grossly minimized the Jewish background of all the NT, including Jesus, which facilitated the rise of Nazism and anti-semitism.
In other words: if Davies > Sanders > Wright swing the pendulum too far in one direction (“Judeocentrism”), it’s because it swung drastically and disastrously in the other direction for a very long time.
2. You seem offended by the idea that the New Perspective thinks it has corrected something that theologians have been getting wrong since nearly New Testament times. That’s the kind of claim that the reformers made against Catholicism. It’s also the kind of claim that restorationists frequently make. It is hardly unprecedented.
3. You seem offended by Wright’s attempt to redefine classical theological terms, away from the understanding given them during the Reformation: e.g., the words related to DIKAIOS. This is the entirety of your point C, and it is anachronism run amok. (E.g., your complaint about relying on literature outside of the New Testament.)
The center of Wright’s attempt to redefine the meaning of these terms, which you do NOT summarize and certainly do not refute, is careful exegetical work and literary-historical work that shows that the world of Paul did not use these terms (e.g. the DIKAIOS word group) to mean what later theological formulations say that they meant. For example, Wright claims that a careful literary-historical survey shows that “justification” in Paul’s world was never used to refer to imputed righteousness.
(Similarly, Wright and others have noted that the post-enlightenment West is much more individualistic than Paul or Paul’s readers; this is a given in modern New Testament scholarship. This is at the heart of the New Perspective’s critique of much of reformed theology as nothing more than individual soteriology, something you note near the beginning of your post but do not refute nor [apparently] appreciate.)
If the biblical witness is the basis of and standard for our theology, and if literary-historical work shows that a concept we are using cannot (or even likely did not) mean to the biblical writers what we say that it means in our theology, then we are wrong and need to correct our formulations, no matter how inconvenient or universal our error.
4. You are fundamentally misreading Wright on the relationship between the roles of Israel and Jesus.
You say: “If Israel was God’s original agent for saving the world, and if Christ came only to do what Israel failed to do, the clear implication is that, theoretically, the Jews as such COULD HAVE SAVED THE WORLD if only they had been true to their covenant. There would have been no need for Jesus.”
You do not produce a quote to support this, only a “clear implication.” I believe your “clear” inference is a misreading of Wright, which you fall into because he is doing narrative theology (describing God’s plan in narrative sequence) and you are reading it as systematic theology.
“First Israel, then Jesus” is the order of events. Even if Israel had been faithful, Messiah would have come, but his coming would have looked very different, as would his road to the cross.
But that’s like asking if Jesus failed because Israel rejected him as Messiah, leading to Gentiles and Jews together in the church. God’s purpose is not frustrated.