This blog is devoted to discussing the pursuit of eternal life.
Discussion and participation by readers is desired,
but contributions should correlate to the book,
The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology
of Perseverance & Assurance

Thomas R. Schreiner
& Ardel B. Caneday

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Will Chris VanLandingham Rock New Testament Studies As E. P. Sanders Did?

Judgment and Justification in Early Judaism and the Apostle Paul
by Chris VanLandingham
Hendrickson Publishers

Is salvation a gift of God's grace or something God’s followers must earn by good works? How do we reconcile the two emphases that salvation is a bestowal of God’s mercy and that the final judgment will involve an assessment of the way people have lived during their time on earth?

In Paul and Palestinian Judaism (1977), E. P. Sanders defined the terms and laid the groundwork for this crucial debate. Sanders’s “New Perspective” sought to resolve the tension between grace and good deeds by arguing that for the Jews of Paul's day as well as for Paul himself, entrance into God's saving covenant was a gift of God's grace while remaining in the covenant required good works done in obedience to God.

Sanders’s most vigorous opponents have disputed the works side of his formulation, taking issue with his contention that obedience is required to retain right standing in God's covenant. In Judgment and Justification, Chris VanLandingham challenges the grace side of the Sanders thesis, arguing that Paul’s teaching on salvation, following the prevailing Jewish thinking of his time, establishes good works as the criterion for salvation at the final judgment.

In making his case, VanLandingham does a careful, text-by-text survey of early Jewish literature, interacting with a wide range of biblical scholars who deal with the themes of salvation and judgment found in these texts and in the Pauline writings. VanLandingham wraps up this survey with a challenging reassessment of Paul's teaching in the light of the Jewish thinking of his time.

Judgment and Justification offers an incisive new look at the Jewish context for our understanding of Paul's teaching. Scholars on all sides of the ongoing debate will benefit by interacting with the texts presented and the provocative arguments the author draws from them.

“With Judgment and Justification Chris VanLandingham enters the fray that is the study of the Apostle Paul against his Jewish backdrop. But rather than simply logging another entry into the catalog of oft-repeated and well-worn arguments, VanLandingham proffers a thesis sure to challenge the positions of all parties in the debate. To those who have followed and advanced the “New Perspective” on Paul first put forth by E. P. Sanders, VanLandingham marshals an impressive array of evidence culled from Jewish sources to argue that the mainstream Judaism of Paul’s day was indeed a religion that urged good works as the path to God’s favor. He radically reinterprets the doctrine of “justification by faith” by arguing that Paul himself fits well into the mold of contemporary Judaism by teaching that those who have experienced forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ must themselves produce a life of good deeds to secure a favorable judgment in the end. Not only will the arguments of this book change the landscape of Pauline studies, but they should also be heard as a contributing voice to Christian theology. This book is not just an engaging piece of scholarship; it will prove to be one of those rare scholarly works that challenge the convictions of those who read it.”
—Jeffrey S. Lamp, Associate Professor of New Testament, Oral Roberts University

“Chris VanLandingham’s stunningly provocative and well-argued thesis demands careful engagement. E. P. Sanders was simply wrong as were those who built uncritically on his foundation. Election in Second Temple Judaism was a reward for obedience. Salvation was earned as quid pro quo. The Apostle Paul, for his part, agreed with his Second Temple peers and encouraged his hearers to accrue the good works necessary for the reward of eternal life. Justification (by faith), never employed in forensic contexts, has been almost completely misconstrued. VanLandingham calls for a complete overhaul in our understanding of both Second Temple Judaism and Paul. The theological implications would be breathtaking.”
—A. Andrew Das, Niebuhr Distinguished Chair and Associate Professor of Theology and Religion, Elmhurst College

Author Bio
Chris VanLandingham earned his Ph.D. in Judaism and Christianity in the Greco-Roman World from the University of Iowa under the supervision of Dr. George Nickelsburg. He has served as an Assistant Professor of Ancient History at Oral Roberts University and as an Adjunct Professor of Ancient History at St. Gregory's University, both in Tulsa, Oklahoma.


Nick Nowalk said...

This looks really interesting. Just from the blurb, though, it sounds as if the author doesn't think there is much that is "new" in the New Testament writers (especially Paul) view of salvation compared to that of second temple Jews--basically that they all thought the same things. This seems to me an impossible thesis to defend in light of how the NT writers conceive of themselves in relation to mainstream Judaism all around them.

abcaneday said...

I agree with you, Nick. If the apostles, particularly Paul, believed the same concerning salvation as Second Temple Period Jews did, one wonders why there was any controversy at all in Galatia. Was Paul just a poor communicator, or were the Agitators (Judaizers) just poor at understanding Paul's gospel? Why would Paul make such a fuss about "another gospel" (Gal 1:6-9)?

VanLandingham has me curious. I am eager to get reading the book, which I received yesterday. Once I have read the book, I anticipate that I will be interacting with it, if not drafting a review of it.

Drew Hunter said...

Throughout reading VanLandingham's book, my appreciation for TRSBU steadily grew. Thanks again for such a great book!

abcaneday said...


Thanks for you kind commendation.

Your comment is particularly noteworthy to me, if I understand the implications correctly. I am still working my way through VanLandingham's book. It seems evident to me, from what I have read in the first half of the book, that VanLandingham exhibits considerable theological confusion, failing consistently to make crucial distinctions between efficient cause and instrumental cause. Now, of course, it may be that I am wrong about this. Nevertheless, given the fact that he has announced his thesis in the beginning of the book, as any well argued book ought to do, I rather think that my instinctive criticism is on target.

Do you concur, Drew?

Drew Hunter said...

I agree. He seems to view God's sovereignty and human responsibility as entirely incompatible. His struggle here is clearest on pp.112-118 and 122. His book is a reminder to me of the confusion (and alarming conclusions) one will have if he is not sensitive to several of the tensions that TRSBU addresses (esp the already and not-yet aspects of salvation).
I am still left beside myself about repentance in prayer as merely a "genre" issue and not necessarily true to reality.

Do you know what VanLandingham does currently? Is he a professor anywhere?

abcaneday said...

I do not know where VanLandingham is presently employed.