The folly of the New Perspective

John Dunn

John Dunn

The folly of NT Wright & Co. (New Perspective) is that the movement seeks to “rescue” Paul’s dismissal of the law as a covenantal marker, for those in Christ, by insisting that a natural reading of the apostle’s rhetoric and argument misses Paul’s “real meaning.” They assert that Paul’s “real meaning” can only be properly interpreted by understanding the intricate cultural context of Second Temple Judaism which they have recovered. So, the scholarly elite are left to redefine Paul’s view of the law for the rest of us, using a supposed first century context that favorably views a continuing use of law for the church.

What results is a tragic reversal of everything Paul ever wrote about the passing away of the law in favor of the new way of the Spirit. Their theology not only brings the saints back under law, but they insist that faithful obedience to law is absolutely necessary for sanctification and the authentication of their final justification at the judgment seat (covenantal nomism). This law-laden view of the Christian life is driving the evangelical church back to Rome in the fast lane. This false teaching is the epitome of why Paul wrote Galatians in the first place. Paul saw the wolves coming and sought to defend the law-free, Spirit-saturated way of NC grace in the most forceful and emphatic way possible!

So, what is the truth of the matter? Do we hear Paul upholding the law in complex layers of cultural contextualization and philosophy in his epistles? No! Quite the opposite. We constantly hear Paul de-contextualizing the law (stripping it of all its cultural and covenantal significance) and assigning it to the dead and dying realm of the “present evil age.” He does this most powerfully by relating the law to sin, death, and flesh, those very things to which we have died in Christ.

For Paul, the law is a “ministry of death/condemnation,” a “killing letter,” the “old way of the written code.” He even assures us that it “has come to have no glory at all.” The eschatological realities of the New Creation have come crashing into this present darkness through the cross, resurrection, and poured-out Spirit. For these reasons the saints are not to go back to law-keeping, in any form, but especially as covenantal markers of faithfulness.

Such arguments are an appeal to the flesh and will lead us away from Christ, away from grace, away from the Spirit of life, and back into the bondage of dead works that lead only to death. We are emphatically commanded to stand firm in our freedom! We are to love the Word of God! We are to obey the Word of God! And like Paul, we can even use the precepts of the law as wisdom. But we are earnestly urged to walk in the Spirit and never again submit to a yoke of bondage. Christ has given us all things in Himself for wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, “so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Cor 1:31).