Bishop N.T. Wright, among a number of others, have become identified as leading propenents of a re-evaluation of the Apostle Paul’s teaching on the doctrine of Justification. His re-evaluation and those of other scholars, a variegated as they are, are usually described as being of the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) school of thought.
This isn’t a trivial issue really, though it doesn’t speak to most of the major doctrines of the Church Catholic. It forces us in the reformed traditions to go back and re-think our theological anthropology (our understanding of what it means to be human and/or sinful) – and that re-thinking is important (perhaps even fundamental) to the Current Unpleasantness in the Anglican Communion.
Christianity Today has very good introduction to the whole enterprise that is called the New Perspective. Here’s a few of the key paragraphs:
“Two vital ingredients go into the new perspective. The first is actually more a new perspective on Judaism than on Paul. It reacts against the traditional idea that Jews in Paul’s day believed they could accumulate merit before God by their deeds. In place of seeing Paul’s contemporaries as legalistic, the new perspective says the concern in early Judaism was to maintain the identity of the Jewish nation, especially through observing the Sabbath, circumcising their newborns, and eating kosher. These boundary markers or badges of identity for the Jewish nation distinguished them as belonging to God’s covenant people.
Second, this understanding of first-century Judaism is then applied to Paul. According to the new perspective, Paul is only focusing on these aspects of Jewish life (Sabbath, circumcision, food laws) when he mentions ‘works of the law.’ His problem isn’t legalistic self-righteousness in general. Rather, for Jews these works of the law highlighted God’s election of the Jewish nation, excluding Gentiles. Called by God to reach the Gentiles, Paul recognizes that Jews wrongly restricted God’s covenant to themselves.
Paul extends these insights to church relations. Just as Jews wrongly restricted God’s covenant, so also Jewish Christians wrongly insisted that Gentile Christians needed to observe the law to be full-fledged disciples. This led to the challenge that Paul issued to Peter at Antioch (Gal. 2:11-14). How could Peter withdraw from table fellowship with the Gentiles there? Surely such an action was inconsistent with the truth of the gospel.”
There’s more at the article, but you can see by reading this little bit how much of this thought is influencing people within Anglicanism who are claiming a scriptural warrant from Paul’s teaching thusly for the full inclusion of Gay and Lesbian Christians into the life of the Church.
There’s also a question, more fundamentally, of whether or not, if this NPP is true, Luther and the other reformers erred in seeing the Roman Catholic’s Church emphasis on good acts as part of the Christian life as being a similar error to the one that the jewish-christians were making in the Paul’s time.