Tag Archives: Romans

Deliverance of God, Some Stimulating Thoughts…

I’ve just come through a couple of really interesting chapters in Douglas Campbell’s Deliverance of God, ch. 4 on Judaism and ch. 5 on the question of Paul’s conversion. Rather than give summaries or engaging the arguments Douglas cares about, I want to draw attention to one major point he makes in which he scores a critical blow against some justification theories and then to one suggestion he makes that I find fascinating.

First, the body blow.

Campbell had noted previously that the role of the Law in what he calls “Justification Theory” is preparatory. It shows that there is a bar that any rational human will realize cannot be cleared. When we recognize this we become frightfully distraught and turn to God to save us by grace.

Such a theory of Law makes the Law downright loathsome. Cf. Luther.

Thus, any person who had been so conditioned by the Law, coming to faith in Christ, would naturally abandon the Law more or less immediately. In fact, it would be impossible to be a Christian without abandoning the Law.

Although Campbell does not draw on Acts or Galatians 2 or Paul’s insistence that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, the very presence of a law-keeping, conservative Jewish Christianity, validated by the apostles in Jerusalem if no one else, means that Justification Theory’s reading of place and purpose of the Law has gone seriously wrong. Law-keeping Christianity is a massive problem.

The other interesting suggestion, coming up in a similar vein, was that Paul himself preached law-observant Jesus following in the early years after his conversion. One argument from silence is that the issue of Law did not come up during his first visit to Jerusalem, when he hung out with James and Cephas. The suggestion Campbell makes is that this manifestation of Christianity arose at Antioch, and Paul learned it and adopted it there.

The piece of information that is more tantalizing in this respect is Galatians 5:11: “If I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted?” “Still” preach circumcision? When were you preaching it before? Paul never presents himself as a Jewish missionary before his conversion, rather a persecutor of the Jewish-Christian church.

Might he, in his early years, preached a Jewish Christianity even to his Gentile converts? Fascinating thought…

Disclaimer: I received a gratis copy of this book from Eerdmans, though with no stipulations either that I would review it or review it favorably.

More on Campbell, 100 pages in…

[I continue my running thoughts on Douglas Campbell’s The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul. I’ve chosen to switch to second person address since DAC has been around and read the blog and interacted here, and because I know him. Plus, there’s no point pretending that we’re all objective and dispassionate or that there’s not a real human being on the other side of the engagement.]

Ok, Douglas, so I’m about 100 pages into the Tome. I feel like I’m in the room with you–I can hear you voice saying almost every sentence. I like how well it captures your voice.

More substantively, I think you’ve nailed a couple of issues that have plagued Reformed theology (and it’s been more plagued in these the closer it’s stuck to its roots).

Two that stick out to me are the identity of God and ethics. These are tied together, of course. The whole idea of a God who’s defined predominantly by abstract categories, and whose holiness is tied to an abstract, non-historical law is deeply problematic. We can have such a God and voila! we’re only left with a dozen or so possible deities in history that might fit that profile. The connection between God and Israel in particular is crucial for understanding Paul’s God and Paul’s story of salvation.

The ethics piece that you hit on at the end of ch. 3 is also spot on. Folks who put justification by faith at the center of their theology often intentionally underplay obedience, even the possibility for obedience once people have received the Spirit! Moreover, the whole idea that there is a transhistorical moral law means that the Christ-event has no substantive role to play in shaping Christian ethics. In fact, there is no “Christian” ethics at all. A vague Judeo-Christian ethic, tagged “moral law,” takes care of everything.

Your argument gives some important gains here, and mark genuine progress (or a genuine alternative) to a less Pauline, less biblical, and overall less Christian alternative.

I have a few areas where I’m not sure I’m with you, or where I’m afraid that you might have sold the farm already.

First, I’m not yet convinced that “justification theory” entails forward thinking, in-time movement from experiencing plight to experiencing solution. Why can this articulation not be, as Sanders suggests, an a priori argument that Paul makes based on a posteriori convictions? We do things like this all the time. When was the last time I wrote an academic paper that reenacted the line of thinking that I used to come to a position myself? No, we become convinced of things and then we construct artificial arguments to lead other people to our conclusions. Might the same not be said for arguments in favor of justification theory?

Second, I’m struggling with what, or better, who, justification theory is supposed to represent. This is the problem of the straw man that you bring up, and that I expressed my concern over in my first post. In short, when I read your exposition of what justification theory must be, I at the same time am aware of a conservative Calvinist, union-with-Christ-centered Reformed tradition that does not hold what you say Justification Theory entails. In other words, I find myself saying, “Nice argument, if there’s anyone who holds that position.”

This pushes back, I think, to the question of how necessary the description of the theory is. And I’m not convinced that it must be such as you’ve laid it out. Must a two-edged epistemology be self-referentially incoherent? Why not simply paradoxical (but true)?

At any rate, because I’m aware of a Reformed Tradition that makes justification a sub-set of union with Christ (and I, like you, am not at all interested in contractually governed narratives of salvation), I find that the argument doesn’t quite land as one might hope.

Finally, I have to say that I’m a bit worried that you sold the farm in the small print excursus at the end of ch. 3.

Before you got there, I kept thinking, “If Campbell is right about the incompatibility between justification and the alternative, we not only lose Rom 1-4, we lose a heck of a lot of the rest of the NT as well. This is a reconceptualizing not only of salvation but of God in a post-biblical world.”

In your excursus, when you acknowledge that the God of justification theory, including judgment and wrath, is a recurring component of Paul’s theology, I wonder if the whole house doesn’t crumble? It indicates that Paul’s thought is not developed as singularly as the remainder of the argument seems to insist. There is a picture of the God of the Justification Theory who seems to act in accordance with the expectations of Justification Theory. This would seem to undermine the rigorous antinomy that the book depends on. If the God of each system is incompatible–and yet present throughout Paul’s thought, how much more these two different models of salvation?

Indeed, the distaste for the God of violence, coercion, and wrath seems to cause another problem, which is the relationship between Paul’s God and the God of the Old Testament. It seems that this is part of who God is throughout both testaments, and I wonder if you lose too much by insisting on a different vision altogether?

I continue to enjoy the read. I’m looking over your review of Sanders right now and appreciating it very much. I recall a footnote in my book in which I said something like, “It’s interesting to think that if you define salvation in Judaism as we do salvation in Paul (coming through the eschatological judgment), then salvation in Sanders’ scheme is by nomism–works.” I think we’re on the same page with some of those concerns about the significance of PPJ.

More later.

Disclaimer: I am reviewing a copy of this book that I received for free from Eerdmans Publishing Company, though with no stipulation either that I would review it or that I would review it favorably.

Unlocking Romans on RBL

The Review of Biblical Literature just put up a review of Unlocking Romans.

I find book reviews fascinating. One is never sure what a reviewer will pick up on or what they’re bringing to the table with them that is shaping their perception of the work.

In this case, the reviewer chose to hone in on three passages where he thinks reference to Jesus’ resurrection, or its significance, is somewhat questionable: Romans 1:4, 4:17, and 8:12-39. Probably one of the most substantive points of critique in my reading of Romans is what to do with the absence of resurrection in 1:18-3:26. (Maybe that’s why I’m hoping I agree with Douglas Campbell’s reading of the letter!) I’ll need to tackle this more head-on at some point. Eventually I should make a list of the issues folks have an give some sort of super-rejoinder in the spirit of continuing conversation and dialogue.

I found the conclusion to the review a bit puzzling. He suggested that resurrection is a key to Paul’s theology more generally, but also that I did not sufficiently take the particularity of Rome’s purpose into account. I’ll have to ponder how giving attention to both a more contextualized and less contextualized understanding of resurrection in Paul might have helped  things.

Truth be told, I think that the viability of my thesis comes down to the strength of Romans 1:1-7 to provide an interpretive key for making sense of Romans 1:14-17. The parallels are sufficiently substantial that I continue to think that the presence of Jesus’ resurrection in 1:4 tells us what it means, in the first instance, that the Righteous One will live from faith.

I’d love to get some conversation going here about some of the key texts. I’ll let the comments tell me if that would be a worthy pursuit.

Paul’s Story of Salvation

I’ve put it off as long as I could, but I’m finally starting to climb Mount Everest (= reading Douglas Campbell, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul).

I confess that I’m going into this kicking and screaming–not just because the book is 1180ish pages long, but also because I tend to find Campbell’s representations of views he doesn’t agree with to be disappointing. That is to say, I sometimes find that he’s taken a good swipe at a theory, but that nobody I know who holds to the position he’s engaging actually thinks about their own theory what Campbell is dismissing it for.

I began Deliverance of God with a similar apprehension, as he takes his baby steps toward his argument and outlines what he’s going to be disagreeing with.

But then I found myself more and more resonating with his concerns about how Reformed theology depicts God, justice, and the world, culminating in this marvelous sentence, summarizing what he calls the “justification” position:

“In a very real sense, ethical legislation based on retributive justice is the fundamental structure of the universe, as well as of the divine nature” (17).

I’m not saying I’m fully on board yet; and the reasons Campbell is going to disagree with this sentence are going to raise some red flags for me, but I’m ready to read with him now–because he’s nailed the shortcoming of theology in the Reformed tradition (and probably in the broader Christian tradition as well, though I’ll allow my friends to correct me on that point). The structure of the universe is not law, the story of the universe is not a court drama.

1151 pages to go.

In accordance with federal guidelines, I hereby disclose that I was given a free copy of the book being reviewed in this post. I did not agree to write a review, either positive or negative, in return for the volume. In fact, I didn’t even know it was coming and had already bought my own copy. But that’s another story.

Communal Story & the Face of God

Romans 15 calls Christians to seek each other’s good ahead of their own, even to please each other rather than themselves.

Such self-denial is done in imitation of Christ, living out with one another the story of Christ, who also did not please himself. Instead, as singer of a psalm, Christ says, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell upon me.” The cross of Christ, where he bore reproach, models life in Christian community. (Indeed, I would argue that the reason Paul says that the things written beforehand apply to us is precisely because they apply to Christ first.)

But right now I want to suggest that there is a surprise awaiting us as we start delving more deeply into Paul’s call that we imitate Christ’s self-giving.

The psalm Jesus recites, Psalm 69, is a song of a righteous sufferer, a song addressed to God. The reproaches that fall on Christ do not refer to the sins we should have borne but to the mockery heaped up on the God of Israel.

When Paul calls us to dramatize the story of Jesus in our community, he is not calling us to look at ourselves as the savior and our brothers and sisters as sinners who need us to deliver them. He calls us to look at ourselves as the one who bears ridicule directed at God. He calls us to bear with one another because when we look at the face of our brothers and sisters we see in them the image of God, the ridicule of whom denies the truth about the very structure of the cosmos.
This is a call to live into the future that awaits us, seeing  those “without strength” as though they are, already, “perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.”

The family of God bears the family likeness. I seek my sister’s good, I seek my brother’s good, rather than my own because in so doing I live into my family’s story, the story of the elder brother who died for the honor of the Father. When I set aside my own desires and seek to please my siblings, I also am giving up myself for the honor of my Father whose likeness I see in them.

To be like Christ entails aligning myself with God by aligning myself with God’s family–even at the cost of myself.