"Solution to Plight"? Get Real!

Paul F. M. Zahl
Thursday, June 7th 2007
Mar/Apr 2002

In reading the literature of the New Perspective carefully, we see several glaring weaknesses that deserve attention. One of the catchphrases of the New Perspective is "solution to plight." The proponents believe that Paul underwent an experience on the road to Damascus that took place apart from any supposed inner struggle that we expect he might have been having beforehand. Because the character of Judaism as a benign "covenantal nomism" did not require a solution like Christ, the appearance of Christ to Paul must have come to him as a solution before there ever was a plight. The New Perspective argues that the old model in Christianity, by which people move from the plight of failed law-keeping to the solution of the grace of God in Christ, is untrue to Paul's experience. They say that what happened to Paul, and, therefore, what is central in early Christianity, is the move from solution to plight, not from plight to solution. So the New Perspective calls for a paradigm shift in thinking about Paul and thus, by consequence, about the essence of Christian experience, the essence of justification before God, and the essence of the Christian life.

The idea that human beings in reality go from solution to plight is impossible to sustain. This is especially true if you have had any experience of medicine, psychological counseling, parish ministry, nursing, working with addicts, any of the helping professions. As a person who has been in parish ministry for over 25 years, I can attest that I have never met a person who, from his or her own account of reality, was going in the direction "solution to plight."

The New Perspective proponents will quote the Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, who taught something a little like solution to plight. Barth compared the Christian faith, as experienced in life, to a person who is recovering in the hospital from a terrible car crash. Only gradually, as the patient begins to find out where he or she is and what exactly has happened, does the extent of the disaster become understood. It takes the cure to see the danger he or she was in.

Now that is a possible scenario. Many of us have seen this in trauma wards, among accident victims, or with stroke victims. But it is the exception, because the overwhelming majority of people come to you with a problem in search of a cure. True, people may not know what the real problem is. They may not see the extent, consequences, or origins of it; but they come, initially, with a perceived need. People come to you seeking help!

Because the proponents of the New Perspective have misplaced the Judaism of Paul's time on the spectrum of classical Christian thought, they have misunderstood Paul's plight. It doesn't make sense to them. They have, therefore, improvised the "plight to solution" scenario. I predict it will fall to pieces because it has little contact with the way people exist in everyday life.

Thursday, June 7th 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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