Reading Dunn

I must admit, I don’t believe I’ve ever read anything by Dunn. My only interaction with him has been through Larry Hurtado’s references and criticism in Lord Jesus Christ, Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity.

In any case, over the last couple days I have been keeping an eye on the conversation going on over at New Leaven in regards to upcoming debates relating to justification, and especially as it relates to the New Perspective on Paul (hereafter, NPP). This is a topic I have steered clear of, maybe unjustly. One of the comments suggested online material, a sort of introduction to Dunn’s views on this “new perspective”. So I spent a good portion of the evening reading it and going through the relevant scripture references, as well as the counter-arguments and counter-counter-arguments.

At this point, I think I have a somewhat better feel for the basis of the NPP. But I still don’t have a good feel for any of the nuances (or more dramatic changes) that this will have on the outcome, towards application for those within the body of Christ. What effect, if  any, is there to the concept of salvation, sanctification, and eschatology? Though no immediate indication is offered from Dunn in that online material, I’m sure more ink (and internet bandwidth) has been expended to flesh this out. Indeed, it appears NT Wright is the usual whipping-boy on this topic, rather than Dunn ( I have also read nothing on this topic by Wright, unless I missed it in Surprised By Hope). Though the basis as described by Dunn has more to say about the formative aspects of Paul’s theology and its relationship to Judaism of his day, what does it say to the realities of today – in which there is a strong distinction between Judaism and Christianity, and specifically surrounding the person and work of Christ?

To be honest, I found Dunn’s thesis comforting, sort of a release of tension. There is such a strong tendency to build a dichotomy between works-based salvation and faith-based salvation. How many Christians would describe Mormonism as a works-based religion (I am focusing here merely on the description as such, not on whether such statement is verifiably correct or not)? How many Mormons are likely to describe their religion as such? My guess is considerably fewer. Then again, how many who leave the Mormon church are likely to reflect negatively and with force on this perceived element of legalism, if they indeed felt it?

All told, I have always considered it not quite right to read Jesus or Paul as saying that Judaism was all about legalism, while Christianity was about faith. I still see a very strong push for faith to be the primary force, not legalism for its own sake. But I wonder if this ultimately makes a difference. In the end, acceptance before God is through the work of Christ alone – as far as I can tell through what I have been taught and what I myself have read. Our work is in alignment with the change that Christ has accomplished within us.

Thoughts are welcome. I’m just learning here, and am taking it slow because there seems so much debate going on around this topic, and I have stayed clear so long.


About George

I'm interested in theology, languages, translation and various sorts of fermentation.
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