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).
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.
- 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)
- 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)
- 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).
- 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.
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