Other parts to this series can be found on my Deliverance of God page.
Campbell spends the first part of his book highlighting problems with the traditional Protestant understanding of Paul, which he dubs “Justification Theory.” (hereafter Justification, or JT) Often called the “Lutheran reading,” a summary of it can be found here. This description takes up the first chapter of the book.
Campbell then moves onto highlighting the difficulties of Justification. He proceeds on several levels. His first list is at the “intrinsic level.” These are difficulties which are present before examining passages that support other readings. One example is JT’s understanding of humankind (anthropology). Justification posits that mankind is both intrinsically depraved and sinful, but simultaneously capable of rationally deducing certain properties about God. These include certain moral rules, a day of judgement based on merit, etc. Humanity is intelligent enough to reason their way to most of the things in the “Premises” and the “Loop of Despair” in the JT outline. This of course clashes with a humanity that is “in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” (Ephesians 4:17-19) Basically, you get a tension: two paradoxical descriptions of humanity. Likewise, Campbell questions JT on grounds of theodicy. The problem is this: God demands absolute, 100% obedience to the law to get into Heaven. Yet, as we have seen, humanity is incapable of this. How can God be just if his demands are impossible to fulfill? He notes several others, but we can move onto the next type of tension.
Campbell then moves onto systematic difficulties in JT. These are difficulties that JT experiences when put next to other Pauline passages, chiefly Romans 5-8. Campbell constructs an “alternate soteriology” from Romans 5-8 and compares it to Romans 1-4. He then highlights the tensions. Some of these are repeats from the intrinsic difficulties (his charge of a paradoxical anthropology is strengthened by his reading of Rom 5-8). He also gives tensions on other grounds, like ecclesiology (nature of the Church), the nature of faith (faith is surprisingly low key in Rom 5-8) and theology (what is God’s fundamental attribute?). His case it very persuasive here. If only a few tensions existed, they would probably be reconcilable. The nature of theology is such that one learns to live with tensions. However, he has placed the bar quite high for anyone wanting to reconcile the traditional reading of Romans 1-4 with other parts of Paul’s thought, especially Romans 5-8.
The final difficulty that Campbell notes is Judaism. Campbell claims that JT makes certain empirical claims about Judaism that are demonstrably false. JT states, for instance, the Judaism is a law of legalism which ultimately leads to the “loop of despair” in the outline. The classic reading of Paul has a highly polemicized picture of Judaism which has plagued Europe for hundreds of years (Luther was a raving anti-semite remember, probably his deepest character flaw). This found its terrible climax in the Holocaust and the Nazi atrocities. It’s important not to attribute these horrible things to Christian theology, however the Lutheran caricature of Judaism certainly didn’t help the matter. Against JT’s claim of Judaism as a religion of “works-righteousness” and “legalism,” Campbell largely follows the work of E.P. Sanders. However, he reorients some of his claims, and puts them on a sounder theoretical base (according to Campbell anyway). Essentially, Campbell argues that Sanders’ work has punched an empirical hole in JT.
The final chapter in Part One deals with interpretative dilemmas that JT has influenced. He starts with the dilemmas faced by Pauline interpreters. Krister Stendahl’s work on introspection is the first he explores. He then moves onto the Participatory emphases, especially noting Wrede’s construal of Paul’s gosepl. After a few more interpretative tensions, he proceeds to “Broader concerns in the Pre-Christian Vestibule.” These problems include Natural Theology, Post-Holocaust, Christian Relationships with Government, and a few other things. The final section of dilemmas deals with the “Consequent Construal of Christianity.” Many of these dilemmas have been raised by Orthodox and Catholics. They include the charge that JT is not sufficiently Trinitarian, or that it caricatures the role of the Holy Spirit and/or Christ. The sacraments also have a section here. Essentially, Campbell raises a whole host of interpretative quandaries that are at least partially influenced by JT. He argues that displacing JT as the primary reading of Paul will help or solve many of these dilemmas. With this charge, Part One closes.