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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Understanding Faith (02)

10 11 2008
muggy sunset 2

Image by paul+photos=moody via Flickr

Believe it not, the best place to start in understanding faith, is a “strange phenomenon” (often overlooked) within the word grace (charis). The Greek word charis almost always means the favor of God → people. But sometimes it can mean a person’s reciprocal thanks → God, e.g. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 7:25). “Thanks” here is charis! This means that one word can describe both the original act of generosity (i.e. God’s rescue) and the person’s appropriate response (i.e. thanks). David deSilva puts it this way: “grace can be used to speak of the response to a benefactor and his or her gift.” So charis is a remarkable little word, able to describe the complete exchange process of gift giving A ↔ B. Interestingly the word for “thanks” (eucharistia) had the same two meanings in earlier times! And so (I propose) does the Greek word for faith, i.e. pistis in NT times. “Faith” is also an A ↔ B word, as I will show next time via the example of Romans 3:1-8. But if so, this has powerful implications for how we understand faith, and how an ancient reader could have understood it.

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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