Friday, December 3, 2010

James Dunn and the Reformation

‘… we are now in a position … to restate a more rounded and richer and more biblical doctrine of justification. In doing so there is no call to set aside the often penetrating insights of Reformation and Protestant restatements of the doctrine. But we do need to complement them with a firm reassertion of the corporate and social implications of the full doctrine … ‘ Extract taken from cf. footnote no.2

Well said, Mr. Dunn. The question I put to you and the other so-called "NPP" folk is this: what historical evidence do you have to support your assertion that the "corporate and social implications" of Paul's justification doctrine have been neglected or left un-discovered in the history of the church? Where are you gleaning this from? How are you certain that your social interpretations of Paul are new?

It may do us little good to find the answer to these questions in Dunn, who admits at the beginning of the above-linked post that he is "no expert on Luther and that my direct familiarity with his writings is limited– his commentaries on Romans and Galatians, John Dillenberger’s Martin Luther: Selections from his Writings (Anchor Books; New York: Doubleday, 1961), and a little volume on his Table Talkedited [sic] by Henry Morley. Otherwise my knowledge consists of quotations and references in biographies, histories and theological studies referring to Luther in greater or less detail."

Really? Are you so certain, then, that Luther has neglected the social aspects of justification? How do you know? And is this the norm of your readings of earlier theologians? Luther is obviously only one Reformer among many. How much of Melanchthon have you read? Martin Chemnitz? Martin Bucer? John Calvin? Zwingli? Balthasar Hubmaier? Menno Simons? John Agricola? Melchior Hoffman? David Joris? Pilgram Marpeck? Hans Denck? Erasmus? Conrad Grebel? Hans Hut?

Has he made inroads into the Medieval theologians? Aquinas and Anselm? St. Bernard? What about the fore-runners of the reformation like Jan Hus, Waldo, and Jean Gerson?

Have you studied the Patristic writers? The Desert Fathers? The Papal bulls throughout the ages? How about Enlightenment theology? Have you read Karl Barth? Have you studied the sermons of the Puritans? Have you read fundamentalist writings on Paul? What about Protestant orthodox writers of the 17th and 18th centuries? Counter-reformation literature? Mystics? Liberals? Heretics?

Goodness. I doubt it. Which is also why I'm highly skeptical about the "newness" of the social dimensions spoken of by Dunn.


Theophilus said...

"New" can occur within communities. I have many friends for whom, for instance, the traditional Anabaptist distinctions in theology and ethics are "new", despite their centuries-long history. If Dunn believes his ideas are actually new, he may very well be wrong. But I should hope he is using the word "new" in a far narrower sense than that. If he thought the NPP was actually new, he would be endorsing heterodoxy, which I highly doubt is his intention.

Emerson Fast said...

I like Dunn, he seems like such a humble guy.

Whether something "new" can actually occur in this world depends on a long game of philosophical semantics. Solomon grabs my attention every time when I read his words: "There is nothing new under the sun." People shake this verse off with a bit of laughter, but you and I both know that Coheleth can be quite subtle in his disputations.