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Archive for the ‘New Perspective on Paul’ Category

Over the past several years, I’ve had a few acquaintances who have converted to Eastern Orthodoxy (hereafter EO).  Others are currently drawn to it or at some point have been strongly attracted to it.  Most of these are people I’ve encountered in various online discussion forums dedicated to the discussion of Reformed theology.

All of these have been folks who were at one time members of a conservative Presbyterian denomination like the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) or the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and who were often some kind of Baptist to begin with.  Often, although not always, they were attracted to the Federal Vision and the New Perspective on Paul in the mid 2000’s.   The following observations may or may not apply to the same degree to Westerners from different backgrounds who go EO.

It seems to me that Westerners convert to Eastern Orthodoxy due to a few reasons or considerations:

1.  They reject Roman Catholicism because they cannot accept papal infallibility, the primacy of the Bishop of Rome and maybe a few other things.  In general, Rome has too much baggage for many Americans and some other Westerners of a Protestant background.  Due to Trent and subsequent statements, Rome’s teaching appears to be a lot more clearly defined as well.  A clear marking of boundaries tends to give rise to controversy.  I don’t know that the East ever experienced a scholastic phase to the extent that the West did during the Middle Ages and later with the Reformation and Counter-Reformation.  Thus, it seems that one can look eastward and see what he wants to see to a greater degree.

2.  Many of them would have been attracted to Anglicanism in previous years.  However, Anglicanism is now basically a disaster in the West, having been eviscerated by liberalism over the past 100 years and with apparently no cohesive conservative remnant.  Some Calvinistic evangelical Anglicans (or what used to be called low church) may go into some kind of Reformed or Presbyterian church and a few others may affiliate with the African Anglicans that are now overseeing some parishes that have disaffiliated from the Episcopal Church USA.  A good many of the high church types tend to cross the Tiber eventually unless they are hung up on the ordination of women, celibacy or Rome’s claim to authority. 

3.  They have rejected Calvinism and for whatever reason cannot be Lutheran, probably because of the strong law/grace distinction and Two Kingdom theology that is found in Lutheranism.  The EO types are typically into the idea of Christendom and often have an emphasis on influencing the culture.  Thus, Anglicanism would have been a good fit but see #2.  Lutheranism, like Calvinism, is also viewed as insufficiently apostolic by those who equate the ancient church (and thus authentic Christianity) with Rome or the East.  But I find that the rejection of Protestantism on the grounds of it not being apostolic in its teaching or authority typically follows discontent with it in some other regard.

4.  Due to the conversions of Peter Gillquist and others, the easy availability of information on the internet that wouldn’t have been readily available a few decades ago and perhaps some of the American Orthodox churches becoming less of an ethnic social club, Eastern Orthodoxy is more accessible to Americans than it has ever been.

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Yesterday Boyce College, the undergraduate college at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, hosted a discussion on N.T. Wright’s forthcoming book, Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision, which is largely a response to John Piper’s The Future of Justification.  Denny Burk, who moderated the forum, posted about it here.

I spent about three years in conservative confessional Presbyterianism, and this justification controversy was raging at its hottest at that time.  During that period, (the middle part of this decade) practically every major confessional Reformed and Presbyterian denomination in the USA as well as most related seminaries denounced this teaching along with the related Federal Vision teaching that at least to some degree sought to apply some of the purported insights of the New Perspective to Presbyterian and Reformed churches.  A related justification controversy had erupted in the late 1970’s with the teaching of former Westminster Theological Seminary professor Norman Shepherd, ultimately resulting in his departure from WTS.

I find that this issue generally isn’t on the radar screen for most Baptists, whether Southern Baptist or not.  But it seems that a number of seminarians and others are becoming enamored with at least some aspects of Wright’s teaching on justification and related issues.  Of course, the blogosphere isn’t necessarily an accurate gauge of what’s going on, but I do have to confess to being somewhat concerned with the number of people who have expressed that they would have preferred to have seen “both sides represented” or a desire for “equal time” at the Boyce Forum.  In my opinion, Wright’s views lend themselves much more readily to a hypercovenantalist paedobaptist context (as with the Federal Vision) or maybe something like the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, not to a confessional institution like Southern Seminary that is dedicated to proclaiming justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

There are many resources on the web and in print that address Wright and the New Perspective on Paul.  I’ve linked several pages that those who haven’t delved into this controversy might find helpful:

This program from Albert Mohler’s radio show addresses the New Perspective.  Dr. Mohler’s discussion with John Piper and Ligon Duncan on the issue begins about halfway through the show.  Dr. Duncan rightly identifies the NPP as having originated with liberal theologians.  It is now influencing some evangelicals through the influence of N.T. Wright.

Here’s an interview with John Piper about his book critiquing Wright.  You can find other pages on his website that address the New Perspective on Paul here, here, and here.

Piper’s book The Future of Justification:  A Response to N.T. Wright can also be downloaded in its entirety for free from his website here.

Here are some pertinent articles by John MacArthur:
http://www.gty.org/Resources/articles/1393
http://www.gty.org/Resources/articles/22

Here is a three part series by Pastor Gary Gilley, who has also written some helpful works on the seeker sensitive movement:
Part 1
Part 2 (Good information here on how the NPP serves Wright’s ecumenical and social agenda, which includes ecumenism (unity) with Rome.)
Part 3

Dr. James Galyon has addressed Wright and the New Perspective in the article Retreating to Rome: The New Battle Over Justification.  The article interacts with others who are in sympathy with Wright’s views as well, particularly in Presbyterian and Reformed circles in which a related movement known as the Federal Vision arose about 6 or 7 years ago.

In 2005, The Master’s Seminary held a Faculty Lecture series on the New Perspective which consists of 4 lectures.  You can download the lectures by visiting this page and scrolling down to the lectures dated 1/1/2005.

Here’s a helpful article on the New Perspective from Theopedia.

Many more resources are linked here.

Douglas Wilson, who is in the Federal Vision camp referenced above, has nevertheless been critical of aspects of Wright’s teaching on justification (and imputation specifically) in recent years, including Wright’s response to John Piper.  Here’s a link to his blog posts on the topic of N.T. Wrights and Wrongs.

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Here is a helpful post by Greg Gilbert on what to in some respects appears to be a new version of the old Social Gospel, among other things.  What he has in view in these posts is what is being taught by Scot McKnight and N.T. Wright.  Here’s his summation:

In the NT, the good news is always the proclamation of forgiveness of sin through the substitutionary death of Jesus, and the call to repent to believe in him. Sometimes that’s all the NT mentions as the “good news”; sometimes it also seems to zoom out to include in the good news all the promises that flow to those who are so forgiven.  What the NT never holds out as the gospel, however, is the bare declaration that the kingdom has come apart from the means of entering it (faith in Christ’s substitutionary death).  Speaking biblically, the gospel is either Cross or Cross-and-Kingdom.  But it is never Kingdom alone.

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Douglas Wilson has been interacting with N.T. Wright’s latest book, which is a response to John Piper’s book The Future of Justification that is critical of Wright and the New Perspective on Paul’s teaching on justification. I haven’t been keeping up with Wilson’s posts, but Justin Taylor provides us with this key excerpt:

Without imputation, Adam, and Jesus, and Abraham, and Douglas Wilson, and [put your name here] are all isolated and separate individuals, with distinct lives (all but one being wretched and miserable), and that have nothing to do with one another. Adam disobeyed, and what is that to me exactly? Abraham believed, and so what? Jesus died and rose, and how is that mine again? Wright wants us to tell the grand story, leaving imputation behind. But the reason Wright doesn’t see imputation is that he thinks in order to exist, it needs to be a character in the novel he is reading. But it is not so much a distinct character, as it is the paper the whole thing is printed on.

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Earlier today, I left the following comment on Timmy Brister’s blog.  I thought I’d post it here as well.  Brister was responding to this Baptist Press article.

I am thankful that Driscoll is sounder in doctrine than most, but I cannot endorse his continued flirtation with the more vulgar aspects of our culture.  I much prefer the MacArthur model and think MacArthur got it right in stating that this emergent approach to culture (if not doctrine) will stifle progress toward authentic sanctification.  As for the talk of “younger leaders,” I’m 35 and would probably fall into that category, [of being young, not necessarily a leader] but I couldn’t disagree more with the “young leader” SBC defenders of Driscoll on this issue.

If this stance makes me a “fundy” from the perspective of some of the “Calvinists” and others in the SBC, so be it.  If Tim Brister’s embrace of such (as well apparently to some extent the PCA’s MNA, which has been the left wing of the PCA since at least the early 80’s) is indicative of the future direction of Founders, then I’m saddened and simply not interested in going down that path.  (Many of the more hard core Reformed men would look askance at me anyway due to my premillenialism, because it’s “unreformed.”)  We hear the talk of “younger leaders” being forced out, but the path of many of these “younger leaders” is going to be rejected by more younger people than they know.  Paul Washer is also held in very high esteem by many younger people, and his approach on these types of issues couldn’t be more different than Driscoll’s.

Just because somebody’s a “Calvinist” (and Driscoll describes himself as a 4 1/2 pointer) doesn’t mean he is therefore sound.  I learned that well during my time in conservative Presbyterianism when I saw some embracing heretical views on justification.  (Unfortunately, it seems some current or recent students in Southern Baptist seminaries have to at least some degree embraced the New Perspective on Paul mediated through N.T. Wright as well.)  We also can’t just excuse what a man does just because he is close to some leader that we respect.  Too often in our circles, I think there’s a knee jerk reaction to defend a fellow Calvinist when he’s criticized by a non-Calvinist, no matter what the issue is.  That’s part of the mentality that drives Wade Burleson’s followers, and who knows how many have moved left on gender issues, etc. with him as a result.

Note (2/17/09):  I have edited this post to remove a few extraneous references that might have served to distract from the issue at hand.

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