Thursday, December 03, 2015

Your guide for reading Paul aright in a single sentence (and a word about Barclay’s Paul and the Gift)

imageMy recent Twitter poll on Paul suggests that collectively we don't have a clue how to read Paul! At least there is little consensus from this representation. Naturally, some have given me grief for not adding more categories or for lack of nuance, so just a reminder: This is a Tweet which has a maximum of 140 characters, and I used over half to say “obviously, this oversimplifies” … which is to say that I agree that it is far from perfect or complete. Obviously.

Even so, I still find the mix rather interesting. So this leads me to …

*drum roll*

… my advice for students negotiating different views for reading Paul. How to know which is best? My principle is just a sentence and can be stated as follows:

“The extent to which your reading of Paul recognises* the unconditional** love of God revealed in Jesus Christ and the Spirit, is the extent to which you're more or less on target; hence conversely, the extent to which such a view of God is diminished or ‘qualified’ is the extent to which interpretative mischief is afoot”

Much more could be said, obviously, but not less than this.

*Perhaps I should use a poncier word here like “radiates”, to make it sound more poetic?

**Bear in mind John Barclay’s qualifications in using this term in his brilliant book, Paul and the Gift***. This important work may be one of those rare treats that actually changes the scholarly landscape. Time will tell.

***But as a footnote to a footnote, I would remark that I think Barclay nevertheless misses the mark in stating Campbell is guilty, when using the language of “unconditional”, of thinking grace is simply “no strings attached” and therefore his view of Paul/grace is to be repudiated (see 77 and 171). So Barclay speaks of “unconditioned” (cf. 562). Now my respect for John and his scholarship could not be higher. When he speaks, the wise thing to do is listen (and learn). Plus I enjoy Barclay’s generally conciliatory tone. But this is an atomistic and uncharitable reading of Campbell who speaks of “unconditional grace” in order to clarify that salvation is not contractual. Indeed, Campbell's whole project explains how this grace in the gospel is sanctification, is ethical efficacy. So Campbell summarises his understanding of Paul’s gospel as “intrinsically ethical” (on all this see numerous pages in Deliverance). Humans need to be set free in order to live ethical lives – by God from outside, as it were - and then ethics can be understood in conditioned (not conditional) and responsive terms. On all this, by the way, see Barth CD II.2. It’s what all that “being in action” business is about. More open discussion to clarify these weighty topics needs to take place, I think.

Barclay is more reckless, however, when he associates Campbell directly with Marcion who was, of course, a heretic (173 – claiming DC argues that “God is benevolent and not just”). It is better to be sure of the veracity of such accusations before meting them out in print (or in front of hundreds at SBL by name, which left a sour taste in my mouth having enjoyed the panellist papers and Barclay’s response). Of course, it could be said that Campbell is just getting what he dishes out (“methodological Arianism”, etc.), but veracious Barclay’s charge ain’t! When Campbell speaks against retributive justice as the key framework for understanding Paul’s δικ- terminology, this does not entail that Campbell opposes divine benevolence on the one hand and justice, in toto, on the other. This is quite simply misguided (though Barclay isn’t the first to misunderstand Deliverance in this way) as Campbell regularly speaks of δικ- terminology as forensic. His preliminary definition of the verb, δικαιόω, speaks of its judicial nature. The book Deliverance is a translation of δικαιοσύνη for goodness sake! What matters – and it really does – is how “justice” is understood (which is to say that the term is not unequivocal – an important point Barclay, like so many NT scholars, seems to miss). This is why Campbell spends dozens of pages distinguishing forensic-liberative justice from forensic-retributive, etc. To speak out against one notion of justice is not to wipe them all away (just look at how many definitions of “justice” Sandel explores in his Reader). Rather, God’s δικαιοσύνη is something revealed in the gospel (Rom. 1:17), and so conditioned by his Christology. We need, therefore, to be clear what is entailed by δικ- terms. Campbell would of course be glad to pray Psalm 89 and indeed he draws on it in his exegesis at various points (“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you” v.14). Clearly this doesn’t make Campbell a Marcionite any more than seeking precision about the nature of “grace” and “gift” makes Barclay a Pelagian (even if both hail from the UK …).


At 12/04/2015 1:07 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I'm reading Deliverance currently and Gift is next on my list. I was looking forward to seeing Barclay's comments about Campbell's unconditional grace, but it seems to have missed the mark (at least from this post and my reading thus far).

At 12/04/2015 2:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chris, do you ever wonder whether Campbell is reading back into St Paul a Torrancean understanding of unconditional grace? I say this as one who has been profoundly influenced by both TFT and JB, particularly by the former, though I discovered an early article by JB titled "The Unconditional Freeness of Grace" in the late 70s before I discovered the writings of TFT.

I have long struggled to relate the unconditionality of divine love with the necessary synergistic response to this love. There are times I think I have a good grasp of it, but then I fall back into a typical Arminianism: God freely does his part, and now it's up to us to do ours. But to put it that way is to render moot and irrelevant the unconditionality of divine grace. So what is God loves me absolutely? I still have to do my part, right?

I welcome your thoughts about this, but given that you are a NT scholar let me ask you this: Did Paul really wrestle with these questions? Was he really a closet disciple of James B. Torrance?

At 12/07/2015 7:24 PM, Anonymous John Poirier said...

Isn't it a bad idea to use a dogmatic index as a criterion for interpreting the NT, period? (Look at all the strange readings perpetrated by the Reformed criterion of divine sovereignty!) Just because one approach seems to us to make more room for God's unconditional love is no guarantee that Paul *thought of* that approach. To his mind, he might have thought that his approach maximized the principle of God's love, while he had only limited his options between what he settled for and what he confronted.


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