Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Perspective on Perspectives

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you may know that I am somewhat sympathetic towards the New Perspective on Paul (or perhaps better put, in agreement with certain elements of certain strands). The point of this post isn't so much to ask about the quality of exegesis of specific passages of Scripture that a NPP approach yields, but to ask some pertinent questions that I think both sides of the Old/New perspective divides should consider, and I know that I'm probably not the first one to ask this set of questions, but I think that we need to do some wrestling with our presuppositions.

Arguably the most important thing that post modernity has bashed into our brains is that we need to constantly examine what presuppositions we bring to the text. What blind spots do we have because of our experiences and the various cultures that we inhabit? Fair enough, let me ask the question to myself. One of the elements of NPP exegesis that resonates with me is the emphasis on horizontal dimensions of salvation, especially unity between Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2 lays this out so eloquently). This becomes a central focal point through which much of Pauline soteriology is read.

Now for some biography. I grew up in a white suburban neighborhood. I went to a white all-male Catholic high school (162 out of 167 in my graduating class were white). In college I discovered other cultures for the first time, eventually ending up in an Asian-American campus ministry and church, marrying a 1st generation Korean immigrant and I've traveled to Asia three times (and loved every minute of it). If the Lord is willing I'd move to Korea or China in a heartbeat. Being united with believers of a different race has been an eye-opening experience that has helped me to see how God is glorified through the unity of people who otherwise have little or nothing in common (this extends far beyond racial unity). I don't think that my experience is all that unique. In a globalized world, these types of connections are becoming more and more common and in America our culture is increasingly variegated providing opportunities for unity in diversity.

My questions is, since we live in intersection with other cultures in ways we never have in the past, are we predisposed to find the importance of ethnic unity in Scripture or does our cultural situation enable us to see something that may have been invisible to the church in the past?

I think we also need to ask a question about unity in a more general sense. Being tolerant is the meta-norm of our culture. Has our culture rubbed off on us to the extent that we find a stress on tolerance (granted not a total tolerance like some in our culture want) at the heart of Paul's message to Christians (an important specification), or again is it really there?

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