Rolfing Unshelved

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The New Perspective on Paul: We’re Down with NPP

NewPerspectivesPaulComing up next week, Dr. Constantine Campbell will be leading this month’s Table Talk on the New Perspective on Paul (NPP). Now, if you study theology at Trinity or have come anywhere near Dr. Carson, you’re probably already pretty familiar with this school of thought. However, for those of you who may like an introduction (or a refresher), I’ll do my best in this blog post to get you up to speed with the major concepts. Now, let me state right off the bat, this is going to be an extremely quick and dirty analysis. As anyone who’s studied the issue can attest, it’s a gnarly one to try and wrap your head around — for two main reasons. First, it proposes a fundamentally different understanding of Christian faith and practice than the one most Protestants have espoused for half a millennium. Second, not even its three main proponents (E.P. Sanders, J.D.G. Dunn, and N.T. Wright — what is it with theologians and abbreviated first names?) totally agree with each other on how these ideas play out. But I get ahead of myself.

In order to understand this “New Perspective” on Paul’s theology, we first have to know what “Old Perspective” is being critiqued. And so, in good Protestant fashion, we turn to Martin Luther. In the early 16th century, “Uncle Marty” (as I like to call him) was battling the Spirit-crushing legalism of the late medieval Roman Catholic church — so that’s what he saw when he encountered Paul’s description of the Jewish “law” in the opening chapters of Romans. And for the most part, ensuing generations of Protestants have followed in his footsteps: pre-Jesus Judaism was largely understood to have been a legally-oriented system, in which salvation was based on an individual’s ability to follow the terms of the agreement God made with Abraham and his descendants.

Starting in the last quarter of the 20th century, however, the ocean liner (granted, some may consider it the Titanic) of Protestant scholarship on Paul began to change course. In 1977, E.P. Sanders published Paul and Palestinian Judaism, in which he argued that the Judaism that Paul knew was actually a religion founded on grace. In the book, he coined the term covenantal nomism to describe how Jewish law worked: according to Sanders, it’s “the view that one’s place in God’s plan is established on the basis of the covenant and that the covenant requires as the proper response of man his obedience to its commandments, while providing means of atonement for transgression…. Obedience maintains one’s position in the covenant, but it does not earn God’s grace as such…. Righteousness in Judaism is a term which implies the maintenance of status among the group of the elect” (p. 75ff). In other words, according to covenantal nomism, people’s acceptance into God’s covenant is entirely God’s call — but staying within the covenant is theirs. Keeping the law is about covenant faithfulness, not legalism; it’s about responding to the grace and glory of God and demonstrating God’s grace and glory to the world. However, according to James D.G. Dunn, another of the leading NPP scholars (and, incidentally, the one who came up with the term “New Perspective on Paul”), what Jews had done between the times of Father Abraham and Apostle Paul was to take these “covenantal boundary markers” and turn them into “nationalistic boundary markers” that differentiated and excluded non-Jews (i.e., Gentiles) from sharing in God’s promises. Thus, Sanders asserts that what Paul was really arguing against when he railed at the “works of the law” in writings like Romans were those Jewish cultural/religious practices (like circumcision or food prohibitions) that served to keep the rest of the world at arm’s length, and not the Jewish legal system itself.

Enter N.T. Wright onto the scene. Of the three big names in NPP, he’s the widest read (especially among evangelicals), and has taken Sanders’ and Dunn’s work in new — and different — directions. Key to Wright’s take on the NPP is a revised understanding of the concept of justification. Rather than putting it at the center of Paul’s thought, as most Protestants have done, Wright views justification a result of covenant relationship with God. In other words, for Wright (and, Wright would argue, for Paul) justification isn’t what gets believers into salvation — it’s simply a marker of membership in the covenant community, within which salvation is found.

Probably one of Wright’s best-known arguments about justification centers on a phrase that has had theologians scratching their respective heads for nigh on 2,000 years: the righteousness of God. Now, if you’ve ever studied grammar, or if you’re a word nut like me, you’ll know that this is an example of the genitive case — a piling of one noun on top of another that can have a variety of meanings. (For example: “a can of Coke” means something different than “a friend of mine,” and they’re both different from “the group of students.”) The problem is, Paul didn’t give the Roman church a handy footnote to tell them which meaning he intended when he used this particular word construction — so today we’re more or less left guessing. From Luther until the NPPers got started, the predominant view has been that this “righteousness” referred to a characteristic of God that becomes ours (theologians use the word imputed) when we become believers. However, Wright argues that God’s “righteousness” and our “righteousness” are two different things, and can be understood best in a courtroom context. Wright asserts that God’s righteousness is measured by His proper judgments, our righteousness comes from the fact that we’re declared not guilty — and the only way those two can be reconciled is through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

OK. At this point, you now know just enough about NPP to be dangerous. I’ve barely scratched the surface, and I haven’t even gone near the various critiques of the movement. (I’ll try to cobble together another post later on this week addressing those issues, if I have enough time.) But if you’re fired up, or confused, or curious –or just a fan of Dr. Campbell –I encourage you to bring your lunch and join us next Monday at noon for what promises to be a rousing discussion!

*(Bonus points if you got the joke in the title. Yes, I’m a geek, and I’m proud of it.)

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November Table Talk: Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?


“Garden of Eden” by Jacob Savery the Elder (paint on copper panel, 1601)

On Tuesday, Drs. Averbeck and Hoffmeier will be leading this month’s Table Talk on “The Historical Adam.” Now, if you’ve traveled in theological circles for a while, you’re probably familiar with the issues going on here (and if so, please forgive me for the VERY quick and dirty analysis I’m about to do). If not, you might be wondering why we’d take an entire month to focus on this topic — so, then, let me give you a little background on the issue so you don’t feel like you’re walking right into the middle of a conversation.

Through much of church history, the predominant view among Christians has been that humanity stemmed from one literal man named Adam and one literal woman named Eve, whose story is told in the opening chapters of Genesis. However, scientific advances of the 20th century — especially in the final quarter or so — have called that belief into question for some Christians. Francis S. Collins, a self-identifying evangelical Christian and the director of the National Institutes of Health, is perhaps foremost among this group. In his 2006 book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, he makes a couple key assertions that come into contradiction with traditional understandings of the Genesis account. First, he argues that modern humans emerged from their primate ancestors approximately 100,000 years ago; and second, he claims that the necessary genetic material for the human race to be what it is today had to have come from an original population of at least 10,000 (not just the two that Genesis records).

Obviously, trying to line up science and faith isn’t an easy task. This case is no exception — and Richard Ostling, in his Christianity Today article “The Search for the Historical Adam,” describes four main streams of thought that try to make sense of this apparent mismatch:

  • Young Earth Creationism. In this view, the earth (and the whole cosmos, for that matter) was created as a fully-functioning package deal about 6,000 years ago. Young earth creationists argue that evolution couldn’t have happened, because there simply hasn’t been enough time.
  • Old Earth Creationism. Like the young earthers, old earthers discount evolution. They too believe in a fully-formed, fully-functioning creation — but they affirm science’s view of the earth taking a whole lot more than 6,000 laps around the sun. Some folks in this camp also allow for intra-species evolution — in other words, they posit that animals and humans can adapt to their changing environments, but a fish stays a fish and a monkey stays a monkey.
  • Intelligent Design. Proponents of this view discount evolution as well, believing that the heavens and earth were created according to a specific plan. However, they don’t necessarily define the “planner” as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
  • Theistic Evolution. This is the view held by Collins and his associates. In a nutshell, they affirm that God created (and is continuing to create) the cosmos, but did (and does) so by using evolutionary processes like natural selection and genetic mutations over millions of years.

Now, why am I telling you all of this to get you ready for a talk on Adam and Eve? Well, if you think about it, the way we conceive of where we come from can have a pretty big impact on the way we understand who (and what) we are as human beings. Here are just a few of the philosophical and theological questions that come up as a result of the interaction of Christian faith with genetic and evolutionary theory:

  • If we hold to the idea that humans are the product of evolutionary processes, how does that affect our understanding of being God’s image-bearers?
  • If we claim that we as humans hold a special place in and over the rest of creation, how should we wrap our heads around the scientific finding that we “share common ancestry” with many primate species?
  • If we hold to a literal view of the “Historical Adam,” how do we reconcile the idea that the Bible itself hints at a larger initial population than just Adam and Eve? (For example, who did Cain marry?)
  • How might our conception of original sin change if the initial human population was 10,000 instead of 2?
  • How might our understanding of (and faith in) Christ as the “Second Adam” (Rom. 5; 1 Cor 14) be affected if there didn’t happen to be a first one?
  • How might these questions also affect our conceptions of family, birth, death, work, and any of the other identity-forming experiences we have as humans?

Hopefully, by this point, your head is swimming — you’re starting to see that this seemingly simple issue has remarkably far-reaching effects. And you know what the worst part is? I’m not going to answer a single one of the questions I just posed. I’m just going to leave them hanging, in order to entice you to the library at noon on Tuesday (11/11/14) so that you can talk about them with people who are also thinking about these ideas. See you then!

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Book Displays: October 2014

Medieval Theology

Thomas Aquinas’s “Summa Theologiae”: A Biography, Bernard McGinn

mcginnPerhaps no medieval theologian is better known than Thomas Aquinas, and without a doubt his most influential book was his Summa Theologiae. Written between 1266 and 1273 (a mere seven years), the volume spans 3,500 pages — and that’s only because Aquinas died before he could complete it. Aquinas intended it to be an educational aid for all the key theological teachings of the Catholic Church, and it follows a cycle: the existence of God, creation, humanity, humanity’s purpose, Christ, the sacraments, and back to God.

While Aquinas’s Summa numbers over 3,000 pages, McGinn’s biography is (thankfully) only a fraction of that length. In 273 pages, he takes readers through the world of Aquinas’s time, his own background, his reasons for writing the Summa, a basic tour of the Summa itself, and then an examination of the Summa‘s reception over the ensuing seven centuries.

Other Titles:

Military History: World War I (Centennial Anniversary)

The Great War: Myth and Memory, Dan Todman

todmanThe way we interpret history after cataclysmic events can often shift over the years. Heroes become villains, formerly sidelined events take front stage, and motivations are assumed where previously none may have been thought to exist. World War I is not exempt from this pattern. The new style of warfare, the brutality of the attacks, the massive numbers of casualties — in retrospect, it’s easy to chalk it up to the “futility of war.” However, Dan Todman argues that this wasn’t necessarily how everyone who lived through the era understood the events. Pride and patriotism were dominant themes of the era, and the “armchair generals” that we decry in the 21st century were actually regaled for their professionalism and effectiveness in winning the war. Todman takes a hard look at the ways the narrative has shifted over the past century, and offers an alternative view.

Other Titles:

Biblical Inerrancy

Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy, Albert Mohler, Peter Enns, Michael F. Bird, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, and John R. Franke

vanhoozerFor many evangelicals, the doctrine of biblical inerrancy is a central element of their faith — for some, even the central element. But what exactly do we mean by that term “inerrant?” And how central is it to the Christian understanding of the nature and character of God? These five evangelical scholars (one of whom is on faculty here at TEDS and will be leading the library’s Table Talk about this very topic) have come together in a written dialogue about the concept. Their perspectives are:
– When the Bible Speaks, God Speaks: The Classic Doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy
– Inerrancy, However Defined, Does Not Describe What the Bible Does
– Inerrancy Is Not Necessary for Evangelicalism Outside the USA
– Augustinian Inerrancy: Literary Meaning, Literal Truth, and Literate Interpretation in the Economy of Biblical Discourse
– Recasting Inerrancy: The Bible as Witness to Missional Plurality

Other Titles:

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Constitution Day: Don’t Think You Can Make a Difference?

“Write a paper about the governmental process.”

20-year-old Gregory Watson, one in a sea of 300 faces in the 1982 spring semester American Government survey class at the University of Texas, read through his syllabus and considered his final assignment. The prompt was broad enough — that was for sure. He figured he’d take a look at the deadline extension of the Equal Rights Amendment, which was set to expire right around the end of the semester. He found a book in the library that listed all the proposed-but-not-ratified amendments to the US Constitution. One in particular caught his interest.

ConstitutionIn 1789, when the ink of the Constitution itself was still drying, Representative (later to become the 4th President) James Madison was concerned about the fact that senators and representatives could vote pay raises for themselves without any oversight. He lobbied to get a clause put into the Constitution itself, but failed — so he decided to take the long way around. He proposed a constitutional amendment that simply read, “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.” In other words, any salary changes wouldn’t take effect until after the next election (so the American public could have a say in the process). Seven states ratified the amendment, two short of the necessary two-thirds, and then the movement lost steam. However, there was one peculiar characteristic of this particular amendment: James Madison didn’t write in an expiration date. Thus, at least theoretically, it was still eligible for ratification, even if the necessary “two-thirds” was a lot bigger in the 20th century than it was in the 18th.

Gregory had his topic. He dove in with relish, seeking to show that this amendment was both viable and valid in late 20th-century America. He crafted his argument, supported his assertions — and ended up getting a C on the paper. His professor said the idea was “too unrealistic.” Gregory was furious. He quit school, found work as a staff member in the Texas legislature, and started his letter-writing campaign. Armed with little more than a typewriter, he spent long evenings crafting letters to representatives and senators in states that had not yet passed the amendment. Battling (often uphill) against bureaucracy and political inertia, he remained tenacious. Even after gaining key political partnerships and taking advantage of souring popular opinion against US Congressional conduct, he would still have to put in a grueling decade’s worth of work before enjoying the fruits of his labor. But that work did eventually pay off — on May 7, 1992, almost 203 years after John Madison’s initial proposal, Michigan became the 38th state to add its approval to what became the 27th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

All because one seemingly insignificant undergrad took the initiative and followed his passion.


 Editor’s Note: Constitution Day is September 17, 2014! Check out our display in the front of the library for more books and films about the Constitution.

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Book Displays: September 2014

Welcome back to campus! As the fall semester comes into swing, we invite you to swing by Rolfing and check out our Recommended Reading displays — or open our e-books directly from this page!

Asian Theological Education

Policy and Practice in Asian Distance Education, edited by Tian Belawati and Jon Baggaley

Policy and Practice in Asian Distance Education

With a current population of almost 4.5 billion and an area of over 17 million square miles, Asia is a prime candidate for the benefits of non-traditional and distance education. However, negotiating the logistics of such a task is a gigantic undertaking. In order to help educators (theological and otherwise) in their task, the PANdora Task Force (made up of representatives of Pakistan, China, Mongolia, Vietnam, Indonesia, India, Cambodia, Philippines, Bhutan, Laos, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Hong Kong) has created a guidebook for Open and Distance Learning in a specifically Asian environment. The 23 chapters in this volume are modular in format, so that educators can use only what they need in their specific contexts.

Other Titles:

History of American Missions

Native Americans, Christianity, and the Reshaping of the American Religious Landscape, edited by Joel W. Martin and Mark A. Nicholas

amindThe history of Native Americans and Christian missionaries has been a long and complex one. The interplay of the two cultures has produced both blessing and bloodshed, with positive engagement and painful misunderstanding taking place on both sides. Joel Martin and Mark Nicholas bring together authors from a variety of disciplines and contexts to add to a robust discussion of both the historical and the ongoing interactions between these groups of people, and how they have shaped what it means to be both an American Indian and an American Christian.

Other Titles:

Academic and Professional Writing

Exploring College Writing: Reading, Writing, and Researching Across the Curriculum, Dan Melzer

explWhat is “college writing?” How is it different than the writing you did in high school, or the writing that you do in your spare time? What’s involved in crafting this style of communication? How do different academic disciplines go about understanding and undertaking this task? In this textbook, Dan Melzer seeks to help undergraduate composition students (and anyone who could use a refresher) navigate this territory. He uses real-world examples of student writing to highlight the important attributes and key strategies of effective college writing, and guides readers through crafting their own work.

Other Titles:


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Google Calendar: Setting Your Schedule up for Success

It’s the beginning of a new semester. Sixteen weeks lie ahead of you like a blank slate. Honestly, that’s one of the things I like best about academia — regardless of how you did last term, you get to start fresh this time around. And through my years of school, I’ve found that time management plays a huge role in my overall organization. If I know what I’m doing with my day, I’ll know how to plan for (and around) it.

TIU has set us up for success in that regard — since our student accounts are run through Google, we’re automatically set up with our own calendars. I personally swear by mine; I’ve tried other apps and programs, and nothing else seems to work as well for me. If you’ve never used it before and aren’t sure how to access it, you have a couple of easy options: either navigate directly to, or click on Calendar from the Apps icon (the nine boxes) in the upper right-hand corner of your Gmail page.

Now, setting up events is pretty intuitive — click on a specific time in the schedule and a dialog screen will pop up. What I’d like to focus on instead are some of the bells and whistles you might not know about:

  • gcalendarShare your schedule with friends, family, etc. On the left side of the calendar page, you’ll see a list called “My Calendars.” Hover over the name of your particular calendar, and click on the down arrow that pops up. Click on “Share this calendar,” and you have the option make your calendar public (so that your profs or advisers can see if you’re busy), or to share it with specific people (with or without editing access). This can come in really handy if you’re trying to coordinate a group project.
  • Create and coordinate multiple calendars. If you’d like to create separate calendars for, say, class responsibilities and extracurriculars, it’s a snap. Click on the down arrow beside “My Calendars,” and you’ll find the option to create a new calendar. You’ll also see “Settings,” which will give you a chance to tweak all the calendars that have been shared with you and that you’ve created.
  • Manage your to-do list. On the right side of the calendar, you’ll see a “Tasks” list. If your particular task is fairly straightforward, you can type right into the line; if you’d like more options, click the right arrow beside the line and you can add a due date and additional notes. If you do add a due date, the task will show up on the top of that day in your calendar. (Likewise, you can add these items directly to the calendar — click in the box without a time designation at the top of the particular day, and you can choose either an all-day event or a task.)
  • Send invitations. After you’ve created your event, click its name in your calendar. On the right side of the editing screen, you’ll see the “Add Guests” option. Enter the email addresses of anyone you’d like to invite, and they’ll be sent an email asking them to RSVP. (You also have the option to allow them to invite guests of their own, see who else is coming, and modify the event itself.)
  • Set appointment slots. Since we here at TIU are using Google Apps as an educational institution, we have a few extra options that normal free users don’t. Perhaps the best of these is the ability to create appointments. When you click on your calendar and get the quick add popup, click on “Appointment slots” instead of “Event.” Set up the number and duration of your appointment slots, and then you can email the link to people who need to sign up for them. (Likewise, if you have a tech-savvy prof this semester, you may see one of these emails show up in your inbox.) Once you (or the people you’ve emailed) choose a slot, it will show up as an event on both your calendars.
  • Coordinate schedules across platforms. Like all the other Google utilities, Calendar has its own standalone app for Android (not surprisingly — Droid is developed by Google!), so syncing across those platforms is a breeze. Google has also developed an all-in-one iOS app that allows you to sync your email, calendar, hangouts, Google+, etc. onto Apple devices. The best part? At least on Droid, if you put the address of the event’s location into its details, the system automatically coordinates with Google Maps to calculate how long it will take you to get there from your current location and will send you a notification when it’s time to leave. (Behold, the wonders of modern technology!)

At this point, if you haven’t used Google Calendar before, your head’s probably spinning. But it’s not as difficult as it may seem — that’s the beauty part of Google. Their program developers try to make apps as user-friendly and intuitive as possible. Plus, if you get too lost, all you have to do is… well… Google it. 🙂

Have a great semester, and keep checking in for more study tips and resources!

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WHY are you here?

I’ll be the first to admit it: I’m a TED junkie. If you’ve never heard of it before, let me explain the idea — it’s simple. Take somebody who’s an expert on something or other, put them on a stage, give them between 2 and 20 minutes to talk about their passion, record it on video, and post it online for the world to see. For free. Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, TED serves as a clearinghouse for over 1,800 videos on everything from neuroplasticity to how to tie your shoelaces.

goldencircleTo date, the third most-watched video in their collection (with over 18 million views) is by a leadership expert named Simon Sinek, and it’s called “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” (He later wrote a book called Start with Why that unpacks these ideas even further.) The talk is worth watching in and of itself — but so we can move on to my main point, let me give you a quick run-down of his main argument. He says that we as human beings (and organizations) operate on three levels — whathow, and why.

  • What describes the actions that you or your group undertakes – for example, the products a company markets or the events a ministry group coordinates.
  • How describes the plans or strategies by which these actions get done – for example, the style of music at a worship service or the manufacturing practices a company uses.
  • Why describes the purpose, cause, or belief that fuels the whole process– it’s the reason an organization exists or a person gets out of bed in the morning.

He goes on to explain that while everybody knows what they’re doing, and most know how they’re doing it, shockingly few actually understand why. Thus, we tend to live our lives backwards – we waste time and energy worrying about and trying to coordinate the whats rather than letting them fall into place naturally when we truly understand the whys.

So, then, as we gear up for another year at Trinity, let me challenge you to take Simon Sinek’s words to heart. Especially if you’re a returning student, you’re familiar with the whats of college/seminary life: going to class, reading books, writing papers, participating in clubs and teams, getting a job, spending time with friends, getting (probably not enough) sleep… the list goes on and on. And if you think a little harder, you can probably figure out how you’re doing those things: showing up to class on time, paying attention to your professor, making sure the sources you cite are reputable, picking activities that interest you, etc. But have you considered why you’re doing it?

A complementary strategy to Simon Sinek’s is the “Five Whys” technique developed by Sakichi Toyoda and implemented within the Toyota Corporation (yes, that Toyota). When an issue would arise on his production lines, he’d ask why five times in succession, in order to get down to the heart of the matter. So let’s try that here with the question I posed in the previous paragraph. Imagine two classmates. They’re both in the same program and taking the same classes — so their whats are the same. They both get good grades and are well-respected by their professors and fellow students — so you could even say their hows are pretty similar. But ask them why, and you’ll get two completely different stories.

Student 1:

  • Why are you going to college? To get a degree.
  • Why do you want to get a degree? To get the job I want.
  • Why do you want that job? To make enough money.
  • Why do you want to make money? To buy the things I want.
  • Why do you want to buy these things? To make my life feel fulfilled.

Student 2:

  • Why are you going to college? To broaden my understanding of the world.
  • Why do you want to broaden your understanding of the world? So that I can better fulfill the place to which God has called me within it.
  • Why do you want to fulfill your calling? Because it will bring God glory and me joy.
  • Why will it bring God glory? Because I’m living in harmony with God’s plan.
  • Why will it bring you joy? Because I’ll be doing what God created me to do.

Like I said before, these two students are doing the same things, using the same methods. Which of them, though, do you think will be under less stress to succeed at any cost? Which will be able to bounce back more easily from setbacks along the way? Who’s in charge of each particular student’s whys? Who do you think will ultimately end up more fulfilled?

I encourage you to try the same exercise on your own life. Why are you at Trinity? (And, while you’re at it, why are you at Trinity?) Be honest — it’s OK if you encounter answers that you’re not completely happy with right now. Part of college/grad school (honestly, it’s not all about writing papers!) is finding and examining those hidden parts of your own life, so that you can better understand both who God created you to be and what role He’s called you to fulfill. Yeah, it might be a little daunting, but it’s totally worth it.

Blessings to you as you begin this new semester!