Every generation has to deal with an attack on the biblical doctrine of Justification. In the current generation this attack comes squarely from group of scholars that are arguing for a new or fresh perspective on Paul, the law and justification. Here is their argument:

  1. We Protestants (but especially Martin Luther) have got first century Judaism wrong. First century Judaism wasn’t a religion of works but of grace. It was grace that made a person come into the covenant community and it was works that kept them there.
  2. Therefore because we have read 1st century Judaism wrong we have got what the Bible says about the law and justification wrong. Paul wasn’t arguing against that you can be saved by works because no one believed that, Paul was arguing against the Jewish Christians using circumcision and the law as a boundary markers that distinguished them from their gentile Christian brothers. Justification is therefore not targeting a salvation by works but Jewish national pride.

As you can see this changes not only how we interpret the Bible but also how we preach the gospel and it has profound implications for the mission of the church.  But these two arguments don’t hold up:

  1. Have we got Judaism wrong? In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus tells of a Pharisee who was self righteous and thought he was right with God by his works (18:11-12). For Jesus there was a problem of salvation by works in Judaism. Additionally, there is still a problem in the way advocates of the New Perspective talk about first century Judaism. If you were in the covenant by grace and then you were kept there by works then works still have a large part to play in your salvation. Biblical Christianity,  first century Judaism and Catholicism all believe that you are saved by grace in some sense but the question is are you saved by grace alone? If you are not saved by grace alone then can you say you are really saved by grace at all? This is the problem that both Paul and Martin Luther were fighting against in their respective times.
  2. In the Bible, the underlying Greek word for justification comes from a word group that is a group of words that speak about morality/immorality (e.g. righteous, unrighteous etc.). So to say that justification is about covenantal relationships is to ignore the Greek text and what the words really mean. If we take the Greek text on its own we see that justification is about being in a right relationship with God.

As you can see the New Perspective muddies the Gospel by taking things that are in the foreground (justification being about right standing before God) and putting them in the background and taking things that are in the background (the Gospel brings about unity between Jew and Gentile.) and making them central.

The issue here is that there are preachers in Sydney who being influenced by some or all of this new view of justification. This influence worries me because it muddies the gospel in their preaching.  This threat to the gospel is significant

You may also like:

N.T Wright and the Gospel

An Interview With Tom Wright on Paul, Justification, Critics and New Books

Do You Have to Believe in a Historical Adam to Believe the Gospel?

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