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...

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!!