I often recommend people to take a look at “The New Perspective on Paul” to get another perspective on how to view Paul’s thought. Here I have summarized in a chart how the “New Perspective” compares to the traditional Lutheran/Reformed perspective.
Note that the New Perspective is a Protestant attempt to correct & reform its own theology, a kind of Reformation reformation, so to speak. (I’ve included it in the “Anabaptist Theology” category because it corresponds to historic Anabaptist thinking. If correct, it is just a Christian “perspective”.)
|Lutheran/Reformed Perspective||New Perspective|
|Works of the Law (What is Paul talking about?)||human effort to do good works in order to meet God’s standards; the idea that humans can merit salvation from God by their good works alone||“badges of covenant membership” or criticizing Gentile believers who had begun to rely on the Torah to reckon Jewish kinship.|
|Human Effort & Good Works||Paul’s rhetoric as being against human effort to earn righteousness.||Paul has nothing negative to say about the idea of human effort or good works, and saying many positive things about both.
Many statements in Paul’s writings that specify the criteria of final judgment as being the works of the individual.
|Meaning of “Pistis” (Faithfulness/Faith)||A belief in God and Christ, and trust in Christ for salvation with faith that he will save you.||Faithfulness, meaning firm commitment in an interpersonal relationship.
Synonymous with “obedience” when the people in the relationship held different status levels (e.g. a slave being faithful to his master).
Far from being equivalent to “lack of human effort”, the word seems to imply and require human effort. The interpretation of Paul’s writings that we need “faithfully” to obey God’s commands is quite different from one which sees him saying that we need to have “faith” that he will do everything for us.
|Meaning of “Charis” (Favor/Grace)||Charis means “Grace” and it is understood to refer to the idea that there is a lack of human effort in salvation because God is the controlling factor.||“Favor” is a better translation, as the word refers normally to “doing a favor”.
Paul speaks of how God did us a “favor” by sending Jesus, he is saying that God took the initiative, but is not implying a lack of human effort in salvation, and is in fact implying that Christians have an obligation to repay the favor God has done for them.
Does not teach that Christians earn their way to heaven outside of the death of Christ. Forgiveness of sins through the blood of Christ is necessary for salvation. But, that forgiveness demands effort on the part of the individual (cf. Paul in Phil. 3:12–16)
|The Atonement||Penal substitution atonement theory and the belief in the “finished work” of Christ have been central.||Other theories of the atonement are more central to Paul’s thinking|