Thursday, July 8, 2010

Campbell’s Quest

The Quest for Paul's Gospel: A Suggested StrategyIt only took me about nine months to read through, but I've finally completed Douglas Campbell's The Quest for Paul's Gospel. That might seem to suggest that it was laborious reading or exceedingly long, but that's not the case. The book is only 290 pages, which is quite short considering what Campbell is trying to do. Also, he's a very clear writer. I simply didn't have a lot of time to slowly work through his arguments and I think Campbell's work is worthy of time. Now that I've finally finished it, I thought it time to offer my summary review.

The Quest for Paul's Gospel was released in 2005 and is a compilation of various essays; some previously published elsewhere, and brought together into one volume. Campbell's work is lucid, persuasive and (he hopes) paradigm shifting. Campbell begins Quest with a lament for the general lack of clarity regarding Paul's theology as a whole. So his book "is essentially a sketch of what we might dub the 'grand strategic' level in the debate concerning Paul's theology, a level that in my view has been missing from much current scholarly discussion" (1). The general failure of the SBL seminar on Pauline Theology during the 1980s and 90s, to come up with "more decisive conclusions [. . .] or even with the correct methods and/or questions for identifying those," Campbell thinks is indicative of the disarray of the grand strategy. Campbell admits that a lot of work, even good work, is being done on Paul's letters, but this work is glaringly "unsure of its overall objectives and thus of its exact contributions" (2).

Campbell's work, then, is an attempt at recovering the centre of Paul's theology amid a cacophony of competing claims on Paul's theology and methods for reaching those claims. Campbell begins with a chapter on how to go about recovering this theological centre. He frames the discussion by the need to recognize, after J.C. Beker, the contingency and coherence of Paul's theology. The contingency of Paul's theology is the obvious fact that his letters are ad hoc pastoral exhortation not a formal systematic theology. So for example, the contingency of Paul's work will not allow for a Melanchthon approach to Romans as a compendium of theology (though as we will see Campbell thinks Romans is most important epistle). The coherence of Paul's theology recognizes that Paul's ad hoc letters were rooted in a foundational core (excuse the "foundationalism" language, but Paul often uses architectural imagery (Rom 15.20; 1 Cor 3.10-17; etc.). Campbell wants to appreciate the contingency of Paul's letters and appropriate its coherence.

How does one go about finding the centre of Paul's theology while appreciating its contingency? Campbell's suggestion is fairly simple but quite helpful. "We must unpack the contingency of Paul's texts, step by step, and so uncover his coherence within them." This unpacking begins by "trying to reconstruct the story that unfolds them, that is the story of Paul's life and missionary career" (20). So, Paul's letters must be carefully exegeted in all their contingency and historical specificity and brought together in sequence and overarching story.

Campbell believes that the battle ground of competing coherence models of Paul's thought is first and foremost the book of Romans. This is so, Campbell says, because Romans represents the most fully articulated account of Paul's gospel. While admitting the central importance of Romans in the discussion, Campbell recognizes that "Romans clearly does not tell us everything" and Paul's "other letters have a vital part to play in fleshing out Paul's coherence" (23). This is also not to deny the much debated contingency of Romans either, but it does suggest that Romans is the key to unlocking Paul's theology.

Thus far, the discipline of NT studies has produced three main contenders for Paul's theological centre. Each of these competing positions corresponds to a "soteriological reading" of different portions of the body of Romans (1.18‒11.36). First, there is the "Lutheran model of salvation: justification not by works of law but by faith alone," simply and helpfully abbreviated as the JF model. The JF paradigm takes Romans 1‒4 as its foundational section of Romans. Second, and corresponding to Romans 5‒8, there is a "participatory eschatology" approach. Campbell gives a new title to this approach with pnematological participatory matyrological eschatology (or PPME). This second option is where Campbell suggests the heart of Paul's theology is on display. Third, finding its home in Romans 9‒11, there is the "salvation-historical model" abbreviated with SH. In the course of his book Campbell seeks to tear down the JF paradigm, give supremacy to the PPME approach and subsume the SH concerns and observations into the PPME model.

So what is the PPME approach? Claiming Albert Schweitzer, E.P. Sanders and J. Louis Martyn as his primary forerunners, Campbell suggests an account of salvation (i.e. soteriology) that understands the Holy Spirit (pnematolgoical) incorporating Christians (participatory) into the death of Christ (martyrological) and thus also eventually his resurrection (eschatology). So, "pnematological" and "martyrological" are, for Campbell, important modifiers for a participatory eschatological account of salvation.

After a chapter dismissing an "anti-theological" approach that would decry any "inner consistency" to Paul's thought and giving definitions to the three paradigms (chapter 2), Campbell sketches an outline of his argument for the supremacy of the grand strategy of his PPME paradigm. Along the way Campbell provides some very interesting even if sometimes unpersuasive arguments.

  • Chapter three presents a compelling argument for the apocalyptic dimension of Paul's Gospel. This plants Paul firmly in the world of second temple Judaism and yet is deeply Trinitarian.
  • Chapter four sets out to prove that the "story of Jesus [. . .] as an irreducible element in Paul's soteriology" (70). By "story of Jesus" he means a narrative explanation of the gospel. Personally, I think Campbell is correct in his conclusion that narrative is crucial, but his argument falls short.
  • In true apocalyptic devotion, Campbell argues in Chapter five that Gal 3.28 is an important summary of Paul's PPME gospel. The old binary age has given way to a new creation.
  • Following on the heels of chapter five, chapter six argues for gay ordination via Campbell's account of Paul's soteriology, but free from Paul's "commitment to a binary, and essentially Hellenistic, theology of creation" (127). Campbell intends this to be a case study in Pauline ethics from a PPME paradigm.
  • Chapter seven is an argument for a retrospective account of Paul's view of the law and Judaism. Following E.P. Sanders Campbell is convinced that Paul's view of Judaism was not dependent on some inherent flaw with Judaism or its theology but rather based on the revelation of a new age.
  • Chapter 8 is a devastatingly clear deconstruction of the logic behind the JF paradigm. Carson, Seifried and their reformed ilk beware! Though, it should be pointed out that Campbell is absolutely convinced that salvation is only a result of God's work and so is in this sense a Calvinist. Campbell writes of his PPME paradigm, "this rebirth into a new way of being and relating is, from start to finish, a gift of God. It comes to people purely out of God's freedom and grace, so [. . .] it is completely unconditional" (41).
  • Chapter 9 is a lexical study on the language of "faith" in Paul that attempts to wrestle one of his most important words away from the JF camp. By drawing from both diachronic and synchronic analysis of "faith" language Campbell shows that "faith" for Paul is very much about "trusting" the God who resurrects the dead and not so much "believing" that Jesus is the source of salvation over and against meritorious "works."
  • Chapter 10 is an attempt to show the general argument of "faith" language presented in chapter 9 by working it out in a specific text—Gal 3.
  • Chapter 11 is a rereading of the key JF text (Rom 1.18-3.20) that intriguingly suggests that Paul is ironically describing the theology of his opponents rather than his own views in the key JF text. Campbell argues that Paul is working out the theology of his opponents in Rom 1.18-3.20, a theology that he ultimately concludes doesn't do any good for anyone (Rom 3.20). The implication of Campbell's argument, then, is that JF interpreters have been presenting Paul "to the world for a millennia in terms of his opponents!" (247).
It is doubtful that a staunch JF interpreter will be convinced by Campbell's all-out assault on the most widely held paradigm of Paul's theological centre since the reformation. I, however, am convinced that the JF paradigm needs to be either abandoned or seriously reworked. Campbell is sure that a "reworking" of the JF paradigm can't work because the competing soteriological schemas "employ fundamentally different assumptions about reality, about salvation, and about its appropriation" (25). Thus far Campbell's work is widely praised but rarely endorsed wholesale. Time will tell if Campbell's PPME grand strategy will win the day. For now, interpreters can wrestle with a fresh and compelling voice to help them work through Paul's sometimes perplexing writings to find its contingency and coherence.

Now that I've spent nine months unpacking Campbell's introductory book, I can now move on to his massive (1200+ page) full presentation of the PPME paradigm— The Deliverance of God.

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