Something is stuck in my New Perspective Piper
I had a sizeable number of visitors today from a Christian blog (Between Two Worlds by Justin Taylor) that, to judge from the sidebar links, is a tad more conservative than mine. Still, I not only enjoyed skimming through the highly recommended contents, but also landed on a link to a recent John Piper article on ‘Jesus, Islam, Pharisees, and the New Perspective on Paul’. Though ‘Pastor John’ is undoubtedly more conservative in many of his theological judgments than I, I have learnt much from him - especially from his book The Pleasures of God, which really helped me to think through and enjoy the glory of the Father’s delight in his Son in a profoundly moving way.
In the above article Piper takes a few shots at the Pauline New Perspective – some of which land on target, while others, in my opinion, are a little muddled – as also is the implied parallelism in overall theme (cf. the final paragraph of his article). To pick up on one of the potential problems, he argues against Wright’s stab at the caricature of 1st century Judaism as ‘self-help moralism’ with the claim that:
‘People don’t go to hell for “keeping the law out of gratitude” as a “proper response to grace.” People go to hell for relying on themselves instead of grace’.In other words, Jews weren’t ‘covenantal nomists’ relying on gracious election into the covenant as the basis for law-obedience, but were rather trying to earn their salvation and were hence in danger of hell. Not only is this, in my opinion, a category muddle, I would suggest that Piper is anachronistically reading back later concerns and dogmatic considerations back into the Gospel texts (and Paul) that are concerned with paralleled yet not equivalent problems. A historical study of the real problems at stake, as evident in the narratives that shaped first century Jewish (and early Christian) identity, I think makes this clear. This is another way of saying that the process of contextualisation is such an important moment in exegesis, as it guards against eisegesis.
To put it more poetically, and to mimic George Tyrrell (no, not Schweitzer - that is a myth of Bultmannian proportions):
I should have been a poet - that is bloody genius. Yes, admittedly, this picture springs oh so easily to my mind given my long, painful night, a couple of days ago, puking into the ‘big white telephone’. But that is beside the point.
‘We have to be so careful, when peering into the puddle of water at the bottom of the u-bend of history, that we don’t allow ourselves to get enamoured with our own reflection, however turd-ridden the waters be’.
By the way, don’t know what a turd is? Discover all here (the third definition in particular wrinkled my face into a smile).