22 August 2005

The Quotable Westerholm

This weekend I finished the book which will serve as my introduction to the last two and a half decades of Pauline studies: Perspectives Old and New on Paul by Stephen Westerholm. Westerholm defends what seems to me to be basically the "Modified Lutheran" view as presented by Douglas Moo in Five Views on Law and Gospel.

Each of the three parts were helpful. In the first part, Westerholm summarizes Paul as he was interpreted by Augustine, Luther, Calvin and Wesley. While one might be surprised at how much each of these four theologians thinks like a twentieth-century evangelical, Westerholm brings a wealth of reading from primary sources to the table and does not hesitate to point out those elements which would not fit so well into the schema of modern Western Bible-believers.

In the second part, Westerholm brings his readers up to date on the current conversation. He makes an admirable effort to present each scholar on his own terms and in ways that each would approve. His bibliography and clarity are both great assets in this section.

In the third section, the author presents the "Lutheran" Paul from the Scriptures, showing the flaws of the New Perspective and nuancing the traditional "Lutheran" perspective to better fit the Scriptural data.

Three quotes from this third section are especially memorable; each highlights the error of a central pillar in the New Perspective platform, namely that Judaism is a religion of grace or a bastion of "good Protestant doctrine."

"The most important and salutary emphasis of the new perpective on Paul is the insistence that Judaism was not 'legalistic': Jews did not think they 'earned' salvation; they acknowledged God's goodness in granting Israel his covenant and strove to respond to that goodness by fulfilling its requirements. Admittedly, refutations of 'Lutheran' readings of Judaisim as a relgion of works-righteousness at times owe more of their terminology to 'Lutheranism' itself than to Jewish ways of seeing things. Judaism did not, after all, distinguish grace or faith from works done in obedience to God, nor did it thematically attribute salvation, the election of Israel, or the granting of the covenant to God's unmerited favor. To say that salvation in Judaism was 'by grace' and imply that 'works' (in the 'Lutheran' sense) were excluded is simply not true to Judaism; nor should one expect that a Judaism that did not see humanity as fundamentally 'lost' nor requiring the death of God's Son for its redemption would construe the relation between divine grace and human works in the same way Paul did" (pp. 443-44).

"We may say that in a literature that does not see grace and works opposed in any way, one should not expect direct declarations that salvation, or even election, is simply a matter of grace.... Here Sanders's polemical purposes have surely imposed a 'Lutheran' construction on the texts: neither the 'total' gratuity of the election, nor, indeed, any exclusion of human contributions is in view" (p. 348).

"The position of Judaism on the relation between grace and works as Sanders himself portrays it seems to differ little from that of Pelagius, against whom Augustine railed, or that of the sixteenth-century church, upon which Luther called down heaven's thunder" (p. 351).

Westerholm has done his homework, and this volume provides a good springboard from which to dive into the rest of the conversation.

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