Douglas Campbell, “The Deliverance of God”

22 10 2009

Douglas Campbell’s new book “The Deliverance of God – An Apocalyptic Rereading of imagesJustification in Paul” is a very substantial work likely to ruffle more feathers than a windstorm in a chicken coup.

This book is a 1000 page “crystallization” of over 20 years of musing on Romans and justification. What he tries to do in a nutshell is chart a new way forward by giving a completely new reading of Romans 1-4. Campbell believes that a correct reading has been stifled by a “justification reading” of these chapters. This he claims is true for almost every past reader. What needs to be realized instead is that in many places Paul is not expressing his own opinions so much as outlining and refuting the ideas of a Jewish teacher. His reading is very much shaped by seeing an ongoing fictitious exchange throughout.

No one is really safe from Campbell’s critique. On the one hand the NPP’s de-emphasis on good works righteousness in Judaism comes under scrutiny. On the other, traditional justification is beaten up both in broad daylight and in every dark alley where Campbell sees it lurking.

What do I think? 1) I don’t like the “everyone else is bias” approach that has somehow become fashionable in this discussion; 2) I do like the fact that he tries a new reading of Romans 1-4, which I think is overdue; 3) I don’t like the way he relies on the ficticious dialogue throughout. I think this dialogue is right for Romans 2.1-3.8 but to try and push it out almost everywhere gets quite thin. If the dialogue is wrong at any moment, if Paul is actually asking or answering a question instead, then what was the opponent’s opinion suddenly becomes Paul’s, in a way that could turn his whole thesis on its head. This indeed is what I think can and will happen as more thorough attention is paid to some of the rhetorical clues that have been missed by Campbell and the apocalyptic side is developed more naturally.

9/10 for critique of others; 8/10 for charting a new way of approaching Romans 1-4; 6/10 for execution of a new reading; and 3/10 for the conclusion that results.

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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What is the Fallen Condition Focus?

31 03 2009
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Bryan Chapell in his book “Christ Centered Preaching” has a helpful concept which some of you might have heard of, but some may note. Even those who have heard of it, often haven’t grasped its value in unifying and directing a sermon.

The FCF or Fallen Condition Focus is basically a way of distilling the point being made in the passage to its first audience in terms of their problem (or fallen condition). This then becomes a bridge for connecting with today’s hearer. Chapell says: “An FCF need not be something for which we are guilty of culpable. It simply needs to be an aspect or problem of the human condition that requires the instructing, admonition, and/or comfort of Scripture.” I have found it best to say to students, “look for one word if possible.” So it might be guilt, or hopelessness, or fear. In Mark 4:35-41 (“the Calming of the Storm”), the fallen condition of “fear” seems central (contrasting faith for Mark). In Matthew’s account of the same incident however, “reluctance to follow” fits better with his purpose and the context in which he uses this incident. Do you realize that the same incident in different synoptic gospels will likely have different FCFs and thus be complete different in their aims?

In John 10:1-18 (the “I am the door/good shepherd” passage), I take the audience of the gospel to be people in the synagogue who are thinking to turn fully to Christ, but are reluctant (c.f. Carson’s John, p91). Thus the FCF of this passage might be “weariness with false saviors” and a resulting evangelistic talk could center on showing an audience how the supposed saviors of their world have never been more than thieves and robbers. Jesus as the door etc. is different, bringing salvation, security and life.

One more thing to note : When you have decided what the FCF is, the opening illustration must be about this point, it must be on this subject, so that in people’s mind they know immediately what the sermon will be about. So the intro to John 10 might be something like: “One of the great slogans of today… Try before you buy. Problem is, that even when it doesn’t work, people rarely send things back … so it is with life! For the next ½ hour I want to encourage you to consider sending things back. Sending back the broken solutions to life and consider someone who brings a real solution.”

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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“Big Headed” Boasting & 2Corinthians

7 12 2008
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It’s very easy to have a “big head”… to be proud,  and for this to spill over into boasting about your achievements before others. In the period of the New Testament this was an even greater danger because it was a society where your honor meant everything. People were trying to promote their honor in everything, and so there was a real danger they may end up promoting it themselves. Not that this was acceptable. A reading of Plutarch’s comically titled essay “On Praising One’s Self Inoffensively” makes it clear (contrary to Jewett and Esler’s recent discussion on this subject) that boasting was not allowed, except in certain circumstances. Paul boasts in his letters and speaks of others boasting, particularly in 2Corinthians. In my opinion Plutarch’s essay is one of the best preparations for understand 2Corinthians. It is essential reading for the exegete, and anyone who wants to promote themselves without others hating you :)!!! Here is a quick summary of the essay to get you started:

It was permissible to boast when “defending your good name or answering a charge” (540C). Also when a person was downcast by circumstances, it is right for them to rise again and triumphing over disaster by standing “upright in fighting posture ‘Like a boxer closing in,’ using self-glorification to pass from a humble and piteous state to an attitude of triumph and pride” (541B). More subtly, “by most harmoniously blending the praises of his audience with his own [a person removes] the offensiveness and self-love in his words” (542B). Then again, by “letting part of it rest with chance, and part with God” a person may rightly boast of what they have done (542E). Someone may also “throw in certain minor shortcomings, failures, or faults, thus obviating any effect of displeasure or disapproval” (543F). In yet another way, one ought to consider “whether a man might praise himself to exhort his hearers and inspire them with emulation and ambition… For exhortation that includes action as well as argument and presents the speaker’s own example and challenge is endued with life: it arouses and spurs the hearers” (544). “But there are also times when in order to overawe and restrain the hearer and to humble and subdue the headstrong and rash it is not amiss to make some boast and extol oneself” (544). It was also appropriate to speak of one’s achievements “where important issues are at stake” and the errors of some other boastful person must be undermined. In this case “Such praise is best shown for what it is when true praise is set beside it” (545E).

Posted by Bruce Lowe.

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