Friday, March 3, 2017

What Romans is really all about - yes, Martin, Tom and Ed I have cracked it (1)

I could spend a hundred years pondering Romans and all the literature written about it and there would still be something to say.

It is a deep, deep theological tour de force and apostolic constitution for the church.

It has generated as many readers here will know, a huge, spiralling and seemingly never-ending controversy in late 20th century and early 21st century biblical scholarship as the great drive forward from Martin Luther's Reformation, Romans = justification by faith hit Ed Sander's "counter" reformation of thinking on Romans.

To Luther's Romans = justification by faith (and medieval Roman theology = 1st century Jewish theology = salvation by works could take a hike), Sanders posed Romans = salvation through participation in Christ and not through Jewish works = badges of national membership such as circumcision. (With fascinating debate as to whether it is the faith of Christ or our faith in Christ which saves us). That is, in this so-name New Perspective on Paul, Romans is "really all about" how the Gentiles are included in salvation history, alongside Jews already graciously saved by God's electing grace.

Was this response to Luther's drive forward a speed bump, a detour, a roadblock or the original road rebuilt to proper Pauline specifications? Outstanding NT scholars such as Tom Wright and Jimmy Dunn have pitched in to push, more or less in Sanders' direction and recently John Barclay (as with others) has offered a brilliant reconciliation of the Luther and Sanders avenues.

Evangelicals have been particularly vexed by this scholarly turmoil because the scholarship of Sanders and co is well argued yet, more or less, it becomes a vote that Roman Catholic (I summarise) salvation is faith supported by works has been right all along. Was Protestantism a la Luther a giant category mistake?

Recently I have been reading Romans as part of a plan to read through the New Testament a chapter (or more) at a time. Reading such chunks makes - at least to me - a difference in getting a sense of the whole plot of each book. And I think I have a new sense of what Romans is all about ...

OK but I am out of time today ... more tomorrow


Jean said...

So where does sanders stand on the difference between Food works of the law to meet the requirements of faith versus good works being the outworking of salvation in Christ? Also that even the Jews needed the Salvation offered by the cross of a different covenant, the 'law' being a babysitter until its arrival. Surely this change was more than the criteria for being one of Gods people?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Jean
Am not sure of the details of Sanders' work in respect of your questions.
But what I can say from my general knowledge of the ensuing debate is that it is over such questions as you raise that the debate rages over whether the "new" or "old" or some synthesis of the two is the "correct" perspective on Paul.

Anonymous said...

Some voices have recently argued (see example at the link) that such NPP scholars as N. T. Wright have had a better grasp of C1 Judaism than of the C16 reformers and their opponents.

And indeed, there is not a single medievalist or Reformation specialist in that group of professional NT scholars who talk about the reformers as exegetes with surprising confidence.

However, contrary to what everyone knows about the Reformation, primary sources from the C16 tend not to show debates about the place of works in salvation. Rather, they show disagreements across a wide range of issues that were ultimately entangled with such concepts as alien righteousness, the demand for perfect obedience, and the law/gospel dialectic. Luther's Heidelberg Disputation of 1518 is an early example of the range of topics that were opened by reform.

Anyway, the debate was not driven solely by the exegesis of the scriptures as we here might think of that. Both sides were continuing prior scholastic debates. For example, once you see what he was doing, Luther's defense of his Heidelberg Thesis #28 (1518) is brilliantly evangelical, but a reader of the NPP would not imagine the reformer making his argument in a conversation with Aristotle--

But of course he did; Luther was a schoolman of the late middle ages in C16 Germany, not a doughty warrior on the battlefield that early modern England became in the C17, and still less a Romantic hero for earnest Victorians of the C19, or a prophet of fundamentalism in C20 America. "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."

If the NPP scholars have not altogether understood the reformers and their adversaries, how well do any of the rest of us know them? Tuomo Mannermaa's careful contextualisation of Luther's Heidelberg Thesis #28 shows us a Luther nearer to a Byzantine notion of theosis than anyone before him had thought possible--

And for that matter, Julie Canlis has shown us a no less mystical Calvin of whom few zealots for the Five Points have ever dreamed--

In short, there is a disquieting probability that we know more than is actually true, that the reductiveness of a certain Protestant *handbook theology* or *confessionalism* has not only led us into a misunderstanding of St Paul, as the NPP suggests, but has even estranged us from important currents of the Reformation itself that were troubling to the builders of its monuments. If that is indeed true, then the guardians of those monuments will be troubled to see pilgrims passing them by on the way to healing springs. But the rest of us may yet discover more water in the old wells, both of St Paul and of the reformers who read him, than we had dared to expect.

Bowman Walton

Anonymous said...

Postscript-- These two essays, by a Lutheran systematician and an Anglican philosopher respectively, have become the usual first readings for those trying to understand the claim that Luther is a bridge rather than a wedge between the Catholic and Protestant theologies of the handbooks--

David S. Yeago, The Catholic Luther.

Phillip Cary, Why Luther Is Not Quite Protestant.

Bowman Walton

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Bowman
You are way ahead of me :)

Bryden Black said...

Amen Bowman! I'd have to agree with those suggestions which embarrass many a 20th and now 21st C "Evangelical". 'Their' "Gospel" is often historically reductionist, I've had to conclude - even if they remain in tune with important concerns. It's just that there are a host of many other concerns avoided. I loved your mention of the Finns, for example. As our own Kiwi local Myk Habets has pointed out, even TF Torrance should be read via a "theosis" lens! Now; that's both Reformed and Lutheran types agreeing with the Greek East!!