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The Quest for Paul's Gospel
The Quest for Paul’s GospelDouglas Campbell cover image:
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
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
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.