I found Michael Bird's newest book 'The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies on Paul, Justification, and the New Perspective'
(230 pp) very helpful. Paul had a magnificent mind. Peter testifies to this by saying that some things he writes are difficult to understand (2 Pet 3.16). The task of pinning Paul down is not helped by all the distracting voices from the sideline. Justification has been under attack from all kinds of parties in recent years. Dr. Bird has done a great job in clearing the noise and allowing the Apostle to speak. In the conclusion he writes, "The quest is to let Paul be Paul without defending an old perspective because we are more comfortable with it, or to embrace a new perspective because it is faddish and fashionable." He is a self-attesting card-carrying Calvinist who is sympathetic to many insights gained from the new perspective on Paul (hereafter NPP). Believe it or not, such persons do exist!
Following the introduction, Bird goes after God's righteousness and surveys the various debates and views that have been proposed. Bird does not believe that God's righteousness is that which is imputed to believers. He writes, "God's righteousness is all that God does in salvation on our behalf. God's righteousness then is a subjective genitive describing his power in effecting salvation" (16). Bird parts ways with many Reformed exegetes by taking the righteousness of God as forensic and
Chapter 3 is titled, 'Raised for Our Justification.' This is a very important chapter showing the importance of Christ's resurrection for our justification, with stimulating exegesis of 1 Cor 15.17, Rom 1-5, 1 Tim 3.16. In seeking to be 'cross-centered' many evangelicals have downplayed the importance of the resurrection in Paul's soteriology. Bird rightly shows that it is much more than a 'divine apology' for the cross.
Chapter 4 is called 'Incorporated Righteousness' and can be read here
. In this chapter, Bird covers the history of imputation, the current debates, and exegetes Rom 4.1-25, 5.18-19, 1 Cor 1.30, and 2 Cor 5.21 with an eye on the recent debates between Gundry and Piper. Bird (following Carson) proposes that imputation is insufficient in the domain of exegesis, but fine as far as it goes in the domain of systematic theology. He argues quite convincingly that at the exegetical level, it is more appropriate to speak of incorporated righteousness, that is, we are counted righteous due to our forensic union with Christ.
Chapter 5 is called 'When the Dust Finally Settles: Beyond the New Perspective' and can be found here
. The aim of this chapter is "not to refute or defend to the NPP[sic], but rather to appropriate the many fruitful insights that the NPP has to offer whilst also critically engaging the more contentious aspects of its position" (89). Here Bird shows that Sander's proposal was reductionistic and Judaism was more variegated that Sanders would like to think. He also examines some critical themes such as works of the law, righteousness, and justification.
Chapter 6 is called 'Justification as Forensic Status and Covenant Membership.' Here, Bird seeks to find a middle ground between Reformed Theology and the insights of the NPP. He spends lots of time exegeting the key passages in Galatians and Romans, a task that is much needed in this debate. The text must stay central! To do justice to Paul's doctrine of justification the soteriological aspects and the social aspects must be taken into consideration. To downplay either is to lose the richness of Paul's theology.
In chapter 7, Bird tackles Romans 2 and judgment according to works. First, he surveys the various views and shows their shortcomings, then proposes his solution. Two key teachings to keep in mind are the fact that justification is a verdict that will be publicly announced on judgement day that has been brought into the present by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Also, faith cannot be divorced from obedience. Works are evidential of true saving faith, rather than instrumental in one's justification.
Chapter 8 is a summary of the book, with a helpful excursus on N.T. Wright and Reformed Orthodoxy. Bird has obviously benefited from Wright's work and contends that he has much to offer the church. I particularly enjoyed this brief section, as I have read many unfair reviews of Wright's work. The book ends with a bibliography
on the NPP.
This work is exegetically honest, rigorous (with lots of Greek), and refreshing. Bird's aim is to be tied to the text first, and tradition second. He will probably get fired at from both sides of the debate. I especially appreciate the emphasis on union with Christ, which is vital when speaking of justification. The only drawback is that the book costs $30 from Amazon. Also, for me personally, I had previously read chapters 3, 4, 5, and 6 in theological journals, but enjoyed and greatly benefited from rereading them. Anyone looking to deepen their understanding of the NPP and Paul's theology of justification should have this one on their shelf. By the way, here is Michael Bird's blog