The New Perspective on Paul (NPP) tells a different story to the standard evangelical one that we learned growing up in Sunday school. This has to do with the particular battles that Martin Luther was having with his own conscience and with the corrupt Medieval Catholic Church. We can come back to that sometime in the future.
The story that I learned growing up tells us that the heart of the human problem is sin. I’m a sinner. My sin separates me from God. Therefore, I need forgiveness. Jesus died on the cross so that my sins can be forgiven and I can go to heaven when I die.
Maybe this story sounds familiar. Its the standard evangelical take on the gospel. What should I do? ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved!’ Just like Peter said in Acts 2.
Now this gospel works. I’m still a christian and so are all those people I led to the Lord using The Four Spiritual Laws, Two Ways to Live or various other evangelism techniques that I was trained to use.
The problem (says the NPP) is that this is not the story that the NT writers were living in. And if you’re living in the wrong story a whole lot of things will go wrong.
Hence, look at the sorry state of the evangelical church. Here we can reference Dallas Willard, ‘The Divine Conspiracy’. It is a gospel of ‘sin management’ and it leads to ‘Bar-code Christianity’ where it doesn’t matter what kind of person I am or what kind of life I live, as long as I’ve prayed the prayer, the bar-code will read ‘forgiven’ or ‘justified’ when I get waved over the heavenly scanner.
The NPP says that the core human problem is not sin (which is not saying that sin isn’t a problem, just not the main one). The core problem for humans is a failure of vocation. Because we are sinful, we have failed to live out the vocation that we were given in the garden.
The reason we need our sins forgiven is so that we can come back into right relationship with the creator and begin to live out our vocation as his representatives in the work of new creation. Our role, as image-bearers, is to reflect the creator’s image into the creation and represent him to the creation; and to sum up the praises of creation and give this praise to God.
How to lead a person toward faith
So, to your question: What does it look like to lead someone to faith?
First up, tell the story. We were made in God’s image so that we could partner with God and be his reflection in the creation. We were meant to rule as his representatives and tend the garden.
This vocation was lost but we still feel the yearnings of our vocation, deep within – longing for relationship, hunger for justice, creativity and love of beauty, caring for the earth.
Jesus came to bring God’s kind and generous rule into the world that we messed up. We are invited to recognise and submit to Jesus as king. Jesus is the only one who ever lived a fully human life.
Second step, put your confidence in Jesus as the master of human life. We are invited to give him our allegiance, recognising his kingship and his right to lead and guide us.
If we do this, his image is restored in us (gradually), his Spirit indwells us and empowers us to start living as image-bearers, and we are transformed in the likeness of Jesus.
Our work, as image-bearers, it to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus, to follow Jesus into his mission of announcing and demonstrating the presence of God’s generous rule and to partner with God in his work of new creation.
If you like formulae, I suggest that you stick with the gospels.
Mark 1.15-20 gives us a very neat kingdom ‘package’.
Announce the good news of the kingdom
Repent – not confess your sins, though this is a good idea if the Holy Spirit is convicting you of something I particular. Metanoia means reorient your whole life around the presence of God’s generous rule.
Believe that the faithfulness of Jesus will deliver you and bring you into God’s family. Give your allegiance to him as the king.
Follow Jesus into his mission (catching people to bring them into God’s generous rule.
This is a bit more than I intended to write and I skipped over some important things. Here are a few wrinkles:
Faith or Faithfulness
In the NPP, it is not our believing that saves us. We are saved by the faithfulness of Jesus the messiah. The key passages have been read wrongly (its only five hundred years).
According to Matthew Bates, ‘believing’ isn’t that useful, we are called to give ‘allegiance’ to Jesus and his kingdom (one of the meanings of the Greek word ‘pistis’)
The Righteousness of God
God doesn’t give us his righteousness. The whole ‘bar-code religion’ thing is completely wrong-headed.
‘Justification by faith’ is not the gospel
Justification by faith is part of Paul’s larger argument about how Jews and Gentiles are being brought together in the one multiethnic family of God promised to Abraham (which is the main argument of Romans)
Going to heaven when you die
Going to heaven is not the point of it all. Heaven is really just a holding bay while we await Jesus return when we will get to live and rule with him on a renewed earth.
That should set the cat among the pigeons. Obviously, I’ve just given a rough take on the NPP. We should come back to this and look at it a bit more carefully and see how the NPP writers get these ideas out of the texts.
I’m hoping that some others might weigh in or push back.
Does this all make sense? Have I given a fair representation of the NPP?