Analyzing The Apostle Paul ’s “Robust Conscience”: Identifying And Engaging The Psychological Concerns Of Krister Stendahl’s Inceptive Article -- By: Paul C. Maxwell

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 75:1 (Spring 2013)
Article: Analyzing The Apostle Paul ’s “Robust Conscience”: Identifying And Engaging The Psychological Concerns Of Krister Stendahl’s Inceptive Article
Author: Paul C. Maxwell


Analyzing The Apostle Paul ’s “Robust Conscience”:
Identifying And Engaging The Psychological Concerns Of Krister Stendahl’s Inceptive Article

Paul C. Maxwell

Paul C. Maxwell is an M.Div. student at Westminster Theological Seminary.

I. A Cloud And The Coming Storm: Tracing Stendahl’s Praise, Potential, And Position Fifty Years Later

1. Stendahl’s Praise

Krister Stendahl’s article “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West,”1 published fifty years ago, was the seminal work of the so-called New Perspective on Paul (NPP).2 All works published thereafter were heavily indebted in their conceptual framework to Stendahl’s article. N. T. Wright, a proponent of the NPP, says of the article, “This article, like a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand, gave promise of the coming storm,”3 and later, “Stendahl’s seminal essay on ‘Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West’ . . . alerted the world to the problems in traditional readings of Paul some while before Sanders.”4

The issue of the NPP may seem several disciplines removed from psychology and/or counseling. However, two years before Stendahl first published

his article in Harvard Theological Review in 1963, he presented it at the 1961 Annual Meeting of the American Psychological Association (APA). Stendahl’s exhortation was therefore not merely for academic theologians to read Paul with some interesting new insight. It was for counselors (which can be extended to pastors,5 teachers, and most importantly, the individual) who used Scripture in their counseling to stop using Paul’s doctrine of “justification by faith” to address a person’s guilt, since Paul did not have an “introspective conscience,” but a “robust conscience,” and

would be suspicious of a teaching and a preaching which pretended that the only door into the church was that of evermore introspective awareness of sin and guilt. For it appears that the Apostle Paul was a rather good Christian, and yet he seems to have had little such awareness.6

2. Stendahl’s Potential

Stendahl’s concerns are therefore practical at the core. If his claims are accepted, and the Pauline Corpus is read as providing no explicit solution for man’s plight of total depravity, and moreover, as im...

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