Roman Catholicism And The New Perspective On Paul: Part 4 -- By: Mike Stallard

Journal: Journal of Ministry and Theology
Volume: JMAT 14:2 (Fall 2010)
Article: Roman Catholicism And The New Perspective On Paul: Part 4
Author: Mike Stallard


Roman Catholicism And The New Perspective On Paul: Part 4

Dr. Mike Stallard

Dean of Baptist Bible Seminary

Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania

Ecumenical dialogue has as one of its goals the identification of shared language that can serve as common ground between ecclesiastical parties that are divided from each other by doctrine and tradition. In recent times, the development of the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) has provided such shared language for discussions between Roman Catholics and some versions of Protestant theology. The particular doctrinal formulations that supply the shared terminology involve the concepts of justification and imputation.

A detailed summary and evaluation of the NPP has been amply supplied in numerous other forums so it will not be provided here.1 It is sufficient to note that the general outline of the NPP is that the Reformation fathers (Luther, Calvin, etc.) misread Paul by viewing him as teaching a forensic justification apart from the works of the law.2 In this view, the Reformers

thought wrongfully that Paul was refuting a works-righteousness. Instead, the NPP suggests that Paul was simply affirming that the works which Paul has in mind are ceremonial (and perhaps other elements of the law) which the Jews had overemphasized. However, the scheme does involve the concept that one is brought into the covenant community by faith but stays in the community by good deeds. Such an approach does not sound all that different from traditional Wesleyan teaching and is certainly much closer to Roman Catholic dogma than the traditional understanding of the Reformation. What is different is that the alleged support for the understanding of Paul’s teachings comes from Second Temple literature which supposedly highlights the Jewish understanding of works of the law with which Paul was dealing. In the minds of some, this perspective can be harmonized with Roman Catholic understandings.

Dialog Between Catholics And The New Perspective

As Horton notes, “The main point of the Reformation was to stress the distinction between justification and other gifts of salvation. It was Rome’s confusion of justification and sanctification that the Reformers challenged.”3On the other hand, recent statements by other Protestants have demonstrated a softer stance toward the Catholics:

The gaping divide between evangelicals and Catholics is ecclesiology and authority, not justification and salvation, as important as that debate remains….There...

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