Monday, August 11, 2008

Book Review: The Quest for Paul’s Gospel

First, my thanks to T & T Clark for a review copy of Douglas A. Campbell, The Quest for Paul's Gospel: A Suggested Strategy (London: T & T Clark, 2005)

The Quest for Paul's Gospel is an ingenious and innovative, if unusual, book. Rather ambitiously, Campbell attempts to sketch a 'grand strategic' plan for understanding Paul's Gospel, an approach for understanding the Apostle's thought in its entirety.

First, Campbell seeks to justify the necessity for such a grand-strategic thesis. Importantly, he defends himself against potential postmodern objections which would question the need to conceptualise and systematise an objective Gospel at all. Contrary to this, and other issues, Campbell believes his project is vital in recovering Paul's theology for the church out of the hands of anti-theological readings most notoriously represented by Heikki Räisänen. Only by postulating a coherent Pauline understanding of 'Gospel' can the Apostle speak powerfully to and through the church today.

To this end Campbell's argument proceeds in three steps.

In step one he details the main strategic options for understanding Paul's Gospel. The main contenders, he argues, the following three models: justification by faith (JF), pneumatologically participatory martyrological eschatology (PPME - similar to what many have designated as an 'apocalyptic' approach), and salvation-history (SH). Importantly, in chapter 2 he maintains that only one of these models, unless Räisänen's anti-theology approach is accepted, must be adopted at the exclusion or subordination of the others. They cannot all be right. For Campbell, the PPME model constitutes the heart of Paul's Gospel.

In chapter 3 he elaborates on what is meant by PPME, offers reasons why 'apocalyptic' is not the best label, and details the relationships between the various words, 'pneumatologically', 'participatory', 'martyrological', and 'eschatology' which constitute the PPME model. Importantly, he makes a case for the elimination of the SH model as a contender for Paul's Gospel by assimilating its concerns into his preferred PPME model.

Step two of Campbell's argument seeks to answer such questions as what the PPME Gospel is, and what it means for the church today. To do this he examines the narrative dimensions of Paul's letters, particularly that of Romans 5-8, what he calls 'the textual heartland' of the PPME approach. His analysis isolates the story of Christ in Paul's letters, one which includes trajectories of Christ's descent and ascent. An added strength of the PPME model, in light of Campbell's analysis of the model in terms of the Christ-story, is that it involves a complete soteriology.

Chapter 5 is an extended meditation on Galatians 3:28, a passage Campbell believes presents the PPME model in nuce. In particular, the abolitionist thrust of the passage evidences the a-posteriori (not a priori) logic of the PPME model. Whereas the SH and JF models both assume a first phase or given state-of-affairs, and from this point work forwards, the 'PPME model works backwards. It is an a-posteriori account of salvation, a retrospective model, which begins with the solution and then defines the problem in the light of this revelation' (47). This is one reason why it is impossible to adopt the JF and/or SH models together with the PPME model. They belong in completely different theological worlds and can only relate to one another via subordination or exclusion.

In light of this Campbell examines, as a case study, the question of gay ordination in relation to Paul's Gospel understood in terms of the a-posteriori nature of the PPME model. Essentially, Campbell argues that to be consistent to the PPME heart of Paul's Gospel, one can argue that gays can be ordained as such sexual distinctions are rendered null and void in light of Christ (here building on his reflections on Gal. 3:28). That Paul's ethical reasoning appears to explicitly contradict Campbell's assertions can be explained on the basis of the Apostle's own inconsistency: when Paul reasons ethically a priori, from the way things are, from creation, the Apostle falls into the binary ethics of exclusion and oppression that the heart of his Gospel actually negates (according to the PPME model). So Campbell writes: 'Paul's analysis of society in terms of serried binary oppositions lacks theological authority. It is neither christologically derived, not fundamentally scriptural; it depends on Athens, not on Jerusalem' (120). The a-posteriori logic of the PPME model, on the other hand, recognises that 'the clearest insight that we get into God's purposes as given to us in Christ in redemption is also our clearest insight into creation' (119). And so the PPME model helps the church to creatively think ethically through modern issues in a way that is faithful to the heart of Paul's Gospel even though it may need to critique the apostle where he has not been consistent enough to his own proclamation. This makes for fascinating reading! In chapter 7, Campbell argues that the a-posteriori, retrospective logic of the PPME model also helps clarify the relation between Paul, Judaism and the law in a way that is acceptable in a post-Holocaust world.

Step three of Campbell's thesis seeks to engage with what he considers is the main competitor to the PPME model, namely the JF model. If his own model is to win the battle as a coherent explanation of the heart of Paul's Gospel, then it needs to either eliminate or subordinated the JF model, and to justify this move exegetically where the JF model appears to have a strong foothold. To do this he engages with two terms that are foundational to the JF model: 'faith' and ' works of law'. But in order to first grasp the scope and nature of the JF model, he brilliantly examines the JF model in more depth in terms of its contractual construal of Paul's Gospel. While the contractual JF model 'has a rigorous internal coherence...; and number of explanatory strengths; an impressive church-historical pedigree; and a reasonable number of supporting texts in Paul, including an extensive section of his most important that, Romans' (164), the entire contractual understanding of Paul's Gospel is deeply flawed. Its main difficulties cluster around its portrayal of 1. Natural theology; 2. The justice of God; 3. Christ and the Atonement; 4. The nature of Judaism; 5. conversion; and 6. The nature of Christian existence. Campbell's prose sparkles with energy as he lampoons the JF model on these fronts.

This analysis of the JF model leads to a deconstruction of its supposed basis in Paul's letters. First Campbell disputes that its understanding of faith is coherent with Paul's notion of pistis (chapter 9). In chapter 10 Campbell builds an impressive and convincing case that pistis in Galatians 3:15-29 is best understood christologically, as indicating Christ's faithfulness -- not the faith of believers in Christ. Finally, in Chapter 11, Campbell attempts a complete rereading of Romans 1:18-3:20 in such a way that contradicts the reliance of the JF model on this text. Rather than expressing the apostle's own considered opinion throughout, Paul, so Campbell argues, presents the understanding of his Jewish-Christian opponents in these chapters, and through his argument cleverly undermines them.

Campbell cuts to the chase in his conclusion and states that: 'my central contentions have been that the theological future of Paul, and hence much of the church, lie in what I have called the PPME model of his Gospel, and here only. Every other objective spells disaster, but this objective holds the promise of total victory' (262).

A Response

What is one to make of this brilliant and often persuasive thesis? There are undeniable strengths to Campbell's arguments, sharpened as they are by Campbell's impressive intellectual grasp of the many interlocking issues and themes. In this respect one could mention his analysis of the narrative dimension in Paul. Campbell focuses on the Christ-story, one actually found in some Pauline texts and is thus not merely a story presupposed by 20th century scholars. This way of dealing with narrative in Paul has some advantage over narrative patterns that are not actually found in Paul. The ethical vision of Campbell's thesis is also exciting and his criticisms of the contractual nature of the JF model almost worth the price of admission alone. However, while I was much stimulated by Campbell's proposals, I have not often marked a book with so many question marks! I will limit myself to mentioning the following potential problems with his thesis.

  1. Campbell cites NT Wright as the 'foremost representative ... today' of the SH model (cf. 24 n.22). And the SH model, Campbell tells us, reasons only a priori. But I argue that this is a straw man portrayal of the SH approach. Indeed, Wright himself is a clear example of a broadly SH approach which embraces continuity and discontinuity most effectively (cf. his Romans commentary where he explicitly states the vital necessity to grasp both continuity and discontinuity [N. T. Wright, "The Letter to the Romans. Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections," in The New Interpreter's Bible, ed. L. E. Keck, et al. (Nashville: Abington, 2002), 402-3], and Paul: Fresh Perspectives [London: SPCK, 2005] where he masterfully works this out in detail through various themes)

  2. Construing Paul's theology in terms of a-posteriori and a priori approaches may make a lot of sense in 20th century, especially post-Barthian, theology. However, and building on the previous point, I remain unconvinced that it is a helpful way of seeking to categorise Paul's Gospel so as to illuminate the flow of thought in Paul's letters themselves. As Francis Watson has argued:

    'For Paul, it is more important that scripture should shed light on Christ than that Christ should shed light on scripture. Paul has no independent interest in the meaning of scripture as such: the meaning of scripture is identical to its significance, and both are to be found in its manifold, direct and indirect testimony to God's saving action in Christ. Scripture is not a secondary confirmation of a Christ-event entire and complete in itself; for scripture is not external to the Christ-event but is constitutive of it, the matrix within which it takes shape and comes to be what it is. Paul proclaims not a pure, unmediated experience of Christ, but rather a Christ whose death and resurrection occur "according to the scriptures" (1 Cor.15.3-4). Without scripture, there is no gospel; apart from the scriptural matrix, there is no Christ. The Christ who sheds light on scripture is also and above all the Christ on whom scripture simultaneously sheds its own light. In Galatians 3, for example, Paul does not simply assert that scripture must be read differently in the light of Christ, so as to refute opponents who appeal to scripture on their own ground. Rather, Paul's rereading of scripture is determined by his single apostolic preoccupation with the Christ-event, which must be interpreted through the lens of the scriptural witness' (Francis Watson, Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith [London: T&T Clark, 2004], 16-17)

  3. A good litmus test for whether one has understood Paul is to ascertain whether too much in Paul's letters speaks against a certain case. To push Pauline material away as theologically inconsistent with the heart of Paul's Gospel (as Campbell does in relation to Paul's ethics) or as the views of Paul's opponents (as Campbell does in relation to Rom. 1:18.3:20) should thus raise warning signals that Paul has simply been misunderstood. Indeed, Campbell's argument in relation to Romans 1-3 is perhaps the weakest link in his chain. While Paul could cite his opponents or positions he would later critique (as in 1 Cor. 8, for example), Paul's 'irony' in Romans 1-3 is not so marked (there is, for example, no hoti marking a view not his own, and the argument of 1:18 simply flows on from 1:17 thematically – especially clear if one keeps the content of the cited Habakkuk in mind).

  4. Finally, the tone of the book is, in my judgment, overly polemic and employs far too many aggressive military metaphors to make his argument. I agree with Michael Gorman's comment on an earlier post on this blog here, and look forward to his forthcoming (fall 2008) Eerdmans book, Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul's Narrative Soteriology, which pursues a 'more synthetic model' than Campbell's.

These point aside, I would end this review with a hearty recommendation. If you have recently discovered the SH model and/or have begun to feel that the JF model does not square as well with Paul's texts as you previously believed, then before you simply lock, stock and barrel accept the approach of, say, Wright or Dunn, give Campbell's PPME model a hearing. Not only has it much to offer the exegete in terms of insight, it has a tremendous amount of potential for wisely thinking through a variety of both theological and ethical matters.



At 8/11/2008 6:50 PM, Anonymous Sean Winter said...

Just wait until the new book by Campbell on Justification by Faith comes out, it makes this look like a reasoned impartial survey of scholarship. For me,I like his slightly combative tone - makes scholarship more interesting if we aren't a;ways completely nice about each other

At 8/11/2008 7:36 PM, Anonymous Davis said...

This sounds like an interesting book, but I have some serious misgivings. First off, hasn't John Piper written a book on Paul's Gospel? And shouldn't Piper's work be rightly regarded as the definitive work on the topic-- as in there should be no further discussion? And shouldn't any extra pondering about Paul be tampered by a steady dose of Calvin? Finally, shouldn't Piper become the fourth person of the trinity (quaternity)?

At 8/11/2008 10:53 PM, Anonymous Michael F. Bird said...

I concur with your assessment. I appreciated Campbell's critique of JF and SH models (though I'd finally side with SH) and think that his PPME vision, understood as reconfiguring Beker and Martyn, has some genuinely good value. I also enjoyed his arguments for the subj gen. of the PX and christocentric focus. But like you, I just couldn't go along with his take on Paul's ethics or his odd reading in Romans 1-3.

To reaffirm Sean Winter's comments, Doug's next book, The Deliverance of God, should be out with Eerdmans in January if I remember rightly. This will be a good read and could constitute one of the best arguments for the subj. gen. of PX in print to date.

At 8/13/2008 4:02 PM, Anonymous Sean Winter said...

For the record, Douglas, I didn't mean to imply that the scholarly claims were combative - but that I actually admire then way you are able to push them insistently and rigorously rather than skirting around the issues or landing at an easy 'well its both / and...' kind of conclusion. I for one am really look forward to reading the full treatment (I managed to look at some drafts that were given to one of the SBL groups a couple of years ago).

At 8/13/2008 8:42 PM, Anonymous Rachel said...

Sean, I got that. I'm clarifying the broader issue w.r.t. Quest. I'm frequently told that I overdramatize the issue of contradiction, but never get told exactly how. My worry is that continuing to respond in this placatory way to difficulties that are in fact quite real actually binds Paul hand and foot and delivers him over to skeptical but more accurate interpreters like Räisänen. And who ultimately wants that?!

At 8/14/2008 10:24 PM, Anonymous Owen said...

Greetings Douglas

While I do not advocate for a SH model (I don't really advocate for any one model), I think it does it no favors to essentially produce a straw man. To say that SH leads to ethnic cleansing to paint too broad a generalization. Just because something can be taken in a certain direction, doesn't mean that is how it must be taken. Portraying a model as have only one way of existing and rejecting the model in its entirety through one supposed (straw man?) instance

But beyond that, I do have to ask, how do you exclude SH as foundational because of its ethical implications but yet affirm PPME in spite of it coming into conflict with Paul's ethics (as you say)?

I think that producing a model for a person and then trying to produce a contradiction within the person's thought assumes a lot on our part. Having gotten a bachelor's in psychology, one thing I learned is that we can not press our understanding ("models") of people too tightly, especially when evidence points to the contrary. The likelihood is that the person either has been misunderstood or there is in fact no contradiction, except only within our perception. Likewise, with an ancient writer, whom we have considerable less material that a person we may converse and communicate with on a daily basis, it can become especially presumptuous of us to think we have enough to produce some grand model, especially when there is great difficulty with certain areas. To say they have contradicted them self is to state that we know what the person thought beyond what was communicated with great certainty, with only a relatively little sample of information.

The reason why SH at the least is more credible if one is to accept a model (which again, I don't) is that it tries to place it within the culture and context of the writings, which can give some more insight into the person. Now I haven't read your book, so if you brought into it the culture from which Paul came from to bring PPME above SH, then my apologies.

At 8/16/2008 10:43 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thanks Sean and Mike, I look forward to The Deliverance of God very much. And I’m glad you concurred, Mike!

Douglas, it is an honour to have you here on my blog, and your helpful rejoinders are much appreciated. Perhaps I could take the opportunity to air some thoughts that occurred in light of your comments:

“good luck finding SH functioning foundationally in Paul!”

A thought on the word ‘foundationally’: I would agree with you – if I remember rightly – that only Christ is the foundation in Paul. Hence I wonder if it is not a little misleading to speak of our models with the metaphor of “foundation”? Cannot a model function as a way of understanding the flow in Paul’s letters, much like scaffolding helps people negotiate the outside of a building? In other words, they are there to help us understand Paul, and in so far as they do that they are successful – and can even become less important as the building itself is appropriately negotiated. OK, I am not sure that is the best metaphor to employ either, but it strikes at the heart of the problems I saw with your reading of Romans 1-3 in particular. Perhaps one could then say that a good model does not even have to be in the text, but it should help us to understand the flow of thought of the text.

Perhaps, then, SH can help us understand the letters at one level, like scaffolding – the best way, IMHO, to understand the reasoning behind Romans 1-3; Gal 3 and other passages (pending a reading of your forthcoming!). Yet in another sense the PPME model can function as a theological lens for the churches reading. So instead of foundations, we have scaffolding and lenses – models functioning with different tasks at hand. Hence I am not sure one needs to demonstrate that different models fit together exegetically.

“I'm not being combative in making this suggestion; I'm just being honest about our material”

Yes, surely your mission is a laudable one. And you seem more than able to take on this difficult task. However, I wonder if your regular employment of military language was entirely necessary. Though perhaps Sean is right: it makes it much more interesting!

“I haven't jettisoned all of Paul's ethics”

I re-read my review and noticed that my review could indeed have led to this conclusion, so you are right to challenge me at this point. I need to clarify that part of my review. I didn’t mean to say that you have jettisoned it all. I actually found your case study was quite fascinating. For what it is worth, I hope you are right! My comments at the end were to challenge the coherence of the model you present in so far as it helps us to understand Paul’s letters. I think your model helps us, rather, to interpret them today – they are the glasses aspect of our joint adventure to both understand the apostle and apply his letters today.

I am very much looking forward to your forthcoming 1000 pager! I am thrilled that Christians such as yourself, with such sharp and learned minds, are working to reform the church’s message and mission. Thanks again for commenting on my review.

At 8/19/2008 10:36 PM, Anonymous Jason Pratt said...

While I'm passing through...

As one of the local orthodox universalist apologists: I'm willing to agree that Paul, around 1:28, starts intentionally undermining any superiority his readers might be feeling over the homosexuals and lesbians of vv 24-27, leading through obvious capital sins (like murder), combined together with sins that everyday people (such as his readers) do, ending not-incidentally with unmercifulness, before pronouncing the just sentence of God as understood by the readers: thus leading into the sting of 2:1-13. (Which in turn continues the theme of the justice and mercy of God applying to all, and not in counterposition to each other.)

I cannot say I would consider 1:18-27 to be irony per se, however, on Paul's part. (Though I do think it's important to mark that back in v.14, Paul considers himself in debt to the pagans which he is eager to gladly repay! I don't think this is supposed to be irony, either.) At least, it would be odd to criticise the ethical failure of Paul in other places where he condemns homosexuality, and then to argue that this (from 18-27) is only irony. If he's ethically failing in other places, then he will be ethically failing here in this condemnation.

But then, so much for his ironic sting at 2:1ff!--because that depends on 'little' sins being taken as seriously as 'big' sins, regardless of who considers which kinds of sins to be 'big' or 'little'. The point is that everyone falls short of the glory of God, but that God seeks the redemption of everyone instead of writing people off as sinners to be simply wiped out. People who do murder are intended to be saved from being murderers; detesters of God, from being detesters of God; the greedy and envious, from being greedy and envious; gossipers from being gossipers; the unintelligent from being unintelligent; the unmerciful (especially!) from being unmerciful. Including those who would have no mercy on the pagans and/or on the people doing the dishonorable, unclean things in vv.24-27.

But then, they are intended to be saved from doing those things, too. They're part of the group: the kindness and patience of God is extended to them and is leading them to repentance, too. If what they are doing needs no repentance, then neither do the capital crimes that everyone agrees with; nor then the 'little' sins, really, either.

Again, then, if Paul is ethically failing elsewhere by putting them in lists of sin-groups, he's failing here as well. If he's right to include them (and his irony at 2:1ff basically requires agreeing that he's right to include them), then he's right to include them in the other lists, too.

May I suggest this as the resolution between 'obviously Paul is being ironic here in regard to this topic' and 'but Paul looks like he's taking all those sins pretty damned seriously (so to speak)'? {s}


At 8/20/2008 6:03 PM, Anonymous Rachel said...


I think that much of what you suggest here is certainly correct, but possibly misses the point of what I am trying to say in Quest.

Most interpreters probably want to distinguish between two interpretative levels in Paul's use of metaphor and related argumentation. At one level--the more "contingent" one, to borrow Beker's terminology--Paul does of course use a plethora of (hopefully!) artfully constructed images and arguments. In one sense, there is no need to try to aggressively harmonize these. However, at another level--the "coherent" one--which supplies his deepest convictions and thoughts about God's saving action in Christ, it is important that his key moves hang together coherently. This will have implications for his imagery and his argumentation. To put matters simply, if Paul deploys fundamentally different models of the Christ event at various points in his letters, perhaps because he is using fundamentally different images, metaphors, and arguments, then we have a problem. We would not then know what his other, more contingent deployments meant. Imagine trying to analyze the nature of the cosmos with a theorist who holds simultaneously that the Ptolemaic, Newtonian, and Einsteinian theories of the cosmos were correct--and string theorists may be right as well! We would probably suspect such a scientist only of being monumentally confused. Moreover, we would not be able to derive clear recommendations from him/her for anything, because the different models would prescribe different things.

This is the scenario that I am suggesting we try to avoid in the interpretation of Paul, and that military metaphors be appropriately employed to clarify. There can be no compromise here--on other things, sure, but not here. To compromise here is to compromise the fundamental integrity of the Christian gospel, and I assume that you and I share a similar reluctance to do this.

Hence talk of lenses, flow, and scaffolding (metaphors drawn from optics, fluid mechanics and engineering presumably), can be helpful, if it is clarifying the contingent level, but can also be compromising, if it is taken to be a rejection of coherence. If you were to insist on the latter, then I would redeploy military metaphors (suitably reinterpreted of course: 2 Cor 11:4-5!)! Your comment about Christ being foundational makes me suspect, however, that we are on the same page at this point.

My concern about salvation-history only arises if it intrudes on the most fundamental coherent level, and not at the more contingent level of flow, lens, or scaffolding. If it does so intrude, then I would want to have a conversation about foundationalism--in what sense SH modes ARE based on Christ, and in what sense they draw principally on prior theological and historical decisions and principles--made in a rather modern, historicizing way--that then tend to control any subsequent portrait of Christ. But that is probably a conversation best kept for another day. Suffice it for now to suggest that neither JF, nor SH models are, as far as I can tell, fundamentally based on Christ; only PPME is, precisely because it posits participation in Christ at the heart of the model, and hence in control epistemologically as well as soteriologically. I suspect that this is the crucial point in this broader discussion, and one that Quest tried to clarify.

I appreciate your interactions, and wish you all the best with the new job and location!


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