Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Campbell’s brief response to Leithart on Justification Theory

Over at First Things, Peter Leithart recently penned a piece on Douglas Campbell’s “Justification Theory”. I asked Douglas to compose a response, and in my next post I will explain why. I will now simply hand the microphone over to Douglas (and add that, for what it’s worth, Douglas didn’t have anything to do with the immature image below. I’ll be having strong words with my CTRVHM media team later about this visual effrontery and misconstrual of the nature of responsible academic interaction).



A lot of folk unhappy with the direction of my Deliverance of God's 'apocalyptic rereading of justification in Paul' have used the line Leithart reproduces recently to try to negate it. I haven't responded much to it in the past because it seems to me to be so obviously weak. I always thought that those using it would end up being embarrassed by it. But readers are not apparently picking up on this so maybe a very quick indication of the problems with this critique is in order here.

The basic line is: 'Campbell's account of "justification" in terms of "justification theory" is not found anywhere. He cites no theologians of justification, like Luther, or examples of JT in relation to Paul. So it's a straw man, and his arguments and conclusions can safely be ignored.'

A lot of people have run this defense, and not just from the conservative end of the Christian spectrum. Matlock develops it at some length in a JSNT response. Here's why - at least IMHO - it is a total dud. There are two major problems, just one of which I will detail here: 1. it is false, and grossly so; and 2. it is an incoherent response argumentatively that gets its user into trouble rather than me. (Yes, strange but true.)

1. It is false.

In ch. 10 on pp. 333-37, supported by notes on pp. 1013-1020 (nn. 38-100), the presence of JT is documented in commentary on Romans, technical and more popular, introductions to Paul, NT theologies, and even in study Bibles. (Check the titles of those and then what they say: it's very interesting.)

In ch. 8 on pp. 250-64 supported by notes on pp. 996-99 (nn. 8-49), the presence of JT in Luther, Calvin, Melanchthon, is documented; with a nod toward Augustine on pp. 277-82 supported by notes on pp. 1002-03 (nn. 77-90). (I can now do a lot better with Augustine having worked more closely in the interim with my good friend and highly learned Patristic colleague at Duke Warren Smith.) Note, this discussion of JT in the Reformers is only about one half of the engagement with the Reformers in Deliverance.

In ch. 9 (pp. 284-309), the affinity between JT and the fundamentally liberal discourse of modernity is documented. On pp. 289-99, supported by notes on pp. 1004-08 (nn. 5-34), the presence of JT is documented in various conservative traditions like Campus Crusade and Billy Graham's presentation of the gospel. It is also documented in liberal traditions with particular reference to Bultmann.

That's quite a lot of documentation - 33 pages of analysis, much in small print, and 16 pages of annotation, with 145 footnotes (or thereabouts), in other words a small book, or at least a fairly lengthy article. So when my critics charge that I have not documented JT they are, quite simply, making a false charge.

Furthermore, I am forced to conclude that scholars who make this charge repeatedly are doing one of the following: deliberately misrepresenting my work; unintentionally misrepresenting material that they don't know (i.e., they haven't read all the book), or failing to detect basic metaphors and arguments in source material.

2. It is a bad argument.

I hope enough has been said by this point, so I won't bore readers with any development of problem 2 other than to say that "Justification Theory/JT" is an account of the argument and implicit theory of salvation IN PAUL. And this is not a hard claim for my critics to grasp. It is present in the title of my book - in the final two words to be precise: "An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul."

Moreover, I point out that this really must be drawn from Romans 1-4. Hence no one has directly engaged my derivation of this construct from the text of Romans (and Moo has endorsed it), or has falsified it. So it still stands. JT as I define it is an account of salvation as that is presented by the usual reading (see commentaries above under problem 1) of Romans 1-4.

So… "justification as Campbell defines it cannot be found in later theologians like Luther, Calvin" and so on. (Again, this is false: see Deliverance, ch. 9, § 2.) But I ask you: is this a problem for me, or for my critics, most of whom are conservative Protestants? What my critics are really saying is "justification as Paul in Romans 1-4 presents it cannot be found in later theologians like Luther…" (?!).

It has been a little bizarre watching bloggers like Leithart shoot themselves in the foot and then hop about claiming that I can't walk. And it has been even more bizarre watching scholars who should know better signing off on this ridiculous argument.

Having said this, this behavior is at least a confirmation of one of the major claims of the book, namely, that debate of these issues is next to impossible if the underlying paradigmatic commitments of readers are not clearly identified and faced. And that is why JT is so important and is fronted at such length. People need to be honest enough to admit that they endorse it and that they get it from Paul in Romans 1-4. Without these confessions, I suggested in Deliverance that constructive discussion of textual and interpretative alternatives will be impossible. And the subsequent behavior of many of my critics has proved the truth of this claim.


At 9/10/2014 9:44 PM, Blogger Keen Reader said...

I think we need at least another half-dozen big doorstop tomes to thrash this one out, don't you?

God save the poor trees that will have to die over this latest kerfuffle!

At 9/10/2014 9:56 PM, Anonymous Geoff said...

I suspect part of the problem is the end-notes. The book, which should have taken me a couple of weeks to read, took several because depth reading took all the more time.

When I've reread portions of it, I still realize connections I didn't make do to the difficulty following the argument well while simultaneously checking the references.

I've wondered why some of the more obvious critiques of his work (and more easily verified) have not been taken into account. I would have tried (if I was getting published on a big deal website) to look into early reception of Romans or the difficulty finding any similarity between the gospel outlined in Campbell's reading of Paul with our other documented evidence of the content of the first century gospel message.

At 9/15/2014 1:19 PM, Anonymous Niko said...

Very helpful. Thank you!

In the beginning I also struggled with understanding what exactly Campbell means by JT.

I finally got it, when I realized that Campbell is simply far ahead of a lot of other folk by making explicit in DETAIL how the argument HAS to necessarily logically unfold if one holds that Romans 1,18-32 is Paul's own position.

Campbell thought it through RIGOROUSLY. My impression is that a lot of people don't find it necessary to look closely at what has to happen with the overall argument if you read Romans 1-4 conventionally.

At 9/15/2014 1:31 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Hey Niko!
Yes, I think you are spot on. If Romans 1:18-32 is read in the conventional way, it has ramifications for how one understands key terms throughout Paul's theology. To my mind, DC has demonstrated this robustly. To be honest, one need only pick up a Romans commentary, almost any one written, and see how their grasp of "sin", "justification" and "faith" are tied to notions of retribution and culpability grounded in that conventional reading of Romans 1:18ff.

At 9/15/2014 1:33 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Hey Geoff, those issues are certainly discussion worthy. I doubt they are "ship sinkers" however. Indeed, you will enjoy his forthcoming, Framing Paul, where he will argue that the evidence is on his side in important ways.

At 9/15/2014 4:37 PM, Blogger phil_style said...

Crikey, I've just realised (from listening to his voice on a youtube video) that Campbell is a Kiwi.

Suddenly, I've decided that he must be right ;)

(actually, I think I'm going to read his material (DoG) now. Yes, that's how I work, sue me)

At 12/21/2014 1:05 AM, Blogger Andrew said...

I think DC's overall summary of JT is totally fine in the sense that it's a tolerably accurate description of a common core of ideas that run through the thousand variations of JT. Leithart's objections are irrelevant because it doesn't matter whether DC's description of JT perfectly matches Leithart's own variant view or not, only that it describes the main core logical progressions that are common it JT theory - which is clearly does.

I think the greatest problem with thinking of Rom 1:18-32 as Paul's own position is that the key ideas expounded in Rom 1:18-32 are accepted by everyone today to be false:
1) Natural revelation of God's wrath
2) Worship of animals being the cause of homosexuality
3) Worship of false gods causes people to be morally horrible and terrible people
If Rom 1:18-32 says anything, it says those things. And yet those things are humorously and obviously false.


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