06 February 2008

Stott: Reasserting a Biblical Anthropology vis-a-vis NPP

In light of recent discussions on this blog I was frascinated to rediscover this statement from John Stott last night, from p. 29 of his Romans commentary in The Bible Speaks Today series (emphasis original):

[O]ur fallen human nature is incurably self-centred, and pride is the elemental human sin, whether the form it takes is self-importance, self-confidence, self-assertion or self-righteousness. If we human beings were left to our own self-absorption, even our religion would be pressed into the service of ourselves. Instead of being the vehicle for the selfless adoration of God, our piety would become the base on which we would presume to approach God and to attempt to establish a claim on him. The ethnic religions all seem to degenerate thus, and so does Christianity. In spite of the learned literary researches of E. P. Sanders, therefore, I cannot myself believe that Judaism is the one exception to this degenerative principle, being free from all taint of self-righteousness. As I have read and pondered his books, I have kept asking myself whether perhaps he knows more about Palestinian Judaism than he does about the human heart.

Someone buy that man a drink.


Eric said...

One ginger ale, on my tab, for Dr. Stott!

Andrew said...

Stott seems to be deciding arbitrarily what constitutes 'good' religion. The criteria he picks seem to me to be very silly ones, and by his own confession are not what the vast majority of humanity think constitute good religion (ie virtually everyone thinks he's wrong). Then he implies that Christians are only True Christians if their form of Christianity meets his arbitrarily picked criteria and also says that Judaism is not allowed to meet it. His final comment that careful studies of historical facts about Judaism are no substitute for made up assumptions about human religious inclinations is somewhat telling.

Sanders' book is, in my eyes, itself a story about those who make silly assumptions about what consistutes 'good' religion. In the eyes of the Lutherans theologians, "grace", understood in a certain way (a particularly silly way), was particularly important, and their form of Christianity they deemed a "good" religion because it said the "right" things about grace. They said Judaism was a "bad" religion because it didn't said the "wrong" things about grace. EP Sanders, influenced by Lutheranism, tried to argue that Judaism said the "right" things about grace and so was a "good" religion. He argues they bought into covenantal nomism - a systematic theology of "grace" that he copied straight from Lutheranism.

I myself, hold to the New Perspective like Sanders, but unlike him I totally reject the Lutheran ideas about grace as absurd and find the idea that they are what characterizes a religion as "good" to be ludicrous. Sanders rejected the Lutheran condemnation of Judaism because he argued that Judaism actually met the Lutheranism's standards. I reject their condemnation because I reject their standards. Same result, but quite different reasons. Sanders tried to prove Judaism was "good" by proving it held to covenantal nomism, and thus he needed to show it held to covenantal nomism if it was to be "good". Whereas, I couldn't care less how much Judaism held to covenantal nomism (although I find the concept of covenant nomism to be just like its Lutheran counterpart in that it is generally incoherent, absurd, and amusing. I don't think covenantal nomism is a helpful category or one that leads to clear thinking.)

Ray Ortlund said...

I think Stott nails it -- with gratifying lucidity.

Dane Ortlund said...

Thanks for the comment Andrew. Blessings to you.