Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Justification with an injection of dogmatic reasoning? (and why Allen completely misunderstands Campbell)

In this way R. Michael Allen hopes to make a contribution in his new book, Justification and the Gospel. And I couldn’t agree more with his general claim: dogmatic reasoning is surely going to prove vitally helpful in disentangling some of these important issues. I have been looking forward to this book for a while, not just because of glowing endorsements from some brilliant theologians (Kelly Kapic, John Webster, J Todd Billings etc.), but also because I have benefited from Allen’s previous works.

Why will dogmatic reasoning help? Because justification language involves claims about the activity and identity of God! Simples! Self-critical employment of certain systematic distinctions together with awareness of the theological commitments involved in our exegetical endeavours will surely lend clarity to NT debates, especially when they concern “paradigmatic” and theologically pregnant propositions. Much exegetical mischief has been perpetrated by those unskilled in systematics, whether motivated by naive biblicism, historical-critical commitments (at least those ones living under the illusion that “theology” and “historical” work exist in hermeneutically sealed and separate compartments), or a flat and reductionist grasp of “narrative readings”. I can therefore only welcome Allen’s voice into this lively debate.

But now to get a bit grumpy.

When skimming a book for the first time I tend to see how the author interacts with those I consider to be key dialogue partners, as well as with those whom I think I understand best (Wright, Barth, Bultmann, Campbell, Webster, Dunn etc.). So, turning to the index I find very little interaction with Wright. Fair enough, I suppose. “Perhaps he is making a barbed point?”, I wonder. But what about Dunn? Again, only one reference. Fine, Allen’s work is operating out of a dogmatic perspective so let’s see what he makes of Campbell given that he is the most important dialogue partner in this discussion when it comes to the link between dogmatics and exegesis

And sadly I found that Allen completely misses the mark with Campbell, despite his importance for Allen’s theme, which in turn makes me wonder what else his book will bungle. I’ll get over this and read the rest of the book, but let me explain why Allen has royally botched this one.

All of this is in one footnote on pp. 42-43, in which he thinks that Campbell’s “justification theory” (JT) is a “historical bogeyman that does not exist as such”. It finds backing only in the work, Allen tells us, of James and Allan Torrance and therefore is not “an example of interdisciplinary cross-pollination” but “manifests the effects of sloppy engagement of a related field”. Some rather robust claims! How does Allen back them up?

First, “‘Justification theory’ renders the Trinity and the life of Christ unimportant … Yet these Protestant theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries began their confessions and dogmatics with statements about the Trinity” etc. Second, Campbell’s account of JT’s anthropology (grounded in Rom 1-3) “fails to see that Protestant theology classically construed has understood the teaching of Romans here to be about divine revelation”. Furthermore, these Protestants don’t subscribe to “belief voluntarism”. With a bit of bite, he continues: “One wonders if Campbell has heard of books like Luther’s Bondage of the Will or Calvin’s The Bondage and Liberation of the Will …”. A few more poorly chosen accusations follow, but this summary seems to get to the heart of the matter.

What has happened? The first major error is to think that Campbell’s JT is a description of the theology of the Reformers in toto. Of course Campbell is aware that these theologians held profoundly Trinitarian views! I am amazed he believes Campbell would think otherwise! Rather, JT explains the theo-logic employed in construing Romans 1-3 which, in turn, contradicts precisely those wonderful (yet incompatible) Trinitarian views. I really don’t know why this is so difficult to understand! Surely Campbell’s lengthy sections on Luther, Calvin, Melanchthon and Augustine would have clarified the matter? Apparently not! This also means that to suggest JT is supported only by James and Allan Torrance is – at least if I understand Allen correctly – simply bizarre. Has Allen ever read a commentary on Romans 1-3 and asked what sort of theology is manifesting itself? (try Moo, for starters). One in turn must then ask whether Trinitarian theology has actually shaped one’s understanding of “justification” language, or whether it inhabits a different theological universe (the point behind Campbell’s contrast between JT and the “alternative theory” drawn from Romans 5-8). And if we must name some key supporting theologians for Campbell’s project, need I remind Allen - of all people - of Barth?! I actually think Campbell’s work is probably best called Barthian, especially as the label “apocalyptic” has created such confusion. (Allen’s claim that Protestants don’t subscribe to “belief voluntarism” involves the same misunderstanding of the role and import of JT as well, of course.) Allen’s comments simply show that he has not understood what he is criticising and yet he then happily dismisses Campbell as a result. Bad move.

On the second point, Campbell is well aware of the ways some scholars have sought to deal with the difficulty of reading Romans 1-3 in terms of JT, he doesn’t “fail” at this at all, hence his lengthy discussions relating to “reframing” etc. And when it comes to the actual exegesis of Romans, are the proposals of the Reformers so smooth and theologically consistent (see the examples Campbell lists in chapter 10, but also in chapters 8-9 etc)? Allen can’t just clam what he does here without explaining away the many examples Campbell provides. This misreading, too, stems from a misunderstanding of the meaning of JT for Campbell. But perhaps another problem is involved here. Reading Romans requires close exegetical work – difficulties are not so easily dismissed with an “it’s about divine revelation” wand. This needs to be demonstrated in the text. Perhaps here we encounter one weakness with Allen’s particular theological approach to the issues, which can, it seems from these comments, sit lightly to the text.

This then leads to questions as to whether Campbell has read Luther’s Bondage of the Will etc., and at this point I start to wonder whether Allen has read Deliverance, or just a few pages and a (poor) review. But why would he do this? Chapter 7 of Deliverance should be enough to highlight that Campbell’s project is the key dialogue partner for Allen’s approach. I have no reason to suspect that Campbell’s work “manifests the effects of sloppy engagement of a related field”, but I now have reason to think that Allen’s project slops. And one doesn’t even need to agree with Campbell’s proposals; it is a duty, however, to represent his arguments fairly and not engage with “a bogeyman” (I’m sorry, but he has made turning his own criticisms back on himself too easy). I hope that Allen’s engagement with Campbell is not representative of his work generally, but botching it on Campbell is a big disappointment.

Perhaps I’m being too hard on Allen. Even NT scholars have missed Campbell’s point on numerous occasions. But what wound me up was the dismissive and slightly rancorous nature of Allen’s comments. Either way, whether we agree with Campbell or not, I do want to recommend Allen’s work generally and please do pick up a copy of Justification and the Gospel. I am confident that there will be gems in these pages that exegetes will benefit greatly from pondering.

(I also hope that my forthcoming ed. volume Beyond Old and New Perspectives on Paul will help clarify some matters!)


At 12/03/2013 11:19 AM, Blogger Keen Reader said...

Sorry, I got to your fourth paragraph and fell asleep...

Paul stuff tends to have that effect on me!

At 12/03/2013 11:27 AM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Sorry, I got to your second word and fell asleep. Pointless comments tend to have that effect on me! :-p

At 12/03/2013 1:50 PM, Anonymous Andy Goodliff said...

Chris, Allen has written a couple of journal articles (in IJST and Journal of Reformed Theology) where he engages a little bit more with Campbell in the footnotes. I share your disappointment with the engagement with Campbell. I do wonder how many people who dismiss so quickly have read it.

At 12/03/2013 2:10 PM, Anonymous Kevin Davis said...

Thanks for the spirited review, Chris. I hope to see more.

It seems that a recurring complaint from Douglas Campbell (and yourself) is that he is misunderstood. So, perhaps Campbell should do a follow-up to 'Deliverance' -- a condensed presentation of some sort, with his opposing interlocutors in mind.

At 12/03/2013 2:13 PM, Blogger David W. Congdon said...

Nicely done, Chris. I'm curious: does Allen have more to say about the apocalyptic reading of Paul than just this footnote on Campbell? Does he engage Käsemann, Martyn, Gaventa, Harink, etc.?

At 12/03/2013 7:07 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Thanks, Andy, i think I will follow those up.

Kevin, yes, basically and I'm glad to say that a more basic level one is in the works, at least in embryo form!

David, only one ref to Martyn, sadly

At 12/03/2013 10:14 PM, Anonymous Douglas said...

Why don't they read Quest? It's mostly in there. And quite a nice summary of the Romans 1-3 move is in IJST. One or two other summaries and explanations can be found in JSP&L, and JSNT. And a summary of the summaries can be found in ExpTim.

At 12/17/2013 6:25 AM, Anonymous Chad Chambers said...

Thanks, Chris.

I was looking forward to this book. I'm sure I will still read it at some point, but it is not as high on my list anymore.

Now if Campbell would get the chronology out the door and get to work seriously on the follow-up.

At 2/18/2017 10:27 PM, Blogger Edward Carr Franks said...

Based on your review, I would suggest that Allen is 100% correct about Campbell, and that you should, given his assessment, reconsider your own point of view on Campbell, imho?

At 2/18/2017 10:29 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Thanks, Edward. Perhaps offer some arguments and we can discuss the issue?

At 2/18/2017 11:50 PM, Blogger Edward Carr Franks said...

Oh, well then, now that I know ur there, maybe I'll take u up on ur suggestion. Campbell's been my ball and chain since early 2009 when I started getting manuscript copies of his early chapters, prior to publication, from one of his students at Duke. Since then I've read every word, every footnote, many footnotes of footnotes, purchased at least a dozen books referenced, downloaded from ATLAS dozens of articles into three or four large 3-ring binders, and then moved on to JSPL 1.1 and ur BONPP and of course articles and books referenced there, ad infinitum, ad nauseum, etc. While my friend, Campbell's Duke student, has fully "progressed" from the Calvinist I met at Fuller to a card-carrying atheist (post-Duke ThM), I remain completely unpersuaded by DAC's thesis, i.e., I'm still a plain-vanilla believer in the objective genitive (faith IN Christ), imputation, subst. atone., and that faith itself is a gift (monergism), i.e., Luther-ism, ca 1535 (not Lutheranism, per Melanchthon).

If I'm to take u up on ur suggestion, I wonder if I could get u to provide me with a summary of ur point of view on this doctrine, at least, and ur faith in general? I've done some research on u (as I do on anyone I read) but found it difficult to answer "doctrine" questions about you. I have u down as an Anglican, but it's just a guess. And, btw, to me "doctrine" is definitely not a four-letter word. : ) Thx, Ed Franks

At 2/19/2017 11:23 AM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Thanks for your comment, Edward. You may be surprised to find we have more in common than you think. But I thought you wanted to talk about my claims in this post, not the similarities or differences in our whole shared Christian faith. Would prefer to keep things related to this post for now (given time). But, more generally, I *joyfully* confess the creeds, and am broadly an Anglican with a charismatic, evangelical, reformed bent. Barthian, in that my theology seeks vigorously to remain under the judgment of the living Lord. Though some of my views are certainly more eclectic than this list may suggest (I do not affirm, for example, inerrancy in terms of Chicago, even though I think a high view of Scripture is essential to Christian dogmatics). Help? As for doctrine, I am with you on it not being a four letter word!
Best wishes to you this Sunday

At 2/21/2017 1:38 AM, Blogger Edward Carr Franks said...

Chris: That's great. That's all I need on ur worldview. Yes, I'd like to talk about Allen claims, but I've always found it's much easier to understand an interlocutor's argument if I also understand their "Sitz im Leben."

I had forgotten that I do have u down somewhere as one of "those" Scottish Barthians," as u seem to be a fan of all the Torrances, Douglas Campbell, and the resurrected John McLeod Campbell? U may even be one of those badly punned “Trinitorrancians?!"

Also, I should mention that I devoured Barry Matlock's review of Deliverance of God (DOG), finding it to be both very entertaining and precisely what I would have said myself if I were that competent. I don't agree with all he says, and he omits some concerns I had. Nevertheless, he is surely much closer to my point of view on DOG than any other review I've read, whether a long or short, and I've read many.

I had noticed the charismatic comment before, and I must confess I'm a bit puzzled that ur both charismatic-ish and Reformed-ish, a fairly rare combo in this world and the next, I think? But that's definitively off-topic for now. Also, I think we r about the same with respect to inerrancy and being eclectic. I am probably best described as a Presbaptian, or a Bapterian, just for the record.

Now I will attempt to offer an argument that supports my contention that given Allen’s assessment u may want to reconsider not reconsidering ur assessment of Campbell! Maybe a good place to start is with Allen’s claim that the Torrances are the only place one can find Campbell’s JT?! I must think on it. I'm a bit PPME rusty. : )


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