Posts Tagged ‘New Perspective on Paul’

Sinclair Ferguson and the NPP

I’ve seen this on a few other blogs but I thought that since I had recently posted on the NPP I should link to it and comment on it also.

Ferguson lectured on the New Perspective on Paul (16.6MB mp3) back in August. He said that due to problems at the airport he didn’t get in the day before in order to get some sleep and was therefore tired. He didn’t sound it. His comments are excellent and cogent. He does such a good job explaining the NPP that he made it sound like he believed it. Then he goes on to critique it and you realize he doesn’t.

When he is explaining the allure of the NPP one of the attractions he mentions is that many are weary of the evangelical focus on self to the exclusion of a sense of community. At one point (29:37) he says:

And then finally, one might say, against the background of our post-modern world, the New Perspective on Paul, with some of its emphasis is seen to be a marvelous liberation from the individualism that not only grips the society in which we live but also has invaded the church. To be truthful, it has sometimes seemed to me that the place in which the impact of Friedrich Schleiermacher is most evident in the world today is in the evangelical church; with our massive focus on the individual and our almost despising of the community. Seventeenth century evangelical theologians would preach sermons with titles like “Public Worship to be Preferred Before Private.” That would almost be regarded as a heresy in modern evangelicalism. Because the really important thing is my faith, what I do, my reading of the Bible, my prayer.

One of the things that the New Perspective on Paul, particularly with its appreciation of the notion of the old covenant community and the whole question of boundary markers, has strongly emphasized is the importance of the community over the importance of the individual. To that extent I think it might well be said by exponents of the New Perspective on Paul that by and large the Reformed churches have become individualistic and baptistic in their view of the nature of the Christian life.

At first I bristled at this. “Obviously they’re dealing with a caricature of what it means to be baptistic,” I thought. But as I reflected on it, I think I came to see his point. “Baptistic” has a pretty broad meaning. My understanding of a baptisic church is merely my understanding. Looking more broadly, you do see many Baptist churches where the emphasis is very much on the individual. The sermons are all about you. The worship service is designed so that you like it. The atmosphere is casual so that you are comfortable. It is all about your faith and your conversion. I don’t want to name (church or individual) names; just turn on Christian radio during “ministry” time when the preachers are on. You’ll get a healthy dose of it right away. When that’s done the inane music that grows in that kind of soil comes on.

Where it is unfair is to pin it exclusively on the Baptists. It is as if the Reformed churches were all tight and proper till the Baptists came along. Such is not the case. The Presbyterians were as much involved in Revivalism and Fundamentalism as were the Baptists. Where paedobaptists want to draw that line is that Baptists focus on the faith of the individual as a prerequisite for at least the sacrament of baptism whereas paedobaptists recognize a sense of community and that is why a child born in that community is baptized. And to that extent I would tend to agree with the critique, we baptistic types have done a pretty poor job of defining a doctrine of covenant children. They are our kids, we lug them to church, we put them in Children’s Church and Sunday School, they are expected to sing with us, we teach them to pray before meals and bed, and we tell them that Jesus loves them. At the same time we deny that they are candidates for baptism and say that they are not saved till they profess faith. (Really, this isn’t as schizophrenic as it sounds. Some/many will continually preach the gospel to their children in many ways calling them to that faith.)

I’m beginning to wander here. Again, the critique is good but I don’t think it can be laid only on the baptisic evangelicals. This is something to pay attention to within the NPP and the Federal Vision. While I believe both movements err and go too far, they are calling us to reevaluate our sense of community within the church, both paedo- and credobaptists. That is not a bad thing to do.