Some Perspective on the New Perspective

John ArmstrongBiblical Theology

I have professor friend, who teaches biblical studies at a large evangelical college, who last week presented a paper at an event called "Beyond Tolerance: Grace." This event brought together several speakers and allowed for some really good feedback from students and others. My friend stressed in his particular paper that racial reconciliation, in the light of Ephesians 2, Galatians 3 and Paul’s Letter to the Romans, was not just a good thing to pursue but rather an effort that required our involvement based upon the gospel itself. He argued that statements of both vertical and horizontal reconciliation are inseparable so that you can’t have one without the other.

In an email my freind asked me to pray for him as several members of the faculty had expressed the concern that he was confusing justification by his particular emphasis on reconciliation. As some readers will recognize this type of thinking is at the heart of one of the major aspects of the present debate over justification language in Paul’s theology. N. T. Wright correctly argues that justification includes the tearing down of the wall that seperates people racially and ethnically. He doesn’t deny forensive categories, contrary to what his critics say, but he does include more in the emphasis he makes. Simply put, this emphasis understands reconciliation in more than one way.

My friend reported to me that the students showed real hunger, inquiring and asking him good questions. But several faculty members expressed concern for what he taught, focusing rather upon the ordo salutis and how this precludes the vital connection he made in salvation language. For those who think that this debate is all a tempest in a tea pot try starting a serious discussion in conservative academic circles and watch the reaction. You will understand what my friend faced. Academics are often the last people who are willing to reform their theological conclusions by the Word of God. It never ceases to amaze me how we can adopt systems of thought and then stop, effectively at least, really listening to Scripture. We would far rather have a tame and acceptable gospel than one that mightily challenges our presuppositions and corrects our particular sins.