Sunday, August 22, 2010

Review of Campbell’s Deliverance PART 2

A summary review PART 2

of Campbell, Douglas A. The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2009

Image from
In the beginning...

... there was a flash of insight, an intuition that could impact NT studies in a powerful way. Upon reading articles by James B. Torrance, DC sensed that theological foundationalism, particularly in the form of contractualism (we will explore what these terms mean in more depth later - they are key to the entire book), was of the utmost relevance for key contemporary debates in Pauline scholarship. This was back in the early 1990s, and as DC sought to explore this intuition in various exegetical papers, he found that his proposals were rejected for what seemed like the wrong reasons - they were critiqued not because they represented poor exegesis, but rather because they rubbed against truths that were simply ‘taken for granted’.

Indeed, it would be difficult to contest that exegesis is a complex beast, and as his experience confirms, when it involves subjects as loaded as justification by faith, it is far more involved than a simple analysis of the lexemes and semantic forms of certain words in verses in isolation. No, the task of understanding an ancient text such as Paul’s letters involves theological and argumentative claims related to the text, as well as church-historical, sociological, ideological, hermeneutical and ethical dimensions.

So, faithful to his initial intuition (regarding the key issue of contractualism and Paul), DC sought a way to enter into the complexity of issues relating to key problems relating to Pauline exegesis. In a nutshell, How to speak, as a NT scholar, about Pauline soteriology and contractualism when exegesis itself presupposes ideological, theological etc. presuppositions, that are themselves tied up with key Pauline texts? DC’s answer, and second key insight, came when he recognised that he could enter this vicious circle by first analysing ‘a set of preliminary characterizations that were largely incontestable and could serve to establish and initiate the principal issues’ (xxvii).

This method, together with the scope of DC’s comprehensive new vision and the nature of exegesis, explains not only the existence of Part One of DoG, which is largely devoted to the explication and critique of these ‘preliminary characterizations’, but also the nature of DC’s exegetical approach. Instead of an atomistic preoccupation with Pauline pericopae, analysed one after another, DC’s task calls for what he calls a ‘horizontal’ approach: one which keeps overarching themes close to mind, which appreciates how individual texts work as ‘semantic and rhetorical events’ within that broader sweep of concerns. Of course, this does not mean that detailed exegesis is sidelined (DoG could function as a primer on advanced exegetical skill for many aspiring PhD students - a depth often only found in German language WUNT or de Gruyter monographs!); it is placed within a larger frame. What this looks like in practice, we shall see later.

[I, for one, can only cheer at this constructive protest at atomistic approaches to the NT. My own thesis has, in a far more humble way, similarly protested by deliberately resisting the exclusive in-depth analysis of a few key passages designated significant to the Pauline divine-Christology debate (e.g., Phil. 2:6-11; 1 Cor. 8:6 etc.). Instead I sought to broaden the sweep of Pauline texts actually engaged, at the same time as allowing this broader sweep to better determine the appropriate hermeneutic and argumentative strategy - and all, if I may say, to surprising effect (e.g., passages otherwise largely forgotten in the Pauline divine-Christology debate begin to be recognised as more important than the so-called ‘key texts’). But this is really all besides the point: I should write about DC’s work. I apologise for my detour; I blame the stream-of-consciousness nature of blogging ...

By the way, a final quick note: I may start this review slowly, i.e. detail DC's arguments in more depth to start with, but then later speed up. I'll see how it goes, and whether this encourages debate and remains reader-friendly]



At 8/22/2010 2:22 AM, Blogger Theophrastus said...

Who is DG? It might increase confidence in your review if you knew the initials of the book's author.

At 8/22/2010 9:35 AM, Blogger Terry Wright said...

Actually, Chris, you say that you want to focus on Campbell, but in the light of what you've just said about your own work, I wonder if you should have a short series of posts detailing your own approach to your PhD, and how you found the experience.

At 8/22/2010 10:30 AM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Ouch, DG ... OK, thanks Theophrastus. Serves me right for writing this thing late at night (sorry DouG). I'll think "Washington" next time.

Terry - thanks. I'll consider that.

At 8/22/2010 10:31 AM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Oh dear, its DG all the way through! Okey dokey, time for some editing

At 8/22/2010 1:22 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

It is a couple of hours later ... and I still can't believe the DG thing! I should stick to posting Youtube videos!

At 8/22/2010 4:48 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Using my customary pseudonym...

I think I was trying to address a couple of things by proceeding in this way, if memory serves me right. (1) I wanted to try to show how most readers of Romans 1-4 were bringing a whole set of theological assumptions to the text that was structuring their argumentative construals and exegetical decisions. (The book uses slightly more neutral terminology here--the theoretical.) (2) There were are lot of quite problematic consequences flowing from this on all sorts of different interpretative levels. (The western ordo does arguably set a lot of problematic things in train.) (3) This massively important set of assumptions was effectively getting a pass in terms of the need to justify itself in the normal way when we actually got to the text to exegete it--in terms of evidence, et cetera. It was so confidently held that anything else, however broadly argued, was just dismissed as inadequate. By problematizing the framework (2), having first identified it (1), the idea was to shake this psychological predisposition up a bit.

Of course I'm not sure that it has worked that well, but I couldn't think of any other way to proceed.

Of course you got--and get--all this Chris, so I'm just rephrasing for the sake of clarity. I do appreciate the time and care you're putting in here--especially in view of the pervasive misrepresentations spreading currently around the blogosphere.

I don't mind being criticized, but I just want someone to criticize me for something that I actually said.

At 8/22/2010 9:37 PM, Anonymous Doug Chaplin said...

Chris, I'm looking forward to you getting into the meat of this – and indeed, to "Rachel's" comments.

What you say in an aside, however, also makes me ask when your own work is going to get published?

At 8/22/2010 10:57 PM, Anonymous Karl Barth said...

Is that Shakira holding the parrot?

At 8/24/2010 2:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess that this is primarily aimed at people with a minimum level of, say, any knowledge at all which pretty much rules me out; but can I check if the following is a stupid question?

You appear to be saying that DC/G has adopted a novel approach by refusing to interpret the texts using a network of assumptions about what the correct analysis of those texts would be in order to illuminate further parts of the relevant texts. In particular it seems that in the approach DC hasn't followed, certain "key" passages which give a coherent analysis/narrative are effectively given priority over the other texts (even if those other texts/passages contradict the "key" passages) such that the consistent narrative arising from the "key" passages can then override any inconsistencies in the group of texts as a whole.

The only place I can think of that kind of approach making sense is in a logic puzzle where you have to posit solutions that are compatible with one set of premises in order to then test them against the network of other premises. Problem is, that only gets you so far, as you haven't solved the puzzle if two or more posited solutions lead to a fully consistent analysis - or of course if none do. The only way out here is the metapuzzle (I dimly remember this had something to do with Tarski and was made more accessible by Smullyan). In this, the fact that you know that a puzzle can be solved is the crucial fact that allows you to determine that a particular solution is in fact the solution.

So... (and bearing in mind most details of the above analogy may well be wrong)... has the traditional approach been to start from a given, single set of assumptions, synthesise the remaining texts to a coherent narrative which is compatible with those assumptions and then assume that's the "right" analysis? Because it seems that you could start from any number of initial assumptions and come up with any number of analyses. Unless you cite the metapuzzle defence and say that a good God would make the puzzle solvable, so the first solution must be unique.

I guess I had assumed that exegesis was done by starting with the full suite of reasonably credible texts and the most open mind possible; whereas you seem to be suggesting that the business of exegesis is normally effectively subordinate to pre-Scriptural/extra-Scriptural assumptions. Have I got that right, and are you saying that DC is an outlier for stepping away from that approach?

Apologies to the serious theologians for taking so much space with this; on the other hand, anyone who has read right to the end can take great pleasure in exposing the lack of basic comprehension in this post.

At 8/24/2010 2:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ps I hope it's obvious that if I was just starting commenting in order to generate some interest in my exciting new blog I'd have written something far shorter...

At 8/26/2010 1:42 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Thanks Rachel (DC), for the clarification. I wondered what, if any difference there was between theoretical and theological – you use both, I believe, in some sentences, together with strings of others, such as ideological, church historical etc.

Thanks, Doug Chaplin, I will look to get my book published soon.

Karl Barth, an honour to have you comment on my blog. I dare not search Google for “naked Shakira holidng a parrot” to confirm.

Finally, my good friend, Daniel. Yea, I think you are basically heading in the right direction. The “traditional” reading, as you call it, can explain some of the text, but ends up in terrible self-contradiction. Doug offers a complete reading of Paul’s letters without these “contradictions”. In other words, he puts the puzzle pieces together without leaving so many on the floor.

At 8/26/2010 2:22 PM, Anonymous MCSE said...

Thank Your for posting these kind of post.


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