December 2, 2020

What does the New Perspective mean for the Christian life?

English Churches

• • •

One of the better essays on Paul that I’ve read in recent years was written by Timothy Gombis in a new book about how the New Perspective affects our understanding of the life in Christ: The Apostle Paul and the Christian Life: Ethical and Missional Implications of the New Perspective.

It seems that the writing of books on Paul has no end, and I’m struggling to keep up. Heck, I’m still working through N.T. Wright’s two volume set from a couple years ago, as well as the recent massive release from E.P. Sanders, Paul: The Apostle’s Life, Letters, and Thought, and the wonderful Paul and the Gift, by John M. G. Barclay. That right there is more than I read on Paul in seminary, and I took specific courses on Pauline theology!

What’s uniquely important about The Apostle Paul and the Christian Life is that it begins unraveling the implications of NPP teaching on what it means to live as a Christian under this theology. The contributors to this volume believe that a New Perspective reading on Paul can offer “a fresh and rich approach as one grapples with the apostle Paul’s understanding of the Christian life” (Introduction)

Gambia’s chapter offers a signal example. We will examine what he says in two parts, today and again one day next week. His article is called, “Participation in the New Creation People of God in Christ by the Spirit.”

He begins with a helpful reminder: Paul was not a systematic theologian.

The revolution in Pauline studies over the last four decades initially challenged and now has broken the dominance of a singularly Protestant reading of Paul focused on justification by faith. One result of the reconfiguration of the interpretive field is the reminder that Paul did not write a systematic theology, nor are his letters works of abstract theological reflection on the character of salvation as applied to the individual Christian. He wrote letters to churches, giving them counsel toward fruitful community dynamics, and the theological notions he brought to bear were determined by his knowledge of the situation and his relationship to that church. When we reflect on how Paul regarded topics such as the Christian life, we are reminded that we are answering this question from our reflection on Paul’s letters as contingent documents. (p. 103)

Let me highlight an important section of that paragraph:

…nor are his letters works of abstract theological reflection on the character of salvation as applied to the individual Christian. He wrote letters to churches, giving them counsel toward fruitful community dynamics…

This is a key insight that New Perspective theology makes clear. The so-called “Old” Perspective, growing out of the Protestant Reformation, developed into a systematic theology with individual justification and soteriology at its heart. “Sometimes an old-perspective reading of Paul can simply get “stuck” with the implications and aspects of individual salvation or chase the whole of Paul’s thought through what is often called the ordo salutis” (Introduction). However, newer studies of Paul observe that Paul was concerned most about “individuals-in-communities.”

I will argue that the focus of Paul’s reflection on the Christian life is the church, the new-creation people of God made up of individuals-in-community. Paul does not conceive of individuals living the Christian life in isolation from the community. (p. 104)

The rest of Tim Gombis’s essay develops two “big picture” ideas to ground this point and its implications for Christian living and mission.

  • The communities to which Christians belong derive their identities from the biblical storyline: from creation through Israel to Jesus to the church to new creation. Gombis shows how the Christian life fits within this narrative and God’s creation purposes.
  • The starting point for Paul in thinking about the Christian life is “baptism into Christ by the Spirit.” As he says, “The Spirit unites believers to God in Christ and unites them vitally to one another. This twofold work of reconciliation stands at the center of Paul’s theological vision and is certainly at the heart of his pastoral impulse.” (p. 104)

Today we’ll give an overview of the first point. How does the Christian life fit within the narrative development of the Bible and its revelation of God’s purposes?


Genesis 1–2 indicates that God established creation as his temple, the place that would manifest the glory of his sovereign kingship. God created humanity as “the image of God,” which meant that humanity would depict the reign of the creator God in all their activity. God called humanity to reproduce over the face of the earth, to fill it and subdue it (Gen. 1: 26, 28). Their overseeing the spread of shalom on behalf of the creator God, along with their relating to one another, was the manner in which they carried out their identity as “the image of God,” a synonymous expression to “the glory of God.” (p. 105)

Here Gombis resonates with the point I have tried to make in my teaching on Genesis. God put humans in the world as his priestly representatives (“in his image”) and called them to multiply and spread his blessing throughout the whole world — “God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Gen. 1:28).

Note that spreading his blessing involved “subduing” the earth. The world we enter in Gen. 1-2 was not paradise but an imperfect world (though good). Evil was present and needed conquering. The original purpose for God placing humans in this world was to repair and bless the world (tikkun olam). God planned that the persistent spread of humans representing his rule throughout the world would bring healing and blessing — shalom — to the earth.

What Adam and Eve lost in the “fall” was not simply their innocence, but the opportunity to give access to the tree of life to the whole world. From Genesis 3-11 we see that “death spread to all” (Rom. 5:12) rather than shalom.

Abraham & Israel

It is at this point that God chooses Abraham and gives him a similar promise to the one given the first humans.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Abraham is the beginning of the specific story of Israel. And their calling was in sync with God’s original plan as well.

The point of this all-too-brief summary of the scriptural narrative is to note that God’s intentions with Israel were completely consistent with God’s purposes with Abraham— to bless the nations of the world through him. And these were consistent with God’s creational intentions— to have all humanity filling the earth, ruling it on God’s behalf, manifesting his sovereign rule over all things by overseeing creation’s flourishing. (p. 107)

The Faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah

For Paul to announce that salvation is found in Jesus Christ is to make a claim about the unfulfilled promises to Abraham about the blessing of the nations. And it is to make a claim about God’s redemption of the failed narrative of Israel as God’s own possession and the national agent of God’s blessing of the nations. Finally, reaching back in the narrative before Abraham to the failure of Adam and Eve, Jesus is the true human who renders to the creator God a faithful obedience embodied by a life of self-giving love for others. Jesus Christ, then, and his relation to the entire range of God’s redemptive purposes, becomes the context within which the Christian life takes place and the template for what it involves. (pp. 108-109)

Jesus redeems the failed vocation of Adam and Eve. Jesus is the Seed of Abraham, who brings the fulfillment of God’s promises to bless the nations. Jesus is the “true vine” (John 15:1), that is, the true Israelite, whose life of self-giving love, ultimately displayed on the cross, becomes the “light to the nations” that Israel’s story failed to exhibit.

Individuals-in-Communities in the Messiah

English Churches…the presence of Jesus fills each church community by the Spirit of Jesus. The Spirit has been poured out, and it is the Spirit of Jesus (Phil. 1: 19), filling churches with God’s own life-giving presence to produce in them and among them the life of Christ embodied through corporate behaviors of self-giving love (2 Cor. 3: 18; Eph. 4: 15– 16). Just as Jesus is the true human, the life of Jesus is being produced in these communities so that the lives of Christians and the corporate life of Christian communities resemble his true humanity. Paul speaks of Christian existence as believers being “conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8: 29) and participating in the renewed humanity created “according to the likeness of God” (Eph. 4: 24). This language alludes specifically to God’s creation intentions for humanity and indicates that the Christian life has everything to do with the recovery of God’s original purposes for “the image of God.”(pp. 109-110)

A New Perspective understanding of how Paul sets the Christian life within the narrative arc of scripture brings out the central focus of God’s plan from creation to new creation — to have a community of people, God dwelling in their midst, who are united to him and to one another, practicing tikkun olam and spreading God’s blessing throughout the world. Jesus is, of course, the key to this, for the individuals-in-community who are called by his name are shaped by his life, death, and resurrection and empowered by his Spirit to live lives of self-giving love as he did.

God does all of this in the effort to install on earth his own life through human agents loving one another and overseeing the spread of shalom. (p. 110)


  1. If NPP is correct, if the work that God set for the church is “to install on earth his own life through human agents loving one another and overseeing the spread of shalom”, then the church lost sight of that charter very early, in the first couple hundred years of its existence. Instead, it opted for dominance and rule; it still hasn’t left behind the legacy of its failed attempts to secure dominance and rule. Will it ever? Does it even want to? Or will it simply become obsolete, unable to influence human existence for either good or evil?

    • I think that makes the same mistake as the “Old Perspective” but in the opposite direction. Instead of focusing on individuals, this focuses on “The Church” as a massive unitary organization. If I have learned anything in my strange and twisted walk, it is that any true perception of the Church and her work must be both *congregational* and *local*. You can theologically debate individual salvation, and historically track denominations and their relationship to culture, but the work of God is small, local, and likely as not to escape our notice if we don’t have eyes to see.

      • Yes, and Paul uses the word “church” to refer to a gathering of Christians in one city. Not until Ephesians (if it was indeed written by Paul) does the word “church” refer to all Christians everywhere.

      • Eeyore, I don’t think that’s the case. An article like this is obviously talking in broad generalities, but Gombis’s emphasis on individuals-in-community is lived out in local congregations.

        • N. T. Wright makes a good observation about Philippians 3:20 (‘but our citizenship is in heaven’). He notes that to the Philippians, who lived in a Roman colony, this wouldn’t have meant what people today often take it to mean (‘this is not my home, that is in heaven; I’m just passing through, can’t wait to die’). They would have understood Paul to mean that they were like Roman citizens living in a colony like Philippi. A Roman colony was a piece of Rome in a foreign land and its citizens were (largely) Romans (not Greeks) representing Rome to the surrounding peoples (often to remind conquered peoples of Rome’s power). Wright says Paul means that the Philippian Christians (corporately – the local church) are an ‘advanced guard’, an ‘outpost’, a ‘local representation’ of God’s kingdom in the midst of the world (like a Roman colony). That idea is also behind 1:27 (‘only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel’, which literally translates to something like ‘live as citizens [politeuesthe] worthy of the gospel’, making an allusion to the obligation of secular Philippians to remember that people will judge their city [and Rome] based on how they conduct themselves).

          I’ve become convinced that it is ‘kingdom life’ lived out in those local congregations (with unity, love, ethics, equality, humility, etc.) that Paul is most concerned about (and emphasizes in Philippians), because it is the life God intends for humanity (with somewhat different forms in different cultures). He engages in ‘theology’ when it threatens that community and its ‘politea’. I do agree that the church seems to have lost sight of that fairly early, and it is nearly non-existent today (at least in evangelical churches). Instead, we have (as the article notes) turned Paul into a systematic theologian and debagtes over theological issues have destroyed the very unity that was at the heart of Paul’s thought and theology (the ultimate irony – those who quote Paul to defend theological positions that divide while Paul himself seems to be concerned about theological issues only when they divide).

          • Living out “kingdom life” in the midst of ambivalently committed congregations and denominations, where both clergy and laity are at best only partly sold on what that life looks like and how to live it, and are also heavily invested in life outside the sanctuary walls (by “sanctuary walls” I mean the church, not as building but as body) that has little to do with what happens inside those walls, requires heroic effort on the part of the few who choose to undertake it. The ironic aspect of such heroic effort is that in the history of the church it has always led to focusing on individual effort, or the effort of a small group of individuals in the larger church, and away from the kind of community-wide commitment and life that the NPP says the church is, or should be, about.

          • Robert, you are correct. I hear a lot about ‘community’ in churches today but find very little of it. I think a big part of the problem, and the challenge is to find what the kind of community the New Testament aspires to looks like in our culture. As I noted in my comment above, that will look different in different cultures. I think trying to come up with the same kind of ‘community’ the early church had is about as misguided as fundamentalists trying to recreate the ‘pristine’ church found in Acts (read post-fundamentalist syndrome sarcasm here) – we live in a very different world and it wasn’t all that pristine to begin with. We can’t all just move into one big house! (at least I don’t want to)

            In the first century everything was much more ‘communal’ than anything in our culture. Families were much more ‘bonded’ and the church, since it broke those bonds (so much for ‘biblical family values’) became a new ‘fictive family’ for believers – they literally needed each other to survive. People didn’t identify themselves as individuals like we do, nor did their thinking and values reflect the kind of self-absorption we have (whether the morbid introspection or ‘I’m okay’ self-esteem kind). Our culture is much more individualistic and the challenge is to develop a ‘workable’ sense or type of community (where I can still have MY life and we can share life in some sense) and one that reflects the values (translated into a different culture) that Paul was striving to teach his churches. But the starting point for developing that true community (in my opinion) is to start with understanding Paul and his vision (which means unlearning most of what has been ‘orthodox’ since the Reformation) and that Christianity is about being the ‘people of God’ and not merely a ‘person of God’ (or to use the old politically-incorrect term, ‘a MAN of God’). It will take effort and commitment to build that kind of community, or even to figure out what it should look like! But as the ‘old perspective’ becomes more and more irrelevant to the broader society (and thus its evangelistic appeal less appealing) the church (evangelical churches anyway) may find some hope in the ‘new perspective’.

          • I agree with you that using the early church as the model for how things might work today would be a mistake; but part of my agreement is because I do not hold such a high view of the early church, really. I don’t think they had an advantage due to their lack of a developed sense of individuality. The stress on individual salvation that is being largely attributed to the Reformation by NPP (I actually think that stress existed long before the Reformation, at least back into the depths of the medieval church, and probably long before that) may be wrongheaded. But the the highly developed experience of individuality and of the subjective dimensions and depths of the self, as well as the empirical experience of that self, in my opinion are real advances in human consciousness. To the degree that the focus on individual salvation fed into the the development of the modern self, and to modern historical consciousness, I cannot view that focus as entirely negative in its effects. It would be a monumental mistake to throw the baby out with the bathwater; modern consciousness is a great achievement of humanity, and as a Christian I consider it a gift of God.

            I believe that down through history there were always some who had access to such consciousness; usually they were well-educated and wealthy aristocracy, and their access to it was rooted in their general privilege. But in the last five centuries the franchise has been expanded, and access to it has become more widespread and diffuse. It would be a terrible thing, in my opinion, if its boundaries were to withdraw. Without it, many of the political and social movements that have made life more human and humane would not have occurred; without it, Joyce’s Ulysses would not have been written, nor much other sublime art created. I’m in favor of it’s expansion, not withdrawal, both in the church and in the world.

          • I don’t see how anyone can look at the medieval church, with its systems of penances, indulgences and devotions, all focused on giving the sinner a way of getting into heaven/purgatory, and think that this would not lead people into a mindset of extreme and morbid introspection and concern for their own salvation; in fact, this is what it did. If the Reformation took up this concern, and attempted to supply its own answer, it was because the religious and psychological burden of it was too great; the Reformation was formed in the womb of the Holy Catholic Church., and then it was born.

          • I’m not claiming that Reformation theology, or medieval Catholic theology, were the sole sources for the later development of modern historical consciousness; only that they were among the important streams that fed into it.

        • I was referring to Robert’s assertion that “the church lost sight of that charter very early, in the first couple hundred years of its existence. Instead, it opted for dominance and rule; it still hasn’t left behind the legacy of its failed attempts to secure dominance and rule”. Not anything in the article per se.

          • Eeyore,
            I get your point, but it still makes me wonder how one would know or recognize the difference between the smallness and local character of God’s work on the one hand, and the mere failure of the church to live out its vocation on the other. I heard you talking about having eyes to see, but I wonder where these eyes may be found; I also wonder how one may learn to see with and through them in a way that does not make one susceptible to the illusion that mere failure to undertake and live out the charter is faithfulness to it.

  2. There is no way I am going to read the growing massive literature on the New Perspective. I’m trying to live it as much as I can in whatever time I have left, and increasingly I regard the intricacies of theological speculation a waste of precious time. I thank those who are attempting to define and distill these massive tomes into something manageable, and those like CM today who are attempting to further distill the distillations into something that I would hope eventually will fit into a shot glass.

    Buried somewhere in the last day or two, Mule made the comment that the only Christians he has run into who seem to understand the workings of God’s Holy Spirit are Pentecostals and Orthodox. Aside from doctrinal baggage in both gatherings, I thought that was an astute comment. If the New Perspective is able to point out that justification by faith is only a blip in Paul’s overall constant call to live here and now in what he calls the Mind of Christ, we might actually be on our way toward growing up.

    The biggest hurdle I can see is the belief by most of the Church at large that the Mind of Christ is intellectual, and that salvation lies in mental assent to abstract intellectual propositions. This is solidly entrenched. We have been fighting wars over this for two thousand years, and it’s time to figure out what shalom means. I would say that the October 2017 celebration of the 500th anniversary of the so called Reformation would be a good time to officially bury this old perspective and get on with our assignment of blessing the world. I’m not waiting that long.

    • Amen!!! Preach on, brother.

    • David Cornwell says

      “Mule made the comment that the only Christians he has run into who seem to understand the workings of God’s Holy Spirit are Pentecostals and Orthodox.”

      Charles, I’m not sure how he came about his findings, but this seems to me to be awfully narrow. To say that only two groups know the truth about the Holy Spirit is nonsense. If anyone knows and understands the totality of the Spirit’s work, it is news to me. We tend to see things from our own perspective and experience. We live or experience something that seems good to us, and we have individual certainty. However it seems to me that we can learn from each other, and we can learn from the research and findings of the best scholars.

      At the present time I need to be astute in deciding what to read by reading reviews and sites that make it a point to keep me informed (like this one), then decide how completely to read and absorb the material, and do the best I can in my life circumstances. I can be aware of many things without needing to know everything in depth. And I’ve learned how to read selectively by skimming. I watch for certain things, and have my pen ready for underlining and comments in the margin.

      Getting old can be frustrating because there is so much out there. But I like what you say: ” I’m trying to live it as much as I can in whatever time I have left,” I look at it as not only being frustrating, but as finding enjoyment in the process.

      • David, I would say that understanding the workings of God’s Holy Spirit and knowing the truth about the Holy Spirit are not at all the same thing in the sense that either Mule or I see this. I would agree with you that anyone claiming to know and understand the totality of the Spirit’s work would be deluded. Certainly we can all learn from each other, but I would suggest that learning from the research and findings of the best scholars, while one valid way of approaching this, would be considered limited and working under a handicap by others willing to learn from their own experience and that of others.

        This is not the anti-intellectual stance of the fundamentalist. It is an approach that would say if your goal is to be astute in deciding what to read and how to read it, and to do the best you can in your life circumstances, you might be better off consulting God’s Spirit as top guide rather than your own intellect and rational, linear thought processes, tho these are tools that should be in your tool belt. Probably you and I have a somewhat different understanding and experience of that flame of God’s Spirit emblazoned in the Methodist logo, but that doesn’t mean we are serving different Gods. It’s all good.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Chaz.

      My extended reply to this is getting l-o-n-g, Web-Orthodox long. It will appear on my moribund blog later today. It will concern Constantine, the Montanists, Pentecostal intellectuals (they do exist), the filioque, all the usual suspects. I just didn’t want the casual reader to get frustrated and

      I don’t think CM is pushing the “New” Pauline Perspective as an other abstraction.

    • “If the New Perspective is able to point out that justification by faith is only a blip in Paul’s overall constant call to live here and now in what he calls the Mind of Christ, we might actually be on our way toward growing up.”

      Dusty scholarly tomes usually are hampered by their extreme technicality and dryness. What you want is not really what the academy knows how to provide.

      Still, I think the new perspective can be used to call for a refocus on the life of the church. If nothing else, it shakes up a pre-existing conversation about Paul. However important this conversation was and is, it is over-burdened by the theological struggles of the past several centuries. An observor from another planet might, after taking a quick sampling of the evangelical preaching out of Romans, conclude that it pleases God to select as God’s own a people who have heard and correctly divided the words of Paul, and that salvation comes from understanding the meaning of the word ‘justification,’ a technical exercise necessary to finding a true and saving faith, and all those things which flow from it.

      A refocus on attempts to bless Israel and the world throughout the Old Testament; on the culmination of this story arc in Jesus; and on grafting of people into the life of God, and not only from one place throughout the world, strikes me as a better pivot for the entire conversation.

  3. Nice article, CM. It fills me with hope and optimism for the future, unlike rapture theology. And it gives me a renewed sense of purpose for local churches where people are earnestly trying to live out their committment to Christ, however flawed and imperfect it might be.

  4. –> “It seems that the writing of books on Paul has no end…”

    Yep, you’d think PAUL was our savior given all that’s written about him.

  5. semper reformanda

  6. I had been reading the Bible a long time, since I asked for one for my 6th birthday. (The only complete Catholic Bible available in English then was the Douay version, which is similar to the KJV in language; I managed nonetheless to be able to read a fair bit of it.) It was not until I read N.T. Wright’s “The New Testament and the People of God” in about the year 2000 that I finally understood what Paul was getting at. As a Protestant, I found Paul’s writings to be full of fits and starts; toward the end of my sojourn in Evangelicalism, I just got frustrated that Paul’s writings seemed to be only the rich mine of proof-texts undergirding a theology that made less and less sense to me.

    **That one book of Wright’s enabled me to understand Paul.** When I picked it up, I didn’t know anything about The New Perspective. All I knew was that because Wright was taking Jesus’ and Paul’s Judaism seriously, and delving deeply into the history, culture and extra-biblical writings of the Jews of Jesus’ day (oh! how I longed for someone – who respected Scripture and was not trying to write it off – to do that, and open to me more than simply the fulfillment in Jesus of the Jewish feasts ), I had historical and theological confirmation of the Goodness of God – in which I only recently had come to really believe – to go along with my experiences of God’s goodness. It was a deeper and exponentially larger Assurance than that I had obtained with AcceptingJesusChristAsMyPersonalLordAndSavior. Beyond that, it gave me a theology that I could explain to people as Actual Good News – not that other stuff (“gospel”) about the Tyrant God who had to be paid so he wouldn’t torture us forever.

    I can hardly express how grateful I am for Wright’s work. Besides the above, I found in his picture of things so much consonance and resonance with the EO view that by the time I encountered that view I was obvious to me that EO was the continuation of the Christianity that had arisen from C1 Judaism.


  7. Dana Ames says

    And one more thing (too many sub-threads above to address it there):

    EO has never been a “massive unitary organization”, nor has it ever aspired to be that. In EO, the Church is the local expression of bishop+people as an icon of Christ and His Body – it is also the undivided (but not oranizational) union of all who have been baptized into Christ. That’s why there can be more than one parish in a city, and why the (presently 13) “national” churches are viewed as one Church. It is also why we don’t have a Pope. (Consult “Church, Papacy and Schism, 3rd ed.” by Philip Sherrard for this, and more.) Oneness and local expression aren’t mutually exclusive. We have had some spectacular failures along the way in terms of “dominance and rule”, with people on various levels trying to amass power, but nonetheless the above is a partial expression of the Orthodox understanding of what the Church is.

    “… if the work that God set for the church is “to install on earth his own life through human agents loving one another and overseeing the spread of shalom”, then the church lost sight of that charter very early, in the first couple hundred years of its existence.” Robert’s contention is actually not held up in general. Christianity was seen as, and was in fact, weak. After becoming legal, there were indeed temptations to dominance and rule in the East, but Rome itself continued to be weak until the 700s. It was only then that the ideal of the spread of shalom began to be replaced, due to several factors: the general trend of the Aristotelian philosophical line of thought in the West, and where that led; the lack of good interaction – for various reasons – between the Eastern and Western church; the importation into western theology of certain elements of Germanic pagan beliefs. All of these were the large things, along with a multitude of other aspects, that led eventually to the conditions reacted against in the Reformation.

    The Christian East preserved the original view; it is there, having never been lost, in the liturgical poetry of the Orthodox Church. I hear it echoed resoundingly in the prayers, the feasts, the yearly cycle. The sad thing is that most Orthodox don’t know that it began in the tikkun olam and other aspects of Judaism. I see it is a bright thread begun in Judaism and continuing therefrom.


    • My knowledge of the period in question is spotty; that I’ll acknowledge. But, given what I do know, Dana, I don’t understand how you could say of it that it was a time when shalom was sought and practiced by the church, a church that was forming a most unhealthy relationship to the Empire that claimed it as its official religion. Heretics were now thrown to wild beasts by Christian officials instead of Christians being thrown to wild beasts by pagan officials; I don’t think this was much of an improvement, and certainly not shalom.

      • I did say there were spectacular failures. The Church has never been “pure” even back into the time of the Apostolic days. That reality doesn’t change the vision that has been articulated and that humble people (some of them even the “high-born”) struggled to live out.

        Gladiatorial games, including throwing people to the animals, were banned under Constantine; though a few later emperors rescinded the ban, the games came to an end around 400. Some Christians who got on the wrong side of the Emperor/Empress (or other Christians) were tortured and/or sent into exile, but capital punishment was tempered in the East because of the influence of the Church. Christianity as the “official religion” of the Eastern Roman Empire didn’t look like it did later in the West, for reasons Sherrard discusses in his “The Greek East and the Latin West”. There was sometimes tension in the East between the Imperium and the Church precisely because bishops and monks often resisted becoming imperial pawns; when Emperors overstepped their bounds regarding controlling the Church, there was push-back.

        There were no Prince-Bishops – bishops who ruled specific feudal states – in the East, as developed in the West. Bishops in the East were not any kind of secular rulers until the Turks made them become so against their will, in order to fit the way the Turks ruled the peoples they subjugated.

        It’s not as cut and dried as “Constantine was a bad guy who took control the Church by force, making the Church an arm of the State.” There were plenty of power-hungry Eastern Roman Imperial types, sometimes even supported by bishops. But there was always resistance in some corner of the Church, usually from monasteries (though sometimes monks were on the “wrong side” too).

        If you have some time, the main liturgical texts can be found on line here:

        The list in the upper left corner includes “Triodion” and “Pentecostarion”. The Triodion contains the services for all the Sundays of Lent, but for what I am trying to get across, peruse Holy Week, esp Friday and Saturday. Then switch over to the Pentecostarion for Pascha Midnight, Pascha All and Pentecost. The words in black are what I want you to see (the stuff in red – “rubrics” – is simply instruction on what to do). That’s the articulation of the Church not as an Institution, but as the worshiping Body of Christ.

        Hope your wife continues to recover well, and that you get good news with the final pathology.


        • I thought about questioning some of your points, but since my awareness of the history is spotty, as I’ve said, I’d likely drift toward using the little I do know in a tendentious way, which I’d rather avoid. Thanks for your informed perspective.

          Final pathology is in: my wife is cancer-free. She intends to return to work this coming week, starting on Thursday with conducting choir rehearsal. Ahead of schedule, and I think she’s pushing it too fast, but she’s made up her mind. Once my wife has made up her mind, well, she’s made up her mind.

          • Dana Ames says

            Thank you, Robert, for your generous response, as usual. Do take a look at those liturgical verses if you are able – much more important than my droning on re history.

            Thanks be to God for your wife’s good outcome. May God grant you both many more years.


          • It’s wonderful to read that your wife feeling so well. Spring after winter!

  8. The first century church’s sense of itself as a collective organism is seperated from the isolated individualism of the modern western church by a great and vast gulf. I’m not too sure we’re even capable of really thinking like they thought or viewing the church as they viewed it. We can possibly make some small moves in that direction, but I suspect we’ve all been too extensively conditioned to the contrary for any of us to really “get there.”
    I look at local church congregations, and none of them really seem to be doing much to cultivate a real sense of community. All the focus seems to be on the flavor of the worship service, programmed participation along very narrow lines, Bible study (also along very narrow lines), doctrinal assent, and the person (or persons) up front in the spotlight. Between all the programs, sermons, classes, and entertainment, very little space and time is made for people to actually form real relational bonds with each other. You almost have to go outside the church context to actually get to know people and form friendships. Most congregations seem to consist of a lot of shallow relationships that practically cease to exist outside offical church activities.
    I’ve seen some exceptions to this, but almost all of those were very small congregations in very rural areas where most of the congregants were either related or lived within a mile of the church building. Maybe that’s the case because these congregations have a context of community and family that would still exist even if there was no church there.
    I don’t know much about the New Perspective, but I would definitely be interested in hearing some practical ideas and methods for cultivating a real, close-knit sense of community in a church context.

    • I’d love suggestions, too. On one hand, one wants to proclaim, “Of course! Let’s do it.”

      Yet — the devil is always in the details.. You need some intentionality, in our culture at least, to make this happen. But what you don’t want is another ‘program.’ You want space for the community to be allowed to develop.

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  10. I am very late coming to the party, and I don’t think many will read this, but I’m commenting because this post addresses a real need.

    Not very long ago I worked my way through an online course on Galations taught by NT Wright through the Udemy platform. The main take away is that Paul was explaining to the Galatian church a “new way to be God’s people.” I loved that and found it very helpful in one way.

    But in another way, I found it created this difficulty: How do I preach this?

    I understand how to preach justification. But this new perspective, while I certainly see it as a much more cosmic and total good news — I’m not sure how to preach it. This post is very helpful toward that end. Thank you.