Tag Archives: justification

Reimagining Faith: Into Christ

Yesterday we did a bit of thinking about the apparently strange juxtaposition of justification by faith and final judgment based on works.

I’ve been wondering if there are a couple of roads we might run down to reconceive what saving faith looks like.

The first facet worth exploring is the conjunction of faith with our union with Christ. Put simply: what if we started thinking less of “believing in Jesus” and more of “believing that brings us into Christ”?

How would this help? A couple of thoughts come to mind.

First, being “in Christ” is in part about occupying a certain kind of space. It is not simply the space in which we are united with others in the body of Christ–though that is true as well.

It is also about occupying the cosmic space that has been freed from the rule of sin and law and death (Rom 5-8). This means that faithing into Christ means being part of the new creation in which faithfulness to God is the only possible way of life.

Second, being “in Christ” here on earth entails not simply occupying space, but occupying a defining narrative. To be in Christ is to be united with Christ in his death and his resurrection.

To be united with Christ in his death entails a calling, a core identity, that demands a certain way of life: laying down our own lives so that others might live. Faithing into Christ means entering a story of salvific self-giving.

But it also means being part of a story that resolves in salvific resurrection life. If “occupying cosmic space” is part of the “already” aspect of being united with the resurrected Christ, what I’m talking about here is the “not yet” aspect. We will one day be united with Christ in full and final resurrection life.

But you see–this is the reward, extended at the final judgement, for those who have been faithful to God. Faithing into Christ means that the story we enter and live out in our communal and personal narratives will meet the same climactic conclusion as Christ’s own self-giving story of love.

When we think of “belief resulting in union with Christ,” we are speaking of a narrative of salvation rather than a one-off moment in the past that can be dissociated from what comes next.

There is a necessary way of life that results in a final judgment that affirms the cruciform story of the faithful.

Saved by Grace, Judged by Works?

The final judgment is a culminating moment in the story of God. This means that if we are participating in that story, our own narratives are going to somehow walk a path that takes us from our life here and now through that judgment and out the other side as God’s vindicated people.

Inspired by Scot McKnight’s post on judgment a couple days ago and by finishing up my Romans-Revelation course on Wednesday night, I want to explore one particular dimension of final judgment in the NT. Here it is:

Every time the New Testament indicates the basis of the final judgment, that basis is the works of the people who are being judged.

This is a hard one for us in the Protestant tradition. Ours is a world that has generated conflicts about “lordship salvation,” and where “once saved always saved” has been a watch word of comfort for our churches.

More specifically, our salvation looks to grace alone by faith alone. And this has made us slow to accept the centrality of works in that final experience of salvation.

Here are some quick thoughts about the significance of works as part of the final judgment:

  • The NT writers assume that it is possible for the people of God to live in such a way as to please God.
  • The NT writers assume that those who are truly God’s people will, in fact, live in this God-pleasing way.
  • The NT writers (and Jesus!) assume that these God-pleasing lives will distinguish God’s people from those who are outside the Christian community.
  • These previous points together indicate another assumption, that the people who are brought into the community will live out their calling in such a way that they will, in the end, be vindicated.
  • The final judgment plays a role in exhorting the people of God to the faithfulness to which they have been called–and this is a real exhortation with real consequences for failure.
  • The final judgment plays a role in comforting the people of God who, most often in this life, will not see themselves rewarded for their faithfulness to the heavenly economy.

All of this got me wondering about the social conditions that give rise to different ways of thinking and talking about the final judgment.

Much of our hesitation about it seems to stem from our personal disconnect with the last point. Final judgment is good news for people who know that their faithfulness to God is bringing them real life hardship, and perhaps even death.

Final judgment is not good news for people in power, for people who exercise judgment. If there is a world upheaval and a putting of the top run on the bottom and the bottom on top at the End, then those of us who sit perched atop the world’s power structures don’t have much use for the final judgment in our systems.

Theologically, this raises questions about how we should understand the connection between our salvation by grace and the works entailed in final salvation. We might need to find better ways of holding onto the life of faithfulness that is expected as the outcome of placing our faith in the God of the crucified and risen Christ.

Is there a good news about getting in that corresponds to the life that is expected for those who comprise this family of God?

What do you think? Is a final judgment according to works problematic for how we understand salvation in our churches?

Calamity, Guilt, and Justification

As cyber space has opened up the world to the voice of anyone with a keyboard, the Christian sub-culture has created what is now almost a scripted response.

Immediately after the tragedy, the conservative Christians will point fingers at their favorite sin du jour, saying that the tragedy was brought by the hand of God in punishment for said transgressions.

With a lag time of perhaps 8 nanoseconds, liberal Christians will descry their country bumpkin counterparts, asking how they could know about the mind of God on such matters, highlighting other, worse places that did not get hit, and creating mock interpretations of other tragedies.

While the conservative response seeks an acknowledgement of guilt leading to repentance, the liberal response enables another sort of self-justifying. The former perhaps operates as a self-justification of the “in group,” the latter operates as self-justification of humanity as such.

And each, in their own ways, seek to justify God: the conservatives assuming that the sovereign God allowed or brought about the tragedy for a holy purpose, the liberals assuming God has had no part in it (science people, science!).

I feel sympathy with both views. I appreciate the conservative insistence that God is involved in the world. I also appreciate the liberal insistence that the world does not unfold in a direct set of responses of a holy God to people’s holiness or sin.

If the world operated like that, there would be no Job, no Ecclesiastes, and, ultimately, no cross.

So how might we respond faithfully when tragedies strike–be they natural disasters such as tsunamis or man-made disasters such as planes crashing into buildings or collapsing economies?

While agreeing with the liberal response that God might not be directly punishing or rewarding, disasters have the power to unmask the idols in which we have been putting our hope without knowing it.

I don’t worship money. I give a good deal of money away. I don’t make major life decisions based on what will have the best financial ramifications for me (I live in San Francisco, for crying out loud).

And yet, when the stock market tanks or the housing market plummets, I discover that I have a sense of anxiety. When man-made disasters remove what I assume is a firm foundation for my future, it discloses to me that I have an idol I was unaware of.

Thus, while agreeing with the conservatives that disasters should prompt heart-searching, we should not assume that we know in advance what sorts of sins we will discover in the process. How many folks on the right, when hearing of natural or man-made disasters, point the finger at the unbridled greed, usurious interest, and unbridled expenditure of military power as the points at which we should repent?

Rarely, if ever, do the stereotyped sins articulated by the “pious” come in for God’s heaviest judgment. This is the point of the transition from Romans 1-2. You can say all the right things, condemn everything that’s condemnable–and still come in for equal judgment at the hand of God.

We might say similar things about natural disasters–we have created a world that isolates most of us from daily dependence on the functioning of the natural order. We have water piped into desert areas; we have food shipped in from Mexico. We are more vulnerable than we realize, and depend on the works of our hands for our life and health. This is good, but may also become an idol, removing us from our dependence on God.

But perhaps above all, disasters and death are calls to get outside of ourselves. When people die or are left destitute or homeless, this is the time when we are called to be instruments of comfort of new life. We are children of the Father who puts the fatherless in houses–and thus should enact the home-giving love of the Father. We are children of the father who gives seed to the sower and bread for food–and so we should pour ourselves out to ensure that those left without sustenance by such disasters are fed.

The God we worship is the God who has promised to be God for a world that is imperfect in its “natural order” as well as the “world of humanity.” The Son sent by this God has come to make his blessings known far as the curse is found.

And so, if we will be the faithful people of God, we will respond to disasters, whether natural or man-made, by entering into this God’s project of restoration through self-giving love. We respond by love, by presence, by consolation. We respond by tending, caring, building.

And we trust that these acts of love are, themselves, the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Time Arcing Forward

The time of the resurrection arcs forward and embraces all subsequent time.

The resurrection is the point in time at which God’s reconciling love for the world, in Christ, is revealed, put on full display. It is the time when the hidden of God’s revelation in the cross is unveiled for the apostles–so that they can proclaim the reconciling work of the Messiah, God incarnate, to the world.

Jesus has been raised.

Perfect tense.

Past action with results continuing into the present.

And so the people of God anticipate a coming reconciliation of all things with God–and are, even now, reconciled with God.

And so the people of God anticipate a coming judgment of the cosmos–and are, even now, justified before God.

This is how Karl Barth draws out his conclusions to Church Dogmatics §14.3: the time of revelation after the resurrection is the time of recollection. But it is not merely recalling an event in the past history of the world, it is recalling the event to which we look back because it introduces a reality that endures into the present.

The resurrection is the advent, for us, of God’s time. The incarnate God is man raised from the dead and eternal with God in the heavens. Humanity has entered the eternal.

And so, looking back, we proclaim and must believe that the death and resurrection together form the right answer to the question asked in the OT: when and how will God save? when and how will the deliverer come?

To look back on the resurrection is to have our eyes drawn to the future.

… this very backward look cannot be cast in such knowledge of faith without the look forwards, without grasping the promise: “Behold, I come quickly!” without the prayer: “Amen, come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20). (119)

Forgiveness and Resurrection

Yesterday I did a little co-conspiring with Mark Scandrette and the guys from ikon here in San Francisco. We recorded a podcast about forgiveness (stay tuned for download details).

The conversation generated a number of thoughts and questions, not all of them worked out in our short time recording. Perhaps one of the most important has to do with entrusting judgment to God. At some level, especially for people who have been badly wounded, abused, left behind after a loved one has been killed, forgiveness will be tied to a conviction that the God of all the earth will do what is right.

Is that really the God who composes the Christian story? Is that really the God who beckons us to forgive and even to bless those who persecute us?

In my estimation, we have too often surrendered a major resource for answering this question because we have built our theology of forgiveness so much around the cross that we have neglected the crucial place of the resurrection.

Resurrection means not only that God has accepted and forgiven us in Christ. This much is true. But it also means, more generally, that the economy of this world is not equipped to bring about the just judgment of God.

The God of all the earth will do what is right, but this mortal life and its systems of power and even of justice are not the heavenly court.

Resurrection promises that there will be reversal. Injustice cannot escape the righteous judgment of God.

The Just Requirement Fulfilled

I can’t get enough of Romans 8.

Ever.

If I were only allowed to have one chapter in the whole Bible, this would be it: you have here the empowered life given by the Spirit of the resurrected Christ, you have a picture of cosmic redemption and therein an affirmation of God’s love for the whole created order; you get signals that our salvation is about participation in the new humanity of those who rule the world on God’s behalf and thereby participate in new creation; you get hope in times of suffering; you get freedom from condemnation; you get our identity as God’s beloved children as we are in the beloved son.

And, of course, you get God’s daring act of giving up of God’s son so that we might live.

Jesus’ death for us comes into play a couple of times in the passage. The one I want to explore a bit right now is the difficult claim in 8:3-4.

3 God has done what was impossible for the Law, since it was weak because of selfishness. God condemned sin in the body by sending his own Son to deal with sin in the same body as humans, who are controlled by sin. 4 He did this so that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us. Now the way we live is based on the Spirit, not based on selfishness. (CEB)

Here we have, once again, the question of how the Law is related to the saving righteousness of God. And, once again, it stands outside looking in. God did what the Law could not. We are on much the same ground as Rom 3: no flesh is justified by Law before God, so God acts outside the Law, with something new and unexpected.

God acts through giving God’s own son to die. Where the CEB here says “to deal with sin,” the Greek is περὶ ἁμαρτίας (peri hamartias), a likely reference to the Septuagint’s use of the phrase to mean “sin offering.” Once again we’re on the same ground as ch. 3: Jesus as a sin offering as God’s alternative to Law as the means of salvation.

But here’s where I want to explore a bit further: How is “the righteous requirement of the Law fulfilled in us”? What is the requirement and how is it fulfilled?

First, there is nothing in this passage, Paul, or the NT in general to support the claim made by at least one modern commentator that this refers to God’s reckoning of Jesus’ law-keeping to our account. The passage is entirely about Jesus’ death, nowhere does Paul (or any other NT writer) speak of Jesus’ righteousness consisting in keeping the Law. Enough of such speculation.

In Romans, Paul has used this “just requirement” language before.

  • Rom 1:32: They know the “just requirement” of God that those who do such things are worthy of death.
  • Rom 2:26: The uncircumcised keep the “just requirement” of the Law because, as God’s eschatological people who have received the Spirit, they have this Law written on their hearts.
  • Rom 5:16: The many transgressions were the seedbed from which grew out the gift, the transgressions leading to a “just requirement” (this does not mean “justification,” but the just act which would enable one to be justified
  • Rom 5:18: One “just act” lead to “justification”
  • Rom 8:4: God fulfills the “just requirement” in us

I find it fascinating that in three of the previous four occurrences the connotation of dikaioma had to do with death. The just requirement of death is known, in 1:32, and in ch. 5 it is Jesus’ death in particular that is the just action that leads to justification.

So I wonder: is the “just requirement” that is fulfilled in us, what the Law couldn’t do but God did, the just requirement of death for sin?

I have been hesitant to go down this road, in part because Paul speaks immediately afterward of our identity as those who walk, not according to the flesh but, according to the Spirit. So I’ve previously thought of this as our own obedience to what the Law would have us do: the death of Jesus enables us to live obediently to the Law.

But what does the Spirit do in Romans 8?

As the Spirit of freedom, it is the Spirit of adoption–making us God’s children and confirming and conforming us to that identity.

But that “Abba, Father,” cry is the cry of those who are being conformed to the image of Jesus by suffering with him in order to also be glorified with him (8:17). The Spirit’s work in us is to conform us not merely to sonship generally, but to the crucified and then resurrected son.

In other words, the Spirit fulfills in us our dying with Christ, our union with him in death and resurrection, our baptism into his death.

So to be those who “walk according to the Spirit” is precisely to be those who carry about in our body the dying of Jesus–and thus have the just requirement of death fulfilled in us through our realization of our union with Christ.

This finds further corroboration in Rom 3, where the thing that allows God to be just and justifier is the blood of Jesus–and those who are justified are those who are “of the faithfulness of Christ”–united to and defined by Jesus’ own death.

To have the just requirement fulfilled in us is to realize in ourselves the dying of Christ by which we are justified both now and at the end.

The Righteousness of God (3b of 4)

This is where attempting to dissociate “righteousness” from God’s work on behalf of God’s people starts to fall apart. It’s not that there is a quality of God that needs to be lived up to. Romans 3 tells us that God reveals his righteousness when he makes a way to vindicate/acquit people who affiliate with Jesus.

It’s not just that God has to live up to a standard. It’s that the standard to which God desires to live up is the one in which people are vindicated before him. When we talk about righteousness, we are talking about God’s ability to vindicate people who are not worthy of vindication.

And here’s where the surprise comes into the Jewish story: the act that God judged worthy of vindication was Jesus’ death on the cross. And, acquittal looks like being associated with that death so as to be joined to that resurrection-vindication.

In all this:

  1. I think that Wright, Piper, and the Reformed tradition generally agree that God is being seen as a judge who acts justly in the vindication of humanity. The “courtroom” idea is common to all of them.
  2. Wright insists, and the Reformed Tradition should have room for, the idea that the standards of the courtroom are the stipulations of the covenant that God established with Israel. Wright does not think “relationship” is all that helpful a term unless paired with the notion of covenant membership.
  3. Wright, Piper, and the Reformed tradition more generally all agree that the death of Jesus makes God able to do what he could not do based on mere humanity: justify just sinners.
  4. By making the basis of justification a “righteousness” of God or of Christ that is a character trait, the Reformed tradition has had to further talk about the idea of “imputation” so that the “stuff” of God or Christ could be transferred to us in order for us to be justified.
  5. By making righteousness an appropriate response to the covenant, Wright has set God’s righteousness as something that does not get “imputed,” but rather “revealed” in the self-giving death of Jesus that enables God to vindicate.
  6. By making righteousness an appropriate response to the covenant, Wright makes Jesus’ obedience in death the act that God sees as righteous so that Jesus can be vindicated and, in turn, those who are in Christ can be vindicated also.
  7. By making the faith that reveals God’s righteousness our own rather than Christ’s, the traditional Reformed perspective is developing the mechanism by which the righteous “stuff” that is Jesus’ or God’s can be transferred (imputed) to believers. Wright’s Christ-faith interpretation functions within a different framework, within which no such mechanism is needed.
  8. The Reformed tradition (and Lutheranism as well) have a strong means of connection with Wright on the centrality of Christ’s death as the justifying principle without reference to imputation. It’s called “union with Christ”. If someone is in Christ, they are baptized into his death–which is the action that God is pleased to receive as the faithful act of obedience that finds vindication. If someone is in Christ they are baptized into his resurrection and participate now in that vindication, are little righteous ones who live by faith.

The Righteousness of God (part 3a of 4)

Some time ago, I came to the conclusion that the fracas over the righteousness of God could not be separated from another favorite perennial NT question: the meaning of pistis, and the pistis Christou debate in particular.

Romans 1:17 reads: “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed by faith unto faith as it is written, ‘But the one who is righteous by faith will live.”

Somehow, the good news reveals God’s righteousness “by faith”, as it is written, “But the one who is righteous ‘by faith’ will live.”

The ideas are brought together again at the end of Romans 3:

But now, without law, the righteousness of God has been made manifest (being witnessed by the law and the prophets), the righteousness of God through the faith of Jesus Christ (or, through faith in Jesus Christ) unto all who exercise faith. For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being righteoused freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement through faith, by his blood, in order to show forth his righteousness, because in his forbearance he passed over the previously committed sins, to show forth his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who is of the faith of Jesus.

That is one mean sentence! Notice again that the way in which God’s righteous is made known is through faith: either the faith of Jesus in going to the cross or our faith in Jesus (3:22), depending on how you interpret the Greek, it is made manifest through faith and goes out unto the faith of all who believe. The pattern from Romans 1:17 is repeated: from faith unto faith.

But whose faith is it? Christ’s faith in going to death on the cross or our faith in Christ?

Later in the paragraph we’re told: it’s God’s putting forward of Jesus as a sacrifice in his blood that is the act of faith by which God’s righteousness is made known. So when we’re told that the righteousness of God is witnessed to by the law and prophets, it seems that the death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus is the event which they foreshadow.

Thus, when we read in the very first scripture citation in the book of Romans, “the righteous one ‘by faith’ will live”, we do well to read this as a reference to the faithful Christ who was raised because of his fidelity.

This then brings us back to the question of what, exactly, this faithful death of Jesus has to do with the righteousness of God. How does the death of Jesus reveal the righteousness of God?

The passage in Romans 3 tells us that this death of Jesus reveals God’s righteousness because it enables him to justly justify his people.

So what?

Come back tomorrow and I’ll tell you.

The Righteousness of God (1 of 4)

A couple of times over the past month or so I’ve been asked in one way or another to weigh in on what is becoming the Piper v. Wright showdown, what before that was the Presbyterian v. Wright showdown, what before that was a vigorous conversation in New Testament scholarship. Since I discovered just yesterday that Piper has been selected as the “leading exegete” to represent North America at the Lausanne Conference in South Africa, I figured now was the time.

Here’s how I dissect the different positions on offer by Piper and Wright: Piper’s understanding of righteousness and justification flows from an understanding of the cosmos in which the law of God (an essentially timeless entity, but with some historical representations such as the Decalogue) regulates humanity’s standing before God. Wright’s understanding of righteousness and justification flows from an understanding of the cosmos in which the in-time story of Israel, and God’s covenants with this particular people, regulates humanity’s standing before God.

It may be that Piper will at times express his understanding in terms of “covenant,” akin to what we find in classic covenant theology that developed at the time of the Reformation. But even then it is viewed as an instrument to regulate the essentially transhistorical law of God.

The difference in the kind of covenant theology that Wright has on offer is that it is tied to specific stipulations and promises for particular people in particular times and places.

This difference between an essentially timeless law of God and a historicized development of a covenantal relationship gives rise to their different understandings of righteousness, justification, and faith.

When trying to understand the connotations of “righteousness” in the Bible, we need to remember that the connotations about which people differ in these debates will not be found in a dictionary or lexicon entry. “Righteousness” essentially means the characteristic of someone who does what is right or just.

But the whole source of difference between Wright and Piper is this: What, exactly, is the “right” thing that God must do in order to be righteous? Or, what is it for us to be a person who can be judged as “right”?

In other words, this is not a debate about the lexicon, it’s a debate about the theological framework within which the word righteousness gets used, and what it therefore connotes.

We don’t use the word “righteousness” all that much in normal language, so let me illustrate with a word that we’re more comfortable with: faithfulness.

Faithfulness will always mean loyally performing what we are bound to do on the basis of some relationship. But this also means there there will be an inherent level of relational relativism. In fact, being “faithful” can mean the exact opposite course of action depending on which relationship I’m talking about. For example, what it means for me to be a “faithful” husband will entail performance of certain actions that my role as “faithful” professor will entail abstaining from. To take the obvious example of sex, being a faithful and righteous husband entails engaging, being a faithful and righteous professor requires abstaining.

The move in Piper’s Reformed theology is to say that the entire world is under the same law, will be judged by the same law, and requires fulfillment of that law in order to be justified. This transhistorical narrative places all of us on the same footing, and sees God as simply the judge who judges based on our failure to attain to the standard.

Wright’s biblical theology suggests instead that righteousness is more closely tied to the specific relationship God has with Israel. Israel is required to perform certain actions, to fill certain roles, and God has bound himself to respond in certain ways. The work of Jesus is about a surprising fulfillment of Israel’s calling to obedience (in the cross), and God’s fulfillment of his covenant obligations comes in vindicating those who faithfully join themselves to this crucified and risen king.

Tomorrow we’ll work out a bit of the exegetical basis for making the decision one way or the other. Then Thursday I’ll see if I can’t work through a few of conundrums Wright hopes to solve with his revision of the story; specifically, how does the life of Jesus fit into the story? And I’m sure that by Friday we’ll have had enough chaotic back and forth that some further triumphant declaration of some sort will be in order (maybe something like: Why New Testament scholars don’t care about this debate). Stay tuned!

Final Words on Campbell, Deliverance of God

Here is my final post on Douglas Campbell, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul. [Click here for a search that should turn up the rest!]

This is the part I’ve been dreading, because I know Douglas will hate me for it, cast aspersions upon me for “not understanding” the importance of the work, etc. But here it is…

This would have been an incomparably better book had the first 466 pages not been appended to the front.

1. Problems with “Justification Theory”

a. An early phase in Campbell’s argument is to lay out “justification theory”–a soteriological model that moves “forward” from an apprehension of God’s just displeasure at the sin in the world through a person’s recognition of this to an introduction of Christ as the means of deliverance.

Campbell’s articulation of this position is exceedingly detailed and complex. As I mentioned in one of my earlier reviews of the volume, it becomes so detailed that I end up failing to recognize this “theory” as belonging to any real life person.

b. In response to this “straw man” objection, Campbell shows how justification theory(hereafter “JT”) actually corresponds to a particular reading of Romans. However, this is no answer to the straw man objection, because the theory itself is so clearly derived from what Campbell takes to be JT’s reading of Romans 1-4.

c. The closest that I can see someone comes to affirming something like Campbell’s “JT” is a classic post-Reformation justification soteriology. But tellingly, Campbell has backed off of his previous identification of this position as the “Lutheran” reading of Paul. The shoe doesn’t quite fit the Lutherans, and it leaves me wondering who, in fact, it is supposed to fit.

d. As a further point along this line of argument, as I said, the closest approximation of JT that I can come up with is a Reformation-influenced soteriology. But interestingly, Campbell finds that strong statements of election and/or predestination are incompatible with JT, which he takes to be entirely voluntarist. In other words, the Calvinistic passages in Paul are incompatible with a Reformed-like, classic “justification theory”!

e. This leads to a final problem with JT, that will be related to my next area of critique: the position is not handled and understood “from the inside out,” as an actual Reformed commentator has made the point and developed the argument. Instead, it is handled from “the outside in,” developing a theory that entails any number of points that “must” be held given certain other commitments–and so Campbell ends up critiquing a system of his own devising rather than the position of any (group of) commentator(s).

f. This weakness of the book is not just nit-picking! Campbell asserts that “JT” is not only the dominant reading of Romans (?!), but that it is the best, most credible alternative to his, that his reading solves all of its problems, and that one must therefore from this point on always adopt Campbell’s reading because of the way that it solves all of JT’s conundrums. Everyone else has underestimated the problem, thereby trapping themselves in too facile solutions, and so we need this entire project to set things right (931-36). Campbell simply won’t convince many to follow him down that road. In part, this is because of problem 2..

2. Problems with Everyone Else

After working through the problems with justification theory, Campbell turns to recent efforts to reread Paul–efforts of Stendhal, Sanders, Watson, Dunn, Wright. Astonishingly, after reading through all of these, and even noting how their readings solve some of the problems Campbell perceives in JT!, Campbell dismisses these all as not only offering inadequate solutions to how we read Romans, but as offering no improvement whatever on JT! He concludes that JT is really the only reading that has any claim to coherence and viability as an alternative to his–but that after listing over 50 problems with it!

In truth, Campbell’s book builds very much on these earlier studies, is simply one step further along the path of understanding Romans than several of these other readers have been able to come up with, and is not successful at establishing the either/or alternative (Campbell or JT) that it strives so ardently to do.

In light of this (which takes us to p. 466), my assessment is that the first 1/2 of the book weakens the overall argument by trying to do too much. Perhaps some of the more important elements (helping us realize how deeply embedded certain JT readings are in church history, for example) might have been covered in 20 pages, but otherwise I recommend that the reader start reading on p. 467.

3. Problems with “the Teacher”

Campbell suggests that the strong denunciations that begin in Romans 1:18ff. are not Paul’s own position, but the view of “a teacher” whom he is opposing. I just have a couple of thoughts on this, issues that need to be addressed before Campbell’s reading will be largely persuasive:

a. Campbell does not give a strong explanation of the γάρ (“for”) that begins a new “voice” in the letter. This is problematic not only because the connector seems to conjunct 1:17 and 1:18 but also because elsewhere in Romans the contrasting voice in a diatribe is clearly marked by rhetorical questions and the like.

b. Part of the reason why we need “a teacher” is because otherwise so much of the argument looks mis-directed, mid-representative of Judaism, etc. But once one has established a plausible theory for how Paul’s critiques could have a viable target, then the need for that particular argument is undone! No longer do we have to see these arguments as lacking a plausible object.

c. Campbell wants to reject much of the material in Rom 1-2 as incompatible with Paul’s thought, and yet we find those very same components in other letters and clearly in Paul’s own voice: God’s wrath, judgment based on works, opposition to homosexuality, condemnation of various stereotyped sins, etc.

While there is certainly a theology with which each of these is incompatible–but apparently it’s not Paul’s. And with this, much of Campbell’s project starts to crumble under its own weight. The book is clearly making a number of decisions based on theology, theological compatibility and coherence, etc. But as much as I’d like to follow down the road that Campbell has cleared for us, the fact that so much of the theology explained away as belonging to “the teacher” is actually Paul’s theology elsewhere raises serious questions as to whether that road will take us to the apostle himself.

I do not wish to end on this note, however, From p. 601 through the end the book presents a masterful reading of Romans, many parts of which will no doubt win the day as exegetical roadmaps to the understanding of the letter. The world of Pauline scholarship is shifting, advancing by fits and starts, and Campbell’s work is an important step both in confirming what has come thus far and in taking the next step forward.