Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Your preferred model for understanding Paul’s gospel

I will shortly be publishing here a long overdue review of Douglas A. Campbell's highly stimulating work, The Quest for Paul's Gospel: A Suggested Strategy (London: T & T Clark, 2005). His chapters on homosexual ordination, and the one on the 'justification by faith' in terms of its contractual construal were particularly fascinating!

As I shall explain, he offers three main models for understanding Paul's gospel:

  1. The 'justification by faith' one
  2. The 'salvation history' model and
  3. The pneumatological participatory martyrological eschatology model (which in important ways is similar to what others call an 'apocalyptic' model) – Campbell makes a case that this is the best one to adopt.

What is your preferred model for understanding Paul? Salvation history? Apocalyptic? Justification by faith? Something else?

I think that in order to understand Paul's letters, one must accept a certain amount of salvation historical continuity. This also carries with it the recognition that there is no free-floating object called 'Christ' unrelated to the scriptures and the scriptural story(ies) (a point Watson makes in Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith – another book I will review in the next few weeks). Nevertheless, to understand Paul's letters one must equally accept a degree of discontinuity, novelty and outrageous creativity in Paul's thinking in light of his relation to Christ. If we insist too strongly on one or the other we will misrepresent the Apostle.

With those points in mind, I like to understand Paul's gospel in terms of salvation history (informed at points by the 'justification by faith' approach) and apocalyptic. Indeed, the mysteries God reveals in apocalyptic literature is often the plan of God's saving actions, i.e. salvation history! They do not exist in either/or (a point made beautifully by Wright in Paul: Fresh Perspectives).


At 7/02/2008 11:54 PM, Anonymous Loren Rosson III said...


If I had to choose, I'd say (3). As Wrede and Schweitzer demonstrated, justification by faith wasn't central to Paul's thought. He only called on it in the Judean/Gentile context. As for salvation history, not only is it not central, it just isn't there -- the term (per Esler) should be dropped from the discussion; Paul looked back on the era of the covenant as a dark age of gloom and doom, when no one (except Abraham) was appropriately justified. Any talk about a "climax of the covenant" (Wright) misrepresents Paul's thought. I agree with Campbell that the participatory/apocalyptic model is the best of the three, and a decent one.

At 7/03/2008 12:07 AM, Anonymous Andrew said...

Like Campbell, I go with PPME all the way with occasional lashings of SH as a condiment.

Somewhat bizarrely, what has been most enduring in my mind from reading Campbell's book was his suggestion right at the end of the book that some of the early parts of Romans represented Paul's opponent's views not Paul's. I've always been interested in studying Romans 1-4 and I've become convinced Campbell is essentially right in his suggestion.

At 7/03/2008 2:44 AM, Anonymous Drew said...

I don't think that you can separate the cosmic Christ from the present effects of justification. Both of these entail a salvation history. So you have to hold all three model in continuous tension to be faithful to what Paul is trying to do in my judgment.

At 7/03/2008 2:44 AM, Anonymous Ben Myers said...

Hi Chris: "They do not exist in either/or (a point made beautifully by Wright in Paul: Fresh Perspectives)."

I appreciate your irenic approach, but Wright's book highlights a potential problem with this: while Wright claims to be rejecting the either/or between apocalyptic and salvation history, his approach is really tantamount to a complete rejection of apocalyptic in favour of historical continuity. I know he wants to admit the dimensions of discontinuity, but it seems to me that his whole approach eliminates the possibility of real discontinuities.

In contrast, an apocalyptic model which privileges discontinuity can at least provide a subsequent account of historical continuity: in Doug Campbell's terms, God's apocalyptic action establishes a "retrospective" continuity. The history of Israel points to Jesus precisely because God raised Jesus from the dead!

At 7/03/2008 3:21 AM, Anonymous Geoff said...

I prefer the Flux Capacitor method:

Build a time machine and ask Paul himself.

At 7/03/2008 10:43 AM, Anonymous steph said...

I'd pray for you Chris, if I thought it would help. You really have an unhealthy obsession with that bejewelled man in a frock:-).

At 7/03/2008 3:56 PM, Anonymous CS Sweatman said...

I have come to read Paul through the lens of Jewish wisdom. This may be an overgeneralization, but I think it's an approach that has not been fully considered as an overarching paradigm. As such, it then becomes an means through which the other categories can be raad/interpreted.

At 7/03/2008 4:16 PM, Anonymous Angie Van De Merwe said...

How about a model that underlines man's cognitive/moral development? Paul had understood faith as justification, as a Jew, before his conversion. He believed that being Jewish was what faith should be about. This was a self-oriented faith centered in a religious tradition.
But, understanding a broader view of life, that included others, brought in view a salvation history model where Paul re-interprets faith into "world" and not just "self-understanding". This was why Galatians was written the way it was about the "Law". He had come to understand God as larger than "the Law".
His mature view grasped moral order as a cosmological structure, as seen in Romans. But, his understanding of man's need for a higher order than government (law) is also understood in Romans. The Jew and Gentile are both subject to moral disorder, apart from God's intervention.
Faith, then, is not in "self-understanding", government/Law (moral order), religion, but, in God.

At 7/03/2008 5:03 PM, Anonymous dan said...

I'm also backing the apocalyptic model (properly defined), although I also see a great deal of overlap with the salvation historical model (properly defined).

As for Wright, I thought he would use the language of eschatology, not apocalyptic (which he seems to define rather narrowly) but maybe I need to go back and review the revelant passages.

At 7/03/2008 5:04 PM, Anonymous dan said...

'Revelant'? That's an interesting word! Pardon the typo.

At 7/03/2008 5:35 PM, Anonymous Chris Donato said...

Salvation-history with a tinge of apocalyptic. I almost completely disagree with Loren's assertion that any talk of "climax of the covenant" is misguided.

We might as well throw away the letter to the Hebrews if that's the case (not written by Paul, of course, but someone familiar with his emphases).

At 7/03/2008 8:50 PM, Anonymous Apolonio said...

The sacramental model.

At 7/03/2008 9:27 PM, Anonymous J. B. Hood said...


If we worship what we long to become, then this obsession with NTW makes sense: Tilling wants to be "Bishop Chris" someday...

Per Loren's comment, I wonder if the addressees of Paul's letters (almost all Gentile) results in us getting more of a "discontinuity" flavor. Paul himself seems to shudder and utter me genoito to those coming away with pure discontinuity.

I don't see how you can have (3) without a great deal of (2).

At 7/03/2008 10:08 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Well, it seems that most opt for an apocalyptic model – which actually surprised me.

I will keep my comments to a minimum tonight, but perhaps pick up a couple of other comments tomorrow.

I'll restrict myself to Ben's comment tonight.

Hi Ben,

“while Wright claims to be rejecting the either/or between apocalyptic and salvation history, his approach is really tantamount to a complete rejection of apocalyptic in favour of historical continuity. I know he wants to admit the dimensions of discontinuity, but it seems to me that his whole approach eliminates the possibility of real discontinuities.”

Not sure I can follow you here. Take Wright’s work on the ‘title’ Christos, for example. He is famously quite clear that this is in some sense continuous with the Messianic flavours of his day, especially the one which placed the Messiah at the climax of God’s dealings with Israel. Though some may dispute his suggestions there (I think he is spot on), what is also clear is the discontinuity associated with the ‘title’ in Wright’s project. So the Messiah is revealed in Paul to also be ‘God’ in Rom. 9:5, and the whole Messianic battle language has been thoroughly transformed by Jesus Christ. It is rethought, reimagined in light of Jesus. Further, in his Paul: Fresh Perspectives he traces a number of ways in which continuity and discontinuity can be traced in relation to monotheism, election and eschatology. In other words, he not only wants the dimension of discontinuity; he works it through. Whether he produces successful results or not is another question, but that ‘real discontinuity’ is there is, I think, unambiguous.

“The history of Israel points to Jesus precisely because God raised Jesus from the dead!”

I enjoyed your helpful second paragraph ending with this sentence. I would suggest, though, that the resurrection and the history of Israel work within a mutually interpreting framework. To experiment with my thoughts, perhaps one should add another because to the end of your sentence: ‘...because God raised Jesus from the dead because resurrection is about the restoration of Israel’ (Acts 26:5-8; Ezekiel).

To link the two themes of the paragraphs above, it was precisely the Son ‘who was descended from David according to the flesh’ who was ‘declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead’ (Rom. 1:3-4).

I wonder if Campbell’s penchant for the PPME approach, with his, I think, slight misrepresentation of the SH model, is one reason why he often finds his Paul writing against what he thinks his Paul should write (as in, for example, Paul’s allegedly inconsistent ethics, and in his thesis concerning the first three chapters of Romans)? From a theological perspective, I am sure there is much to commend Campbell’s thesis. But I am not sure his case explains the nature of the letters all too convincingly.

At 7/04/2008 4:01 AM, Anonymous Edward T. Babinski said...



When I became an Evangelical I heard a lot about the "Roman Road to Salvation," a selection of verses just from Paul's letter to the Romans that Evangelicals often cite and use to try and "save" people.

Later, after studying Matt., Mark & Luke (the synoptic Gospels) I discovered what might be called "The Synoptic Road to Inheriting Eternal Life." I read every passage in the synoptics in which Jesus was asked "How can I inherit eternal life?" In those three earliest Gospels Jesus doesn't put belief in himself first when answering that question. He speaks instead about loving God and your neighbor, or in one case Jesus asks if a person has followed the commandments dealing with interpersonal relations like loving father and mother, not stealing, etc. Pretty simple, just as simple as the Lord's Prayer, also found in the synoptics, "[Father] Forgive us our debts/sins as we forgive our debtors." Pretty darned simple. Paul appears to have mucked up the synoptic Jesus's message on how to inherit eternal life.

Jesus spoke as though he were aiming at a simple direct way to live life with God -- simpler than that laid down by the Scribes and Pharisees and temple worshipers and animal sacrificers. He taught about personal relationships in his "sermon on the mount" [Matt. 5-7]. Take 7:12 where Jesus says, "In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets." Jesus wanted plain direct practice of good works. "He who hears my words and does them" is what's most important in the sermon on the mount, not "miracles," not even "calling on my name," nothing less than "doing," is what the sermon on on the mount was about. Jesus spoke about bringing forth good fruit ["the good man brings forth good fruit from his good heart"], and going direct to God in prayer ["Our Father"] instead of via priests, scribes, or animals sacrifices. And he assured people that the Father would "forgive us as we forgave others."

Paul really mucked that up. As well as lots of other things.

Paul began as an endtime expecting apocalyptic preacher, hyping up the expectations of the Thessalonians and Corinthians. "...brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly..." 2 Thes 3:1], so that his final hope was to carry the good news, while there was still time, to Spain - for him, "the ends of the earth."'
[Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity (New York: Atheneum, 1979), p. 38.]

Paul also believed that God makes Christians ill or even kills them if they don't partake of the Lord's supper rightly. And he believed in cursing people with "anathema."

Not to mention that Paul was a patriarchal, women silencing [while later gnostic churches allowed women to speak, damn them], celibacy preaching ["it is best to not touch a woman, and, best not to marry," but if you must, "it is better to marry than to burn"], supporter of slavery.

Paul believed in a literal Adam, a young earth, and hence that one man could bring death and another could bring life (ever more abundantly) yet we see that everyone including Paul continued to both sin and die, so how much more abundantly did Jesus change the world than Adam corrupted it? I don't see much of a change, do you?

At 7/04/2008 4:52 PM, Anonymous Celucien L. Joseph said...

Perhaps we could synthesize all three approaches: salvation history, apocalyptic, and justification by faith to formulate one single approach, if that is possible. Then we'll do justice to each view. By the way, does such approach exist in Pauline studies?


At 7/04/2008 5:28 PM, Anonymous Jason A. Staples said...

I don't think any of the models are truly sufficient. The only one that works for me is (4) the New Covenant model, which contains aspects of PPME and SH, but governs each of them.

At 7/04/2008 7:57 PM, Anonymous Michael J. Gorman said...

I am very attracted to much of what Campbell has to say but find his approach too polemical and dismissive of certain aspects of Paul. I agree with those who say we need a more synthetic model and one that stresses covenant--as well as participation. I have attempted such an analysis of Paul in my forthcoming (fall 2008) Eerdmans book Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul's Narrative Soteriology.

At 7/06/2008 8:43 PM, Anonymous Chris Donato said...

J.B. Hood, I think you're on to something there. If we keep in mind the battles Saint Paul was fighting, then it makes perfect sense to see him accentuating discontinuity.

At 7/06/2008 9:36 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Michael (Gorman),
Thanks for the heads up about your forthcoming. I look forward to that enourmously!

Jason, I think you are on to something there

At 1/29/2009 3:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am with the PPME model. I read the book as an arm-chair theologian and I was convinced. The Roman's 1-3 re-reading was a completely new thought and very persuasive. Except I do wonder where paul may site the problem with the human condition elsewhere.


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