DoG: Provocative Opening

It’s been a while since I posted on Campbell’s massive volume, The Deliverance of God.  I mostly stopped reading when I realized that I didn’t know Romans well enough to follow his argument.  However, as I was looking for the bibliography this morning I noticed the one of the opening pages of the book (right before the title page) contains the Greek text: “οὐαι μοί ἐστιν ἐὰν μὴ εὐαγγελίσομαι.”  (Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!).  Campbell is of course quoting the great apostle himself from 1 Corinthians 9.  I had missed this bit of rhetorical flair, but I appreciate it.  His conviction is evident throughout the book, and he’s writing with an eye toward the Church and the Academy.

DOG: The Problems of Justification Theory

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.


DoG: The Approach

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.


DoG: The Heart of the Matter: The Justifcation Theory of Salvation

Other parts to this series can be found on my Deliverance of God page

As part of my summary and (slight) analysis of Campbell’s The Deliverance of God (hereafter DoG), I will condense and articulate Justification Theory as Campbell states it.  Justification Theory (or JT) is Campbell’s name for the classic Protestant statement of the core of the Gospel, namely Justification by Faith alone.  Historically, this is often called the “Lutheran” reading, but Campbell opts for “Justification Theory” instead.

DoG is fundamentally a critique and rejection of Justification Theory.  Campbell appropriately begins his tome with his articulation of JT.  He acknowledges that he is susceptible to creating a “straw man,” but strives to articulate the “opponent’s reading” as well as he can.  For the sake of discussion on the blog here, it’s also necessary to state what JT says.  Growing up in a Protestant church, JT was rarely explained in full, but it was certainly latent in our thinking.  So, now we can begin!

Campbell describes Justification Theory as a soteriology (theory of salvation) of two contracts.  The first one is rigorous, and the second one is generous.  The first contract goes something like this:

  • Premises
    • Humans are rational, self-interested and ethical.
    • God is omnipotent and just.
    • Everyone knows God is omnipotent from examining the Universe.
    • Everyone knows God is just from their own conscience.
    • God’s ethical demands are made known to Jews through the Old Testament laws.
    • God’s ethical demands are made known to everyone else innately (through their conscience)
    • Rewards and punishments will be meted out by God in accordance to a person’s obedience or disobedience of these ethical demands.  (Have you obeyed or not?)
    • Present injustices will be resolved at the end of time on the day of judgment.
    • The future age will have a positive aspect (heaven) and a negative one (hell).
    • God will determine an individual’s destiny based on their merit, whether they’ve obeyed his ethical laws or not (in accordance with Romans 2:6-10).
  • The Introspective Twist and the Loop of Despair
    • As we try to fulfill God’s ethical demands, we fail.  After failing, we try harder to fulfill God’s demands.
    • The harder we try, the worse we fail.
    • This results in a “Loop of Despair,” where we grow more and more depressed as we realize we cannot fulfill God’s ethical demands.
  • At this point, the “Generous Contract” enters:
    • God redirects, graciously, the punishment we deserve to Christ (who dies).
    • Because of his sinlessness and divinity, Christ can offer unlimited satisfaction of divine justice through his sacrificial death.
    • God redirects, generously, the perfect righteousness of Christ to sinners who are now viewed as if this righteousness were their own.
    • God, again graciously, offers faith as the criterion for accessing this righteousness.  This is manageable, unlike the the rigors of the first contract.
    • Individuals who have this faith access the perfect righteousness of Christ and will receive a favorable judgment on the day of judgment (they’ll go to Heaven).

Campbell goes through these in more detail, but that will suffice as a depiction of JT.  Toward the end of chapter 1, he lists these as the “root” metaphors of Justification Theory:

  • Humanity is ultimately individual, rationalistic, and self-interested. Humans are primarily cognitive (thinking is our most basic task).  By thinking, we discern the second “root” idea:
  • God is primarily an authority figure of strict justice. The “philosophical man” discerns the most fundamental divine attribute is retributive justice (that is, God punishes wrongdoing and rewards right-doing).
  • Humanity perceives itself to be “ethically incapable.” Humanity tries to do right in light of God’s justice, but is unable to fulfill these commands.
  • There needs to be compensatory mechanism of satisfaction, namely, Christ’s atonement. Jesus’ death pays for the sins from which humanity cannot escape.
  • The criterion of salvation is faith.   An individual accesses this work of Christ by believing in the revelation of Christ’s death and resurrection.

Campbell is working here on the theoretical level.  He only wants to with JT on a theoretical level since his approach is “theory” driven.  Discussion of the key Biblical texts will come later, but right now he wants to highlight the integrity (and also the difficulties) of JT before interacting with the important texts.

I’ll respond a little bit to his method in a separate post, but I find his articulation of the classic interpretation fair.  Admittedly, I haven’t done a tone of reading on classical Protestant theology, but it does fit will with both my reading and my experience growing up in Church.  If there’s something “amiss” in this representation, please let me know.  I’ve cut out a lot to make the summary manageable, so it’s likely I left something important out!


Just Purchased: The Deliverance of God

I’ve decided to purchase Douglas Campbell’s The Deliverance of God after working through nearly 200 pages of it so far (I have it on Interlibrary Loan right now). I’ve been amazed at the argument thus far. He’s done a very thorough job of highlighting the problems with the classic Protestant doctrine of Justification by faith. I’m not yet sure how persuasive I’ll find his proposed solution, but he has convinced me that we need a solution. I’ll be blogging on this work quite a bit. I’m hoping to offer some summaries and maybe a small bit of analysis as I work through the book. This is both for the benefit of my audience (the book is long and not cheap), but perhaps mostly so I’ll understand the issues better by engaging with them.

So, hopefully, there will be a series of posts on this work right around the corner ;-)