Book Review: The New Perspective on Paul by Kent Yinger
Kent L. Yinger, The New Perspective on Paul: An Introduction (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2011), 120pp. $16.00. Paper.
In the diverse body of literature concerning the New Perspective on Paul (hereafter “NPP”), it seems as if each addition adds either clarity or confusion. The New Perspective on Paul: An Introduction, by Kent Yinger, is one of the former which introduces the topic to those less familiar in order to “make things understandable” and “relatively brief” (ix).
In the first chapter, Yinger provides questions he hopes to answer regarding the NPP: “What is it?” “Where did it come from?” “What are the potential dangers?” and, “What good is it?” (2). Though he states that he leans pro-NPP (3), he desires to give a knowledgeable, fair-minded, and irenic introduction to the issue. Yinger answers his first two questions in chapters two through four by summarizing the history of the NPP, contributions by E. P. Sanders, James D. G. Dunn, and N. T. Wright, and listing the “main lines” of the NPP, mostly centered on “covenantal nomism.” The NPP has implications for understanding Pauline justification, as many scholars have moved away from imputed forensic righteousness as Paul’s central issue and towards covenant membership. Yinger briefly covers other perspectives, such as one which emphasizes both covenantal and forensic features of Paul’s theology; but he believes the NPP is now generally accepted by most. Chapters five through seven answer the third main question by examining historical, exegetical, and theological objections to the NPP. For each issue, Yinger provides a summary of the traditional position and various NPP responses. He concludes in chapter eight with an answer to his fourth main question by providing a summary of positive contributions by the NPP.
Yinger’s book is brief and clear in presenting an introduction to a large body of diverse literature. Helpful footnotes and bibliographies are included which point to more informative studies. Also, though Yinger states early that he is pro-NPP, he gives a mostly balanced introduction. However, the book does lean in a particular direction. While he earlier stated, “Neither is this book a defense or critique of the NPP” (3), chapter eight is entitled “Let’s Hear It for the NPP,” and lists several “positive effects” (87-93). Furthermore, defenses of the NPP are given in general statements. For instance, without providing exegesis or argumentation, Yinger nevertheless states, “There is little evidence in Paul’s letters that he was exercised by the question of imputation” (85-86). Also, an omission is noticeable: the discussion of “Moving Beyond the NPP” and adopting a position of justification as “both covenantal and forensic” (36) could greatly benefit from a mention of the Reformed perspective, which is not presented.
In the first chapter, Yinger had written that he hoped those on both sides would be able to say of his book, “That’s a pretty fair presentation of my position” (3). I believe he mostly achieved that goal. There are more detailed analyses of the NPP to which he points in his footnotes and bibliographies, but for those just entering the discussion, Yinger’s book is not a bad place to start.
Reviewed by Brandon Hoffman, MDiv student