Thursday, September 30, 2010

Why am I, at the moment, going so slowly through my Deliverance review?

  1. I feel an extended meditation on the point of DC's portrayal of Justification Theory (JT) was, er, justified, given the many misunderstandings and unfair dismissals in peer reviews.
  2. Many who will read this review will, I suspect, gain much from DC's critical engagement with JT. As Doug made clear in his guest post, at a more popular level JT problematically holds a more extensive grip on theological imaginations.
For these two reasons, I plan to slither reasonably slowly through Part One of The Deliverance of God.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Review of Campbell’s Deliverance PART 7

A summary review PART 7
of Campbell, Douglas A. The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2009

It was necessary to spend so much time clarifying exactly what DC aims to do with 'Justification Theory' (JT), because it has so often been misunderstood and rhetorically dismissed, rather than argumentatively falsified. In so doing, the problems which dog the interpretation of Paul have been swept under a rhetorical carpet, an unhealthy manoeuvre DC aims to combat. Let us now, then, press on to overview JT itself, remembering the points made above, specifically that we are now going to be confronted with the theological content of readings of Romans 1-4 (not ‘conservative’, ‘Lutheran’ or any other academic readings of Paul in toto!) and the theological implications of this reading, something that needs to be undertaken before this soteriology is then introduced them into the broader picture of Paul. 

The First Phase of Justification Theory: The Rigorous Contract

The Opening Progression

The soteriology, which DC calls JT, begins with the pre-Christian condition, a state which involves rational, self-interested individuals who know what must be obvious to all: that God is just and retributively punishes sin. Sin, here, is the transgression of God’s moral demands which, for the Jew, is the law (who are ‘the archetypal occupants of phase one’ [16]), and for the Gentile is the conscience (hence natural theology has a big part to play in this soteriology). As God is just, it functions as follows: 'do bad you get punished', but also ‘do good you get rewarded’. Hence the soteriology is fundamentally conditional. It follows that, for this system, ‘ethical legislation based on retributive justice is the fundamental structure of the universe, as well as of the divine nature’ (17).

The eschatological caveat

But because it is obvious that the universe is not simply ordered such that the righteous get blessed, and the wicked get punished in this life (the theological problem of the wealthy, happy sinner and the crushed, unhappy saint), ‘[e]verything tends towards a future eschatological climax, when history will be unravelled into its dual constituents – the righteous and the wicked’ (18). In other words: 
Romans 2:6-10 … he will repay according to each one's deeds: 7 to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good
Yes, of course, this text can be read in different ways (and a terrific analysis of the various options is presented by Michael F. Bird in his helpful book, The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies on Paul, Justification and the New Perspective [Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2007], pp. 155-78), but it seems to me that Bird's "Christian Reading" of these verses, that "Paul is speaking of Gentile Christians who fulfill the Torah through faith in Christ and life in the Spirit" (166), tries ultimately to make the text say what it does not say.

We will continue this overview of JT in the next few posts


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Guest Post on the Deliverance Series: Douglas Campbell responds

A qualification about this guest post first: Douglas, of course, does not have the time to engage with all critical points in the comments of these posts. Occasionally, however, he may write a post or two to clarify one or the other point, develop something I have said, or engage with reader comments (e. g. today Daniel Kirk and his comments here and here). I particularly urge readers to study DC's first point below, in response to Francis Watson, which I think will clarify matters considerably. I now hand over to DC:

1. Which major commentator on Romans does not reproduce JT (Justification Theory) when exegeting Romans 1-4? I grant you that Jewett, Dunn, and Wright do not in part. But who else? Stowers? Is that it? Every other major commentator runs JT through Romans 1-4 in a tradition stretching back to the Reformation and now encompassing all major Catholic as well as Protestant commentaries. It almost completely dominates the commentary tradition on Romans 1-4. JT also dominates almost all the minor commentators on Romans, the NT Intros-, the Introductions to Paul's theology, the treatments of Paul's theology when treating justification, etc. etc. Name me a study bible that does not run it. JT is everywhere.

Another way of putting this would be to say, which major commentator does not get to 3:20 and say something like "Paul has just proved that all fall short of God's just requirements, and are under indictment, including Jews, so that the gospel can now be preached to all without distinction..." Even the revisionists turn around and say something like this.

When Francis says that no one attests to JT, he's not really talking accurately about what JT is actually claiming in my book, which is the foregoing. He's saying (presumably) that broader reconstructions of Paul's theology generally don't commit to JT in toto. They find some way to amalgamate it with other views. So do most leading Reformation thinkers. (I don't think that Melanchthon does much other than JT, but even he has some alternative material in play.) But of course they do! You have to. There is so much more in Paul than JT.

But nobody is disputing this.

In fact, I would make a slightly different claim in relation to Francis and others at this point, namely, that these broader syntheses are incoherent. When we press on them we find that they fall apart. The explanations we have been given at such points rest on special pleading and poor exegesis (etc.).

Francis's straw man critique is a clever rhetorical move, because it makes my extended critique look irrelevant. But it's not actually a valid move, and on all sorts of levels. (It's not a true account of my position; it asserts a truism; it isn't a true account of the church--see below; etc.)

2. Now as to JT not existing. In addition to the commentary noted earlier, which parts of the four spiritual laws, the Alpha course's teaching on the atonement, the Navigator B pack's teaching on the atonement, or Billy Graham's model of salvation--to note just a few modern Christian icons--do not reproduce JT? Even more disconcertingly, which part of Bultmann's Theology of the New Testament is not basically committed to a variant of JT?

Which part of John Stott's Basic Christianity does not run JT? Almost every single student I teach at the Divinity School says to me "JT" sums up exactly what they have been taught about the gospel. There are some exceptions, but they are in the minority. Everyone I meet at bible study in prison thinks in terms of JT--every single one (cf. Rom. 3:10-18), although this sample is admittedly not large. Conservative organizations are excluding and firing people for not endorsing key aspects of JT. To not endorse JT is "heretical." JT is, moreover, extremely close to modern political and philosophical Liberalism. So is it really likely that JT does not exist?

You need to do a bit more work, then, if you want to marginalize JT as an interpretative tool than just say "it doesn't exist." There's an awful lot of evidence that says it does, and so you need to deal with it in some other way. I'm open to this, but if you don't actually deal with this material then you risk looking like someone standing in a field at midday with his/her eyes closed saying "the sun doesn't exist" (to wax Wrightian for a moment).

I can understand how Francis might miss this stuff, given his location. Perhaps JT is also less emphasized in hard Reformed circles as well, Daniel. But I suspect that neither of you are in mainstream conservative, or even mainstream church locations and traditions in these respects. All my soundings suggest that JT is ubiquitous. (I wish this wasn't the case; I really do. But I fear that it is.)

All-in-all, my hunch is that if you want to criticize Deliverance--and Francis seems to want to--then you would be better working some other angle. Rejecting the existence of JT risks making you seem a little out of touch. Also, another line of critique might engage with a position that I'm actually committed to arguing. The argument that JT doesn't exist has got no future. Ironically, you have actually set up a straw man.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Review of Campbell’s Deliverance PART 6

A summary review PART 6
of Campbell, Douglas A. The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2009

Many of the misunderstandings of DC’s thesis, which have surfaced in the comments to my earlier posts, could perhaps be avoided if one bears in mind that DC never argues that readers of Paul subscribe to JT in toto. He simply does not say that JT completely sums up readings of Paul – even Melanchthon, who is pretty close, doesn’t entirely. DC is well aware that other scholars know there is much more in Paul than JT. The point is this: to say other things about Paul, to make him more palatable, to include pneumatology etc., one has to amalgamate contradictory theologies into one. DC aims to sharpen our appreciation for the actual theological content of Romans 1-4, to clarify what is at stake. This all means that the straw man argument employed by some reviewers is in fact itself a straw man! Have not DC’s critics set up a weak caricature of his position, which ultimately means that they don't have to engage with its substance? The point is this: if you read Paul – which is after all what we are all supposed to be doing – you then end up with a certain argument, and then a certain theory, one that cannot simply be dismissed (i.e. you have to provide an alternative reading of the actual texts).

To clarify matters, I suggest that it is a good idea to treat DC’s theological elucidation of JT as a thought experiment (based mainly on Romans 1-4), to examine the theological content of those chapters. I am thus reminded of Karl Barth’s justified protest at those who wrote ‘merely the first step towards a commentary’ on Romans, and perhaps it will help to quote that great man at length:
‘I have, it is true, protested against recent commentaries on a Epistle to the Romans. The protest was directed not only against those originating in the so-called "critical" school but also, for example, against the commentaries of Zahl and Kühl ... My complaint is that recent commentators confine themselves to an interpretation the text which seems to me to be no commentary at all, but merely the first step towards a commentary. Recent commentaries contain no more than a reconstruction of the text, a rendering of the Greek words and phrases by their precise equivalents, a number of additional notes in which archaeological and philological material is gathered together, and a more or less plausible arrangement of the subject-matter in such a manner that it may be historically and psychologically intelligible from the standpoint of pragmatism ... Jülicher and Lietzmann, not to mention conservative scholars, intend quite clearly to press beyond this preliminary work to an understanding of Paul. Now, this involves more than a mere repetition in Greek or in German of what Paul says: it involves a reconsideration of what is set out in the Epistle, until the actual meaning of it is disclosed ... The conversation between the original record and the reader moves round the subject-matter, until a distinction between yesterday and to-day becomes impossible’ (Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, trans. Edwyn C. Hoskyns [Oxford: Oxford UP, 1968], 6-7, italics mine).
DC, like Barth, wants to engage us with the ‘subject-matter’ of Romans 1-4 and, according to the conventional reading, these are the theological commitments necessarily involved. Perhaps, in light of the DoG reviews it would have been better, for pedagogical reasons, to order the argument differently. Would it have been better to have begun with his hermeneutical clarifications in Part Two, or at least with his discussion in chapter 7, ‘The Recognition of a Discourse’ – only then to launch into the portrayal and critique of JF? Of course, I must insist that, as I noted above, DC did make himself clear in his preamble in chapter one (pp. 11ff).

We will return, when we examine chapter 7, to the importance of some of the distinctions in play here. Let us press ahead now to DC’s analysis, which builds on J.B Torrance’s analysis of Federal Calvinism.
Indeed, I am tempted to continue this review with his chapter 7 first, before turning to Justification Theory ... what shall I do?!


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Review of Campbell’s Deliverance PART 5

A summary review PART 5

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

I must now expand on the point made in the previous post, as it seems to be a common misunderstanding of DC’s position. Watson, in his review, writes:
‘Throughout his book, Campbell engages primarily with the full, intact theory as he himself has reconstructed it, normally preferring to debate not with the specific views of an individual scholar but with Justification theory in its totality. In consequence, a number of possible divergences from this Justification theory are downplayed or ignored. Thus, “faith” might be understood theologically as an acknowledgment of divine saving action in Christ engendered by the Holy Spirit, and not at all as the “anthropocentric” product of human volition (as Campbell maintains); and the divine saving action itself might be understood in terms very different from Anselm’s, with an emphasis perhaps on the resurrection alongside the cross ... We note again how dependent Campbell is on his monolithic, undifferentiated Justification theory, which generates problems ... which for many scholars are simply non-existent’ (Francis Watson, “Book Review: Douglas Campbell, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul,” Early Christianity 1.1 [May 2010]: 181, 183)
Mark Seifrid makes a similar argument:
‘Rather than engaging the traditions in depth, Campbell constructs a straw man with whom he then holds his debate. His relatively brief discussion of Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin, and Augustine (pp. 247–83) does not deflect him from his critique of the model of Protestant thought that he himself has constructed. This abstract and artificial theological “debate” fatally weakens his work’ (Mark A. Seifrid, “Book Review: Douglas Atchison Campbell. The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul,” Themelios 35.2 [July 2010]: 308)
I would suggest, however, that these assertions entirely fail to hit the target. DC’s argument is simply this: that conventional readings of Romans 1-4 (including those which maintain crucial texts in these chapters are representative of Paul’s own theology and not ‘speech-in-character’ – which we will explain later) involve certain theoretical or theological corollaries, and, if Paul is not to be dismissed as hopelessly confused and contradictory at a basic level, then this is the system that follows. DC is well aware that scholars have ways around these theological implications, by reading parts of Romans 2, for example, in light of Romans 5 etc., and he will discuss these strategies later - under titles such as 're-framing' - and offer reasons why they fail. This is not his present point. But a detailed description of the theological commitments involved in a conventional reading of Romans 1-4 is necessary so that clarity may be gained in the task of understanding how Paul’s theology fits together as a whole. Further, arguments against DC, to the effect that the JT ‘construct’ is not found in Luther, Calvin etc. does not refute DC’s thesis at all, but ironically actually proves his point! If Luther and Calvin move away from JT at points, which DC will actively show that they indeed do (!), then all this demonstrates is that they have lost the exegetical witness of Romans 1-4, which, as we shall see, affirms one of DC’s main theses!

In the next post, I will mop up some of these points with reference to Karl Barth's exegesis of Romans.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Review of Campbell’s Deliverance PART 4

A summary review PART 4

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

In the next few posts I will spend a fair bit of time on Justification Theory and misunderstandings of DC’s argument at this point. Hopefully we will then be in a place to better understand the brilliance of DC’s solution: a rhetorical and apocalyptic reading of Paul.

Part One: Justification Theory, and Its Implications

Chapter One: The Heart of the Matter: The Justification Theory of Salvation

In Part 2 we reviewed DC’s solution to the problem of entering the knotty problems associated with reading texts saturated by ideology, theological presuppositions etc, namely to initially analyse ‘a set of preliminary characterizations that were largely incontestable and could serve to establish and initiate the principal issues’ (xxvii). His much misunderstood Part One begins this process, the task of describing a particular soteriology, what he will call ‘Justification Theory’ (hereafter JT). It is key to recognise that JT is an:

‘... amalgam of a particular reading of various Pauline texts ... and a theory of salvation that, given certain key elements, simply must develop in certain directions as a matter of sheer rationality’ (12).
Had this point, and DC’S elucidation of it, been taken seriously, a number of misreading of DC’s thesis could have been avoided. JT is not simply a description of what Luther, Calvin, Moo etc. believe, nor did it ever claim to be. DC is well aware that the reformers, and those who followed, cannot be forced into the neat lines of the soteriology he will now describe. As DC explains: ‘There is a sense, then, in which this is something of a thought experiment: if Paul is interpreted ultimately a certain points in the following fashion, then all these consequences follow. And what follows is an individualistic, contractual soteriology grounded ‘in certain critical metaphors and reinforced by certain ideological and cultural positions, many of them distinctively modern’ (14). It is for this reason that DC’s JT cannot simply be dismissed as a ‘monolith’ (Watson), as if it were illegitimately imposed upon readers of Paul.

Given that misunderstandings are so common at this point, I will develop the point made above in the next installment in dialogue with Francis Watson and Mark Seifrid.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

What to include in a lecture entitled "New testament Overview"?

What to include in a lecture entitled "New testament Overview" that lasts a mere 2 hours?! The rest of that particular course covers specific NT books and the theme of New Creation in more depth.

Thus far, I am looking at background issues, namely the story of Israel, first-century Judaism(s), the wider Greco-Roman world and aspects of the social world of first-century Mediterranean life (honour-shame, Patron-Client etc)

I then turn to look at a number of NT documents in this light:

  • The Gospels (linking this in with the story of restoration outlined above). This leads into a look at Luke-Acts in terms of salvation-history.
  • Paul's letters (doing the same, while summarising the general gist of his letters as a whole at the same time as overviewing different approaches to Paul' theology)
  • Hebrews in 10 minutes (relying on David deSilva's reading here) and
  • Revelation in 10 minutes (Bauckham's approach in a nutshell – a word I accidentally typed as 'butshell', which sounds rude)
  • Then I try to answer the question, 'must I be a NT scholar to be able to read and preach from the NT?' – which will give you a clue as to the nature of my audience.

Would you add / chop anything here?

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Steven Harris Art 2/6

Come on, Crossley, West and co., own up cos you know it is true: here is an accurate portrayal of the effect of N.T. Wright's scholarship on historical scepticism:


And a thought on preparing lectures

If you are a perfectionist like me, then for every 1 and half hours, try to under prepare by about 15 minutes to allow for more discussion (every grain in my being resists this!)

If you are a get-by-on-minimum sort, repent and do some research!

A lecture preparation thought

While preparing for a lecture on biblical theology, I had to ask myself whether the future of the 'biblical theology' project (Hahn and co.), despite the renewed stream of both German and English language publications, should ultimately be subsumed, whilst carefully swerving around 'reception history', into a wider theologically ordered exegesis (Fowl, Webster etc.).

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

New Series: People I wish I knew at school so I could have enjoyed picking on them like any self-respecting normal person would of course have done - 01

In 1949, at the University of Amsterdam, a certain
Tan King Poo
published his thesis, Vagotomie b recidiverende maagklachten na maagoperaties wegens ulcus (Amsterdam: Scheltema & Holkema, 1949)
King Poo has his thesis stored in Tübingen's University library here.


Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Biblical Studies Carnival

What a Biblical Studies Carnival West has pulled off! Wowzers! Plus he said some nice things about me which, while I ultimately do not agree with his opinion, is nevertheless greatly appreciated!

British New Testament Conference

Sadly, due to prior work commitments I cannot go to the BNTC tomorrow, so I wish those of you who are going a great time.

*Weeps but stiffens lip in the nick of time*

Richard Bauckham will present a paper entitled "The 'individualism' of the Gospel of John". But ... I won't be there


Oh well, I'll try to be thankful for my lot and remember some good things: that the world is still filled with pretty clouds, smiling children and fluffy bunny rabbits, an attitude which however reminds me of a Blackadder line:

Melchett: So you see, young Blackadder didn't die horribly in vain after all.
George: If he did die, Sir.
Melchett: That's the spirit, George. If nothing else works, then a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through.

Sheffield Biblical Studies

James Crossley just drew my attention to the new 'Sheffield Biblical Studies' blog 'dedicated to ideas from, and news about, the Department of Biblical Studies, University of Sheffield'.

So add

to your blog readers! There is bound to be some really good stuff appearing there.

By the way, if I have not said so already, James' book Reading the New Testament: Contemporary Approaches, is a real gem, highly recommended, yea for undergrads mainly I guess, but I learnt plenty from it. He demonstrates an impressive clarity of presentation and thought.