February 28, 2002

Gaffin on NPP

Category: Theology,Theology - Soteriology :: Permalink

This evening, I read Richard Gaffin’s “A Reformed Critique of the New Perspective.” In many ways, it’s a frustrating article. First, there are no footnotes, which means that it’s hard for a reader to look up the quotations of Dunn and Wright and read them in context. At times, Gaffin’s criticisms seem to miss the mark completely. For instance, he writes:

Wright relentlessly insists that Paul “did not (as it were) abandon Judaism for something else” throughout his writing. But, while Paul certainly did not abandon the religion of the Old Testament, just for the sake of fidelity to it and to the God of Abraham, he most certainly did abandon the dominant streams in the Judaism of his day, relentlessly opposed first by Jesus and then by himself.

But in What Saint Paul Really Said, Wright argues that Paul was neither breaking away completely from the Jewish tradition (including the Old Testament) nor was he accepting it uncritically; rather, he was functioning within that tradition in a prophetic way as he criticized what Gaffin would call “the dominant streams in the Judaism of his day.” So how does Wright disagree with Gaffin on this point?

For another thing, Gaffin often lumps Dunn and Wright together, as Mark Horne¬†points out, though Wright himself criticizes Dunn at several points. When Gaffin discusses original sin, for instance, he seems to condemn Wright because Wright hasn’t addressed the subject (or if he has, Gaffin is unaware of it) and because Dunn has — badly. So, too, with his discussion of double predestination.

Gaffin also says that “there is little sympathy for, in fact downright antipathy toward, any notion of imputation.” He doesn’t provide any evidence of that antipathy, mind you. He just mentions it in passing. While Wright doesn’t speak of “the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner,” he does speak a lot about corporate Christology, about Christ as the representative of His people who draws God’s wrath against them onto Himself and in whom His people are declared righteous. That approach doesn’t seem so different from that of John Calvin, who wrote:

Therefore, that joining together of Head and members, that indwelling of Christ in our hearts — in short, that mystical union are accorded by us the highest degree of importance, so that Christ, having been made ours, makes us sharers with him in the gifts with which he has been endowed. We do not, therefore, contemplate him outside ourselves from afar in order that his righteousness may be imputed to us but because we put on Christ and are engrafted into his body — in short, because he deigns to make us one with him. For this reason, we glory that we have fellowship of righteousness with him (Institutes 3.11.10).

I’d expect better scholarship from someone like Richard Gaffin. Wright is certainly not above criticism. Don Garlington, for instance, argues that Wright doesn’t take union with Christ into account sufficiently. Nevertheless, there’s a lot that we can learn from Wright. Rich Lusk points the way in his helpful essay, “A Short Note on N. T. Wright and His Reformed Critics.” Here’s Rich’s conclusion:

I am confident that in the long run, Wright’s work on the NT will come be treasured by the Reformed tradition as the “next step” in our growing understanding of God’s revelation in Christ. Accepting Wright need not mean rejecting the Reformation.

Posted by John Barach @ 11:44 pm | Discuss (1)

One Response to “Gaffin on NPP”

  1. Uri Says:

    Helpful thoughts. May it be so. To this point, are you aware of any observations in writing of Wright’s account of original sin?

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