Paul, ‘Apocalyptic’ and ‘Salvation-History’ approaches, and Barth
To oversimplify to the extreme: the modern apocalyptic approach to Paul, broadly speaking, denies a continuity between Paul's thought and the old creation and covenant. A salvation-history approach seeks to understand Paul's thinking as part of the trajectory, even if it is doing something new and radical, of the old covenant and creation. In the apocalyptic approach, God breaks into history independent of God's age-old promises tied to Israel's, and the world's, history – matters important to the salvation-history approach.
A few suggestions for your consideration:
These two approaches to Paul are, fundamentally, not about the nature of revelation such that one can be used to affirm a Barthian approach and the other not, but a largely exegetical judgment about the significance of the covenant as it relates to Paul's theology. The similarities between the 'apocalyptic' and Barth may well be superficial and less significant than at first appearance.
- First, the hard distinction between 'apocalyptic' and 'salvation-history' approaches to Paul is often over pressed. Dunn once insightfully wrote that it was the "apocalyptic climax of the salvation-history which constituted the heart of his gospel". The two belong together for the apocalyptic reveals the ways in which God fulfils his covenant promises (Daniel). Were the new creation so utterly discontinuous, one would struggle to explain much of Paul's reasoning (famously in Rom 9-11, for example). And to state the obvious, Christ's significance was not written, by Paul, in binary code but in the language and milieu of Jewish Christianity as it sought to understand how Christ was the telos of the law. Yes Christ was new, surprising, discontinuous in so many ways with the old covenant, but Christ was not without context, not entirely 'out of the blue' and entirely impossible to understand as just 'out of the blue'. For an extended critique of dividing 'apocalyptic' from 'salvation-history', cf. Wright's Paul: Fresh Perspectives, chapter 3. What is more, criticisms of the salvation-history approach tend to unhelpful caricatures (cf. Doug Campbell in his otherwise excellent work, The Quest for Paul's Gospel, 37-38). Watson has a helpful section in Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith on the dialogue and conversation between Christ and scriptures in the understanding of the early church. Christ was not ever an entity separate from the scriptures given to the covenant people. It may be objected that some of these arguments caricature the 'apocalyptic' approach. But the point here is that 'apocalyptic' and 'salvation-history' approaches are a difference of emphasis, not kind – and were one to maintain the latter, one enters the land of the caricature I critiqued.
- Barth, at the start of his 'Lehre von der Versöhnung' (CD IV), begins with 'The Covenant as the Presupposition (Voraussetzung) of Reconciliation' (IV §57.2). Wright, in his location of Paul's theology on the horizon of covenantal salvation history themes, continually speaks of 'rethought', 'reworked' and 'reimagined' in light of Christ. Both seek to locate Christ in a suitable context, yet re-read that context in the light of Christ.
- Barth speaks of the history of Christ as the history of humanity. All is focused upon Christ and his story (hence Barth's revamp of traditional understandings of election). Wright maintains that Christ's life, death and resurrection expresses the history of Israel (election, exile and return) which itself was a retelling of Adam's, and the world's, story. See, for example, how Gregory MacDonald, in terms of the Apostle Paul, uses Wright's insights to argue that Christ's story is world history in a nutshell (The Evangelical Universalist)
- It is the 'blessing of Abraham' (that sounds worryingly like salvation history!) that comes to the Gentiles in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:14), and this because Christ became a 'curse' (covenantal Deuteronomic language) for us (3:13). In my view, Dunn's commentary on Galatians is the best Galatians commentary, and sheds more light on the text at such points than Louis Martyn's 'apocalyptically' slanted commentary.
- I therefore suggest that Barthians would do well to avoid seeing a natural ally in the 'apocalyptic' approach to Paul. There may well be room for more fruitful dialogue with those in the salvation-history school – caricatures aside, given Barth's procedure in CD IV, the way in which everything is reimagined, rethought etc. in light of Christ, and the significance of the history of Christ in Wright's thought.