Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul: A Review and Response
Waters, Guy Prentiss
What did Paul really say? This question underlies the debates concerning the ‘New Perspective on Paul’. This label embraces a loose collection of scholars who, over the course of the past century, have questioned anew Reformation-era conclusions regarding the message proclaimed by Paul. Because the debate regularly broaches foundational issues concerning the doctrine of justification, discussions often flare red-hot.
Due to the diversity of the New Perspective proponents and the origins of the debate in academic circles, many pastors and teachers struggle to understand the main players or the points under contention. Helpfully, Waters’ book combines a survey of the academic discussion with expositions of several major predecessors and proponents such as Krister Stendahl, E. P. Sanders, James D. G. Dunn, and N. T. Wright. As the title indicates, Waters both appreciates the diversity of the movement while also highlighting points of affinity. Beyond simple description, Waters also includes running interaction and critique of exegetical and theological conclusions. The final two chapters provide Waters’ points of critique and address specific implications for Reformed Christianity.
Given the widespread appreciation of certain New Perspective advocates, particularly the well-written and well-published N. T. Wright, many will no doubt question Waters’ dire conclusions. Such readers will observe Waters’ tendency to account for the popularity of the New Perspective through external and cultural factors rather than in any intrinsic explanatory power of the approach. While Waters does paint a bleak picture of New Perspective, he illustrates well the fundamental tensions between historic Reformed Christianity and uncritical acceptance of New Perspective conclusions. The work should prove an invaluable help both by introducing pastors and teachers to the main issues under discussion and by spurring further critical consideration. – Matthew Harmon, Westminster Bookstore Staff