To talk of a ‘New Perspective on Paul’ (NPP) is to imply that there is an ‘Old Perspective’ that has now come under scrutiny.
It might be tempting to respond by saying, “A curse on both your houses! I shall ignore them both and simply read and preach the text itself.”
An honourable aim, indeed, but one that would be unwise to attempt, and impossible to achieve.
Unwise to attempt, because we would then be elevating what we think the Holy Spirit is telling us about what God’s word means, above what others, possibly more insightful than us, think he has told them.
Impossible to achieve, because the Old Perspective has been embedded in our heritage and culture to deeply and for too long. We have been shaped by it, we have celebrated it (in our hymns and songs), we have preached it. We could no more put it to one side than we could enter upon adult life forgetting everything we have learned from our own upbringing.
And the NPP makes some strong challenges. It
- tells us that the Christian tradition has misread Paul and his gospel.
- urges us to take a fresh look at what Paul ‘really said’.
- suggests far-reaching implications for Christian spirituality, evangelism, unity, pastoral care, and social-political involvement.
You can love it, or hate it. But you can’t ignore it.