Other parts to this series can be found on my Deliverance of God page.
The approach of Campbell’s Deliverance of God is a bit different from what one may expect. The book is not primarily exegesis! Exegesis plays a big, important role in the argument, but it’s not primary. The argument is theory driven. This seems strange at first glance. In good protestant form, I too want to jump into Scripture first and sort out the results later. But Campbell’s theoretical approach is rather powerful for several reasons.
The basic argument works in five parts. Part One consists of a description of Justification Theory on a theoretical level. After describing JT, he explores the difficulty of this particular reading. He examines both intrinsic difficulties (those within JT itself) and systematic difficulties (those seen when compared to Pauline texts, especially Romans 5-8). Part One continues with Campbell’s critique of JT’s depiction of Judaism and its account of conversion itself. It ends with Campbell concluding that JT is responsible for many of the interpretive dilemmas in Pauline scholarship and within the Church as a whole.
Even after this theoretical examination of Justification Theory, Campbell doesn’t immediately jump into the exegesis (close reading of a Biblical text) right away. Instead, he begins with some interpretive (hermeneutical) considerations. The primary reason for doing this is that Campbell believes that “an important, and possible quite insidious, set of interpretative dynamics is operative that can distort any naive or merely unselfconscious approach to the texts” (221). For Campbell, these must be grasped and neutralized as much as possible before we can simply “read Paul.” In Part Two he builds an interpretive base for working with the texts. He also some gives some history of interpretation of Paul, including a highlight of the Reformer’s reading of Paul. Finally, he looks at some dangers that surround reading Paul in a modern European (or North American) setting. Only with these interpretive dilemmas and warnings presented does he finally proceed with exegesis.
Parts Three through Five deals directly with the Biblical texts. Part Three deals with Justification Theory and the texts which are used to support it. It primarily deals with Romans 1-4 as the “textual fortress” on which JT rests (Douglas’s metaphor). Part Four offers a rereading of Romans 1-4 (probably the most provocative piece of the argument. Part Five then extends this rereading of Romans 1-4 to the rest of Romans, as well as to other key texts which have been used to support JT.
I’m still working through Part Two at the moment, so I can’t comment on his exegesis yet. However, I must say that his approach is noteworthy. Starting with the theoretical models and working to the texts is novel, but I think it’s helpful and even necessary. He’s correct in that a “completely unbiased” reading of the text is impossible. We’re greatly influenced by the traditions we have received, regardless of their source. Highlighting these inherited “interpretative tendencies” is necessary work as we start to examine the texts. It keeps us honest and hopefully humble as we dialog with one another about the meaning of the Scriptures. I know I’ll find stuff to take issue with, but I’m deeply impressed at the breadth and depth of his argument.