Skip to content

New interview: Cracking the Foundation of the New Perspective on Paul, by Robert Cara (REDS)

J. V. Fesko, Academic Dean and Professor of Systematic Theology and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California, and Matthew Barrett, Lecturer and Tutor of Systematic Theology and Church History at Oak Hill Theological College in London, are the editors of a new series with Mentor (the academic arm of Christian Focus) called REDS: Reformed, Exegetical and Doctrinal Studies.

This series presents new studies informed by rigorous exegetical attention to the biblical text, engagement with the history of doctrine, with a goal of refined dogmatic formulation. REDS covers a spectrum of doctrinal topics, addresses contemporary chal­lenges in theological studies, and is driven by the Word of God, seeking to draw theological conclusions based upon the authority and teaching of Scripture itself. Each volume also explores pastoral implications so that they contribute to the church’s theological and practical understanding of God’s word. One of the virtues that sets REDS apart is its ability to apply dogmatics to the Christian life. In doing so, these volumes are characterized by the rare combination of theological weightiness and warm, pastoral application, much in the tradi­tion of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. These volumes do not merely repeat material accessible in other books but retrieve and remind the church of forgotten truths to enrich contemporary discussion.

The first book in the series to release was Death in Adam, Life in Christ: The Doctrine of Imputation, by J. V. Fesko. But the second book in the series just released: Cracking the Foundation of the New Perspective on Paul: Covenantal Nomism versus Reformed Covenantal Theology, by Robert Cara. Cara is the Hugh and Sallie Reaves Professor of New Testament and Provost and Chief Academic Officer at Reformed Theological Seminary.

About the book: The New Perspective on Paul claims that the Reformed understanding of justification is wrong – that it misunderstands Paul and the Judaism with which he engages. The New Perspective’s revised understanding of Second Temple Judaism provides the foundation to a new perspective. This important book seeks to show that this foundation is fundamentally faulty and cannot bear the weight it needs to carry, thus undermining the entirety of the New Perspective on Paul itself.

Today we’d like to highlight a podcast interview Cara did with Fred Zaspel at Books at a Glance. Here is the start of the interview in transcript form:

You’ve heard about “the New Perspective on Paul” long enough now to know it’s no longer new, but you will also know, then, that it hasn’t gone away. Just what is the debate all about? And why is it important?

Hi, I’m Fred Zaspel, executive editor here at Books At a Glance, and this is what we’re talking about today with Dr. Robert Cara, author of the important new book, Cracking the Foundation: The New Perspective on Paul.

Bob, congratulations on your new book, and thanks for talking to us about it today.

You’re welcome very much, and I look forward to our enjoyable conversation.

Alright, first, help us get this issue in focus. Just what is the New Perspective on Paul? How is this related to a new perspective on Second Temple Judaism, which you call the “foundation” of the New Perspective on Paul? And what are the central questions at issue?

Well, that’s a big question, but I’ll give it a shot. The way I like to explain the New Perspective is to say that there’s actually two new perspectives. There’s a new perspective on Judaism that certain scholars have come up with. And then based on the new perspective on Judaism, they then change the traditional view of Paul to a new perspective on Paul. So, back to the first new perspective, what is their new perspective on Judaism? Their new perspective on Judaism is that no one in the first century was works righteousness oriented. Judaism was not works righteousness oriented. That’s their new perspective on Judaism. They then say, “oh, how does that affect Paul?” If Paul was not arguing against works righteousness, therefore, he must have been having some other view, because the traditional Protestant view says that Paul is arguing against works righteousness.

What do New Perspective people believe? Okay, so about Judaism – no one was works righteousness oriented. What about Paul? What is his view? If it’s not the traditional view, what is it? Well, works righteousness they redefine as simply what they call Sabbath, circumcision and food laws, the boundary markers of Judaism or national righteousness. It’s just being Jewish. So all Paul was saying when he said, “don’t be works of the law, don’t be works oriented,” all he was saying is don’t follow Sabbath, circumcision and food laws. It was not a salvation or soteriological statement, it was simply – to be a Christian, you don’t have to do Sabbath, circumcision and food laws.

So if that’s their view of works righteousness, what was justification? Well, justification is not the traditional view, it’s just simply a statement that you are part of the community (and they’ll call it ecclesiastical) you’re part of the community of Christians if you have faith in Jesus and you don’t have to do Sabbath, circumcision and food laws. They call that “initial justification.” But then they also have “final justification.” Final justification includes (and that’s at the end, as you go to heaven) it includes both faith, but also some level of works. Now they would say the works were given to you where you did them in the ability through the Holy Spirit, but still, they connect, at least partially, works to justification. And that’s the big problem.

To make this a little clearer, how is that as opposed to the traditional view? Well, the traditional Protestant view says works righteousness are works done in order to merit heaven. And Paul is against that. And then, as opposed to that is justification. So justification in the traditional Protestant view is the opposite of works. So justification are not your works, they are the works of Christ, they are given to you by grace. And then the instrument by which you grab onto Christ and his works, is faith.

Let’s chase that just a little further – give us the 90-second version of the traditional Reformed view of justification.

Justification is God declaring that you are just or righteous or perfect, based, not on your works, but based on someone else’s works, the works of the Lord Jesus Christ. And that’s ultimately by grace and you grab onto Christ through faith. Justification is a declaration, a legal declaration by God, and when you first believe in Christ, he declares that. Now, the logic is, “well, I thought normally when you use justification in regular English, justification is like something, some works you do that prove a point. Well, why isn’t it at the end of your life that you are justified? We normally use the word justification that way – I predict the Yankees will win the World Series, and at the end they win. Okay, those works by the Yankees proved my point.” Well, in the logic of the Bible’s justification, the reason we don’t have to wait until the end to see if we are justified is because we’re not justified on our works, were justified based on someone else’s works, Christ’s works. So that’s why, in the middle of our life, when we first believe, we can be justified and then we are assured of that declaration through the rest of our life in a grand and glorious way. …

Read and listen to the rest of the interview today at Books at a Glance.

Back to Top