Monday, July 22, 2013

The Righteousness of One: An Evaluation of Early Patristic Soteriology in Light of the New Perspective on Paul by Jordan Cooper

Update: I have been informed that more recent printings of this book do not contain the typographical and formatting errors mentioned in this review..
Wipf and Stock sent me a review copy of The Righteousness of One: An Evaluation of Early Patristic Soteriology in Light of the New Perspective on Paul by Jordan Cooper. There are already a number of books that critique the New Perspective on Paul but most of them do so from an exegetical perspective. For those looking for an exegetical treatment as well as very thorough explanation of the various views of the New Perspective guys, I would highly recommend Westerholm's book.There are also some some critiques that deal primarily with the religious beliefs within second temple Judaism. But Jordan Cooper's book is unique because it deals primarily with the way that the early church fathers understood Paul's writings. This is important because much of the New Perspective advocates say that Protestants have misunderstood justification because they have wrongly understood justification in terms of personal salvation by following the interpretations of Augustine and Luther. The NPP folks have referred to this as "the introspective conscience of the West." They argue that prior to Augustine the church understood Paul correctly. So Jordan Cooper provides us with a very helpful and honest look at the Apostolic and other pre-Augustine church fathers. He doesn't try to shoehorn the fathers into a particular theology that matches his own but honestly represents them and points out similarities and differences between the church fathers, confessional Lutherans, and the NPP. The evidence he presents shows diversity among the church fathers on soteriology but none of them speak of justification as the NPP folks do. Some of them sound like proto-Lutherans while others do not.

This is an extraordinarily important book that those who have been influenced by the NPP should definitely read. The book does have some problems that could hopefully be addressed in a second edition. The first third of the book is plagued by numerous typos and formatting errors as are the last few pages. Fortunately, these errors are less frequent in the most important sections of the book dealing with the writings of the Apostolic Fathers. But I could imagine someone getting 40 or so pages in and just being frustrated with the errors. Also, I think the book could be better organized. The chapters are listed as follows:

1. The New Perspective on Paul
2. Methodology
3. Previous Research on Patristic Theology
4. Which Luther
5. The Apostolic Fathers
6. Justin Martyr
7. Conclusion

In my opinion, the overall argument would flow better if it were written as follows:

1. The New Perspective on Paul
2. Which Luther
3. Previous Research on Patristic Theology
4. The Apostolic Fathers
5. Justin Martyr
6. Conclusion

I don't think the chapter on methodology is necessary as an individual chapter. Some of what it contains could be completely eliminated while other parts of it could be incorporated into the other chapters.

In addition to the other issues, I think a fresh translation of some of the patristic quotations would be helpful but this is a minor complaint. The author could also have incorporated some material from modern Lutherans such as a Michael Middendorf who agree with the NPP folks that nomos refers to the Torah but take it in a different direction than the NPP does. But regardless of my criticisms, this book is still very helpful and fills a gap in the NPP debate.