[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.
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.