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The Quest for Paul's Gospel

The Quest for Paul’s GospelDouglas Campbell cover image:
The Quest for Paul's Gospel 2005Seth review:

Campbell says his book is an attempt to address the “grand strategic level” of discussion about Paul’s gospel. He believes that while there is a lot of exegetical and historical work being done on Paul, there is too little work being done to lay out the main options for Pauline soteriology along with the consequences of endorsing one over another.

Campbell finds three contenders for Paul’s soteriology, and each grounds itself in one of the three major sections of Romans.

1) The “justification by faith” (JF) model grounds itself in chapters 1-4. In this model, the individual begins in a state of sin and legalism (judgment according to works and desert) and is transferred by his or her “faith” (understood as belief in one or more propositions) in Christ to a state of justification. God is a judge whose primary quality is retributive justice and the Christ-event is characterized as an atoning sacrifice, an expiation for that retributive justice. This model also includes an assumption of natural theology by which all people know by nature what they should do, thus diminishing the difference between Jew and Gentile (usually citing Romans 1:18-3:20).

As this is the great reformation view of salvation, Campbell spends a lot of time criticizing it. In chapter eight, he identifies six clusters of issues that make the JF model especially problematic.

a) The assumption of natural theology
b) The emphasis on God’s retributive justice
c) Its understanding of Christ and atonement
d) Its characterization of Judaism
e) Its account of conversion
f) Its characterization of Christian existence

He then explains why the JF model gets each of these wrong. Unfortunately, Campbell does not distinguish between Calvinist, Lutheran, and Arminian versions of the JF model, but as far as I can tell, his criticisms can be adapted to fit any version.

2) The “salvation-historical” (SH) model grounds itself in Romans chapters 9-11. This model reacts against the individualism and ahistoricism of the JF problem-solution model by substituting a promise-fulfillment pattern. Rather than Judaism being the problem in need of a solution that it is for the JF model, in the SH model, Judaism and the OT are the promise of which the Christ event is the fulfillment (the promised messiah has in fact come). In the SH model, Paul’s Jewish experience was quite positive (as opposed to the JF view of pre-conversion Paul); it’s just that his Christian experience is better.

Campbell has much less to say about the SH model than the JF model. His primary problem with it is that it interprets the Christ event by way of the OT rather than the other way around. He thinks the SH model doesn’t make a sharp enough break with Judaism, the law, and the Old Age. Though he doesn’t cite this example, the example that comes to my mind is Wright’s constant warnings against dualism, Marcionism, and gnosticism. Campbell, on the contrary, argues for an asymmetrical dualism, and he is careful to argue against the charges of Marcionism and gnosticism. He agrees with the SH model that creation, the old covenant, the law (etc) were good and that Christianity is better. But he disagrees that this fact necessarily implies a full continuity between the Old Age and the New or the original created order and the “new creation.” There is continuity with the Old Age, as the incarnation clearly indicates, but the resurrection and Paul’s insistence on new creation (cf. Isaiah 65 and Revelation 21) suggest discontinuity as well. “It is fundamentally puzzling,” says Campbell, “why Christians in the SH model are not Messianic Jews.” Campbell insists that all created categories – including gender, race, and sexuality – have been superseded by the new creation in Christ. Literally, there is no Jew, Greek, male, female, etc (cf. Gal 3:28). In fact, he uses this idea to make a bold new contribution to the debate over gay ordination in chapter 6.

(As an aside, there is much in Campbell’s argument that should seem familiar to those who are acquainted with Karl Barth’s and/or Jacques Ellul’s work.)

3) The “pneumatologically participatory martyrological eschatology” (PPME) model grounds itself in Romans 5-8. In this model, the language of being “in Christ” and of “new creation” is key. Unlike justification language or panoramic historical overviews, this language is found throughout Paul’s letters (as opposed to isolated places in Romans and Galatians). Essentially it works like this: through the work of the Spirit (i.e., pnuematologically) we participate in Christ’s martyrdom and resurrection into the new age and new creation (eschatology). The emphasis is on God’s unconditional love, rather than his retributive justice, and the focus of the incarnation and cross is identification with the human condition of enslavement to sin and death, rather than atonement for sin. In the PPME model, the resurrection is just as important as the crucifixion (cf. 1 Cor. 15.17 and Rom. 4.25). The PPME model avoids both the tendency towards ethical laxity of the JF model (according to which works can seem irrelevant) and the opposite tendency in the SH model to cling to the law. Although Campbell doesn’t say so explicitly, I see his model as helping to address the fact that for Paul, Christ undoes the sin of Adam, not the sins of Solomon and the later kings of Israel and Judah (i.e., the proximate cause for the exile). This has always been, for me, a potential weakness in Wright’s emphasis on the theme of exile. As one audience member asked Wright after his Durham NT Seminar lecture on Romans 9-11, “When, according to Paul, have the Jews not been in exile?” It’s the only time I’ve ever heard Wright at a loss for words! Fundamental to the PPME model is that we understand the OT through the Christ event, not the other way around.

At one point, Campbell summarizes the PPME model this way: “it is asymmetrically dualist in its basic structure, and cosmic and universal in scope; it is radical in its analytical depth, where it posits stark relations of oppression and domination by superhuman powers; hence it is fundamentally liberative soteriologically, as well as being creative and ontological at this point.”

Campbell spends the last three chapters of his book attempting to secure two key textual components that his model requires: the meanings of “faith” and “works of the law.” In short, he disagrees with the JF model that “faith” is primarily volitional, cognitive, and mental. Campbell is a key figure in the pistis Christou debate, and he sides with those who opt for a subjective genitive reading. In fact, his whole argument depends on it. In other words, it is Christ’s own faithfulness that is the focus of Paul, and we participate in Christ’s faithfulness with the help of the Spirit, through whom we receive it as a free gift. This faithfulness is, of course, not the mere belief in one or more propositions, but fidelity, trust, etc. It is relational not informational.

As for “works of the law,” his brilliant rereading of Romans 1:18-3:20 is much needed and, as I said in my first post, the whole reason I took the leap of faith to buy this book. I hate to give away any of it because it is so carefully argued that I don’t want to do it any injustice in presenting an abridged version. But basically, he lists a multitude of reasons that the standard interpretation won’t work, one of the best being that it just doesn’t make sense in a post-Sanders context. If Judaism was never about earning salvation, then Paul can’t really be saying what he appears to be saying. Campbell’s solution is that it is an ad hominem strategy against one of Paul’s many opponents, most likely some Jewish-Christian "teachers" who were teaching something like the argument that appears to be Paul’s argument (according to the traditional interpretation) in Romans 1:18-3:20.

Well, I hope I’ve whetted your appetite for this book, and I hope I haven’t done it too many injustices by this brief and hurried summary. I have actually left Campbell open to a number of easy criticisms, so if you see some gaping hole in his argument, I hope you will credit it to my summary and not to Campbell’s book.

Feel free to ask questions about specific issues.



Re: The Quest for Paul's Gospel

Thanks to whomever put my review into the correct format (including the nice picture of the cover). 

Peter, I know what you mean about wanting to incorporate the best of each, though Campbell would say that, ultimately, we do have to choose because the JF model simply can’t be reconciled with the SH and PPME models.  He does, however, think the best of the SH model can be subsumed into the PPME model. 

James Dunn comes to mind as someone who might serve as a foil to Campbell.  He seems much more content to let Paul be inconsistent and to combine aspects of the JH and SH models.  For those interested, Campbell’s highly critical review of Dunn’s Theology of Paul the Apostle, along with Dunn’s response, can be found in volume 72 (1998) of the Journal for the Study of the New Testament. 


Re: The Quest for Paul's Gospel

I had a feeling you might tell me I can’t have my cake and eat it - that  I can’t subscribe to all three positions (jusitification by faith, salavation history, participation in Christ)! But I’m not so sure the JF model has been completely disposed of by the SH advocates - of whom I am one. I just doubt SH’s assertions that ‘Judaism’ was a perfectly fine religion happily going about its own business until Christianity provided some new ‘boundary markers’. At least, that wasn’t Paul’s view. The Old Covenant was ‘the ministry that brought death’ - 2 Corinthians 3:7; it was a glory that was ‘fading’ - 2 Corinthians 3:7, a ‘ministry that condemns men’ - 2 Corinthians 3:8 and so on. 

In fact I wonder if it isn’t an anachronism to think of ‘Judaism’ as being a religion in that way. Israel had her covenant with God. It wasn’t a ‘religion’ that one could opt in or out of, as we think of religion today. And again, taking Paul’s point of view, there was a great deal that was unsatisfactory about the arrangement, because it was provisional.

The JF model, which is now being exposed as having limitations, and resting on some false premises, nevertheless does have an enormous strength, which is to address the tendency observable in religions worldwide, the belief that it is through something we have done that God’s favour is obtained (albeit that ‘works of the law’ is not in itself a valid way of describing this phenomenon). Not far distant from this in-built human attitude is the Genesis psychosis - to think we can become God too.

Although the JF model may not be a satisfactory way of addressing this profound feature of the human condition, there is, I think, a sense in which Israel had become deceived by thinking that she enjoyed unique privilege of status in relation to God, and her view of history seems to have been that her relationship with God would be uniquely vindicated with a bit more effort at fulfilling the obligations of the covenant. Jesus’s criticism of the Pharisees wasn’t simply that they had the wrong political agenda - they were promoting a peculiar kind of religious pride.

The SH model, which affirms Judaism as a religion, still, I think, stumbles over passages such as Romans 7. I haven’t yet heard a completely an exegesis of this part of Romans which is comletely satisfying - from the SH point of view.

Re: The Quest for Paul's Gospel


In general, I agree with your criticisms of the SH
model.  In fact, if I understand him
correctly, so does Campbell.  However, I still don’t think that the three aspects
of the JF model you wish to keep are best addressed by the JF model (a possibility you allow for in your fourth paragraph).  In fact, I’m not even sure they are intrinsic
to the JF model, at least as Campbell
defines it.  Regardless, I think they are
much better addressed by the PPME model while avoiding the JF model’s many
problems.  The three things that you claim
justifies maintaining some form of the JF model are

1)  A view of Judaism
that does not overemphasize continuity with Christianity (as the SH model tends
to do).  In other words, you want a model
that takes seriously Paul’s critique of Judaism and the law.

2)  A soteriology that
emphasizes our helplessness to save ourselves (i.e., a monergistic soteriology)

3)  A better reading
of Romans 7

My apologies if I left something out, but if my summary is
correct, then here is how Campbell
might respond:

1)  The PPME model
emphasizes discontinuity with the old age (including Judaism and the law) to
the point of risking the charge of Marcionism, though unlike the JF model, it
does not begin by defining Judaism as a problem (legalism, works righteousness,
etc).  In fact, it does not begin with a
“problem” at all, but with the Christ event and the revelation of God’s love
(the solution) then works backwards to understand the problem.  The JH model, ironically, has a hard time
explaining why we are not, in some sense, still under the law, provided that
the law is no longer understood as a salvation/justification requirement but as
an ethical requirement.  “The JF model,”
says Campbell, “writes the Jewish
law in a stringent, moral sense, into the cosmos and then holds everyone
accountable to it.”  According to the JF
model, our failure to obey the law necessitates an atoning sacrifice.  This is the standard interpretation of Romans
1:18-3:20.  Whereas both the JF and SH
models are committed to objective and unified descriptions of Judaism, the PPME
is content with the growing consensus that Judaism was a varied and complex
phenomenon.  It sees Paul as affirming
that whatever Judaism was, it is (from a Christian perspective) part of the old
age.  I think Campbell
might say that those apparently pejorative phrases that you mention from 2 Cor
3 are actually more descriptive of the relative benefits and shortcomings in the
light of the new covenant.  After all,
faded glory is still glory.  I won’t go
into all the exegetical issues, but Romans 9:4 is enough to make me cautious
about hasty generalizations regarding Paul’s view of the covenants.

2)  If the
“participation” part of the PPME model sounds synergistic, it isn’t.  This participation is a gift of the Spirit

who molds us on the template of Jesus’ own faithfulness, death, and
resurrection.  Conversely, it is the JF
model that is contractual, synergistic, and rationalistic as well because it
makes faith an entrance requirement and tries to convince the potential convert
to make a decision, to accept certain propositions, etc.  

3)  Romans 7 is at the
heart of Romans 5-8, which is the PPME model’s foundation.  Campbell
does not provide a detailed exegesis, but the language of being joined to
Christ and of being rescued from death that are fundamental to Romans 7 are
much more readily comprehensible in a PPME paradigm than a JF one, which emphasizes
judgment and atonement over identification and rescue.


Re: The Quest for Paul's Gospel

Thanks Seth. My internet connection does for me what it did for John - times me out in mid-theological flow! So I’m retrieving from memory what I was just composing.

Which isn’t to say much, except that (a) I obviously need to read what Campbell actually says, and (b) my theological interests are in constant dialogue with people in my church before whom they are tested. What may seem ‘true’ theologically also has to be ‘true’ to people’s lives and experience. So in that sense I’m not abandoning the heart of JF just yet, which does, I think, capture something true of God’s actions and people’s experiences - though it will need some considerable reframing and a new moniker!

As an aside, I have called together a discussion group in the church this autumn to look at some of the issues which appear in Campbell’s book. The first was looking at how ‘modernism’ has tended to frame a presentation of the gospel - and maybe reframed the gospel itself. The second was looking at the biblical term ‘righteousness’, and suggesting that the term has been hijacked by the protestant reformation, and that the biblical word, as it describes God’s covenantal faithfulness, is much richer. The third, this coming week, will look at eschatology, and issues that have been much aired on this site.

This is not a merely academic exercise for myself or others, and I can confirm that the issues addressed in John’s review in the post "faith revolution = emerging church, or not?" are increasingly relevant to some in the church which I help to lead - possibly many. The key issue being whether the nature of the church as we now have it is best able to facilitate our onward journey with God - as a group, and as individuals. Along with this, of course, goes the issue of the theology which underpins the church.

Come to think of it, that little statement could be the basis for another discussion group in the new year.

Re: The Quest for Paul's Gospel

Peter, for some reason, I couldn’t access the link you posted, but I couldn’t agree with you more on the need for theology to connect with people’s lives and not be an empty, scholastic exercise.  I’m just not convinced that the JF model is necessary to do that.  Of course, there is a part of me that would prefer integration over elimination (which appears to be Wright’s attitude towards the JF model), but after reading Campbell, I’m no longer sure that’s possible, though it would admittedly be easier.  I would also like to think that achieving a better understanding of Paul’s thought (with the standard disclaimers for objectivity in a postmodern age) can be a legitimate goal for a Christian in and of itself.  I would resist the idea that they are incompatible goals, and perhaps you might too, given your penultimate sentence.

Regardless, that need for a connection is precisely why I value this site and the work of people like Wright and Campbell, not to mention lay theologians like Jacques Ellul and William Stringfellow.  I’m not a professional theologian.  I teach a Sunday school class of people in their 30s and 40s who don’t bring to it much knowledge of theology or biblical scholarship at all, but who are generally very open and interested in rethinking their faith and what it means to be church.  I come to this site and I see many knowledgeable people who are intensely interested in rethinking their faith and what it means to be church, some of whom (such as yourself) also belong to churches where there is interest in these kinds of discussions.  I look at the Ekklesia Project and the work it’s doing (www.ekklesiaproject.org).  I’m sure there are many more examples I don’t know about, but my point is that this is an incredibly exciting time to be a Christian! 


Re: The Quest for Paul's Gospel

Seth - I don’t know what the link is which you refer to - couldn’t find in my posts!

I still have to read Campbell - but I’ve read enough of Wright to appreciate that the traditional understanding of ‘justification by faith’ and the particular ‘problem/solution’ model on which it hangs needs to be recast.

On the other hand, there still is a ‘problem/solution’ issue at the heart of the biblical narrative. And although JF might now need some rethinking, the more general truth which it expressed is something which I would want to retain. Namely, that sin’s power is all-pervasive, that we cannot redeem ourselves, and Jesus provided that redemption which we access through faith (or by faith through grace if we need to be pedantic).

I don’t think Wright, at least, is discarding any of this general truth, and may also be saying that it is broadly Pauline in substance, but that ‘justification by faith’ is not Paul’s way of describing how we access it. On the other hand, if we take Wright’s understanding of justification by faith, we can still have the general truth which traditional JF was trying to describe thrown as part of the package. We just shouldn’t call it justification by faith.

As for what Campbell says - I’ll just have to read the book. Our local Christian bookstore wasn’t able to find any details about it - which is a shame as they are running a 25% discount on books this coming weekend.


Re: The Quest for Paul's Gospel

I was referring to the link to the review of the Barna book.  No problem—Andrew explained that it’s not available yet. 

 Please let me know what you think of Campbell’s book once you’ve gotten a hold of a copy.  My main goal was to draw attention to it so the critical discussions could begin.   

Re: The Quest for Paul's Gospel

Thanks Seth. You can be sure I’ll be printing off this summary as well as sending off for the book.

Nothing revolutionary in the three different ways of understanding Paul’s gospel, but it sounds as if Campbell has some useful insights about all three.

Personally, I’m just greedy, and want to incorporate the best of each of the positions outlined. But in the end, whichever view you opt for, I’m impressed with just how much and in every way Paul was abandoned to Christ. His willingness to give his all is an inspiration to me, no matter what soteriological gnats are strained out of our theological teacups!

Re: The Quest for Paul's Gospel

Peter, you’re a gem! Thanks for the summary, Seth. I will work on getting it from the library.