Cornelius Venema on Paul and the New Perspective

My preference is to study Christianity. That is, good old historic Protestant Biblical Christianity. Sometimes, however, I learn a lot about Christianity by learning what it is not. For example, Walter Martin in his classic book “The Kingdom of the Cults” surveys a number of false religions, some of which claim to be Christian, and shows where they err. Comparing these false religions with Christianity, as in Martin’s book, can help more clearly bring out the truths of Christianity, distinguishing them from true-sounding, but ultimately false, doctrines.
Many of the ancient heresies no longer plague the church, but new ones continue to creep up, sometimes just alterations of the old ones. These can be identified as ancient heresies and discarded. In more recent years, however, there have been a number heresies so complex that it is difficult to determine what exactly of them is to be discarded. Chief among these is the “New Perspective on Paul.”
Peddling a form the New Perspective, N. T. Wright, Like a edenic serpent, claims his teaching to be truth and causes many to fall away from the faith. I do not think it rash to hold that N. T. Wright is the most dangerous heresiarch today. His false gospel spreads by first defending something true (that Christ actually rose from the dead) which leads Christians to think him on their side. Then, employing the work of liberal or even non-Christian scholars (see E.P. Sanders and James Dunn), Wright denies the substitionary atonement and salvation by grace. Ultimately he denies the gospel.
In “Getting the Gospel Right” (c. 2006) by Cornelius Venema, subtitled “Addressing the Reformation and New Perspectives on Paul” the author is more cordial than I am to Wright, but ultimately comes to the conclusion that the New Perspective is in error. Venema, the President of Mid-American Reformed Seminary, quite fairly spends much of his short book explaining the historic Protestant view of Paul and then the New Perspective. Only in his final chapter does he provide critique.
Venema’s conclusion is not as strong as Michael Horton who has rightly declares that those preaching the New Perspective are “preaching another gospel.” But yet Venema provides some good arguments against Wright and his cohorts. And so the purpose of this article to is to briefly list these points for my own future reference or the interest of anyone who happens to read my page.
Venema’s arguments include:
1. E. P. Sanders point that second temple Judaism was not Pelagian in their works-righteousness is besides the point, for the Protestant Reformers did not make such an argument. Rather, the Reformers argued that Judaism at the time was essentially semi-Pelagian, bringing in elements of faith and works into the equation of salvation.
2. The New Perspective’s contention that Paul was opposing Jewish exclusivism, not Jewish legalism, cannot be sustained because Paul argues to the futility of anyone, whether Jew or Gentile, attempting to fulfill the law.
3. Wright’s claim that “righteousness of God” refers to the faithfulness of God in fulfilling his covenant promises does not do justice to Paul’s use of the expression because Paul in multiple passages (Rom. 1:17, 3:5, 21, 22, 25, 26; 10:3) indicates that righteousness is something God grants to believers.
Ultimately, Venema makes the important point that the Reformation perspective not only fits with the particular passages in question, but “appeals to several broad themes in Paul’s writings, as well as to the Scriptures as a whole.” And this is critical, because it is the Scriptures as a whole and the application of the “analogia fide” interpretative principle that should determine our understanding of any particular passage.
Venemas’ book is short. His opposition to the New Perspective emphasizes its weaknesses, but he needs to warn the reader more forcefully. The New Perspective is not just a lesser interpretation of the Scripture, it is a false one. It is a false gospel, and it should be rebuked by all Christians who believe in the true gospel of the good news of Jesus’ death in our place and our being declared righteous for his sake. In the preface to his book, Venema notes that a forthcoming book of his will be more in depth. In this larger book I hope Venema comes down more strongly on the false gospel of the New Perspective.