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Gaventa reviews Campbell's Deliverance of God

Beverly Roberts Gaventa reviews Campbell's The Deliverance of God in Christianity Century:
At the heart of this complex and learned book is a single question: Did the apostle Paul regard the gospel as an offer or as a powerful redemptive gift?

Douglas Campbell, in this massive study of justification in the letters of Paul, contends that most readings of Paul view the gospel as an offer, in which sinful human beings are rescued from God's just retribution by their belief in Christ's atoning death. The resultant understanding of salvation, which Campbell refers to as "Justification theory," is individualistic, conditional and contractual. In Campbell's view, the gospel is not an offer to be accepted or rejected, but a gift. It breaks into human history (hence the term apocalyptic), revealing humanity's corporate captivity to the power of sin and calling faith into being.

I am entirely in sympathy with Campbell's answer to this central question, but perhaps because I am so thoroughly sympathetic, I am also disappointed with the way Campbell makes the case.

What Campbell unfortunately identifies as the "citadel" of Justification theory is based on Romans, especially the courtroom language of chapters 1-4, and that is the focus of his book (although he also treats most of Romans 9-11, relevant portions of Galatians and Philippians, and a few texts scattered elsewhere). Campbell draws a tight connection from Romans to Galatians, contending that Paul feared that the Jewish-Christian missionaries who had proved so destructive in the Galatian congregations (Campbell uses J. Louis Martyn's term, the "Teachers") would turn up in Rome ahead of him, where they would again insist that gentile Christians must observe Jewish law and in essence become proselytes to Judaism. So Romans becomes what the military would call a preemptive reactionary strike. (This military image fits Camp bell's style of presentation all too well.) Campbell argues that Paul makes this strike not by calling the Teachers out by name, but by crafting the letter as an ongoing dialogue with them. This allows Campbell to attribute to the Teachers rather than to Paul himself much of Romans 1:18-3:20, precisely that part of the letter that seems most congenial to Justification theory.

This is an ingenious solution to the problem, and many readers of Romans may welcome it, since most of us find at least some part of Paul's argument in 1:18-3:20 either uncomfortable or downright offensive. (If you think otherwise, perhaps you should note the inclusion of gossip and boastfulness in the dirty laundry list of 1:29-31.) But Campbell's proposal, however intensely and extensively argued, makes some historical leaps that many readers will find unjustified. After all, Galatians makes specific reference to the Teachers, but Romans does not (16:17-20 is too little and late to count as evidence).

Even if we grant Campbell his scenario, how were the Romans, to most of whom Paul was unknown, to identify which lines were the Teachers' and which were Paul's? Of course, there are brief passages in which Paul anticipates an objection (as in 6:1 and 6:15), and it is surely correct that the congregations gathered to hear Phoebe read the letter would have been adept at decoding verbal signals and conventional rhetorical gestures. Yet the confidence with which Campbell divides the Teachers' lines from those of Paul can strain even the most sympathetic reader.

Fortunately, Campbell's historical argument is not necessary for an apocalyptic reading of Romans, even of Romans 1-4 (as is clear in the work of Martinus De Boer, about whom Camp bell is oddly silent). Indeed, Paul needs the relentless argument of 1:18-3:20 in order to show the depth of human oppression by suprahuman powers. Since humanity is incapable of repenting or changing its mind or reforming its behavior (we are "weak" enemies of God, as he puts it in 5:8-10), humanity must be rescued, and with us the whole of creation, from those forces that intend to separate God from God's creation. By virtue of his focus on explicit references to justification and his lack of attention to chapters 5-8, Campbell's version of Paul's apocalyptic theology becomes just a little tepid. He insists on God's unilateral rescue of humanity, but from what? Where is the cosmic horizon of Romans? And where is the hideous power of sin and death? By obsessing over the bathwater, Campbell has forgotten the baby.

In the current academic and ecclesial culture, disagreement too often means dismissal. That emphatically is not my intent in this review. There is a great deal here that fascinates and instructs. Building on his own earlier studies, Campbell argues for a christological interpretation of 3:21-26, and his treatment of Romans 4 is perhaps the most illuminating section of the book, with its patient argument that Abraham's trust in God provides an analogy for participatory trust in Christ. I also learned a good deal from his discussion of 9:30-10:13. Campbell argues that this passage does not say anything about Israel's behavior prior to the coming of Christ, so it is not a critique of Israel's pursuit of the law prior to the time of the gospel. Instead, Paul wanted to show what has happened now that God "has come all the way to Israel" in Jesus Christ. I suspect that I shall return to Campbell's volume again and again in my own work on Romans.

This is a book that deserves to be read, but virtually every conversation I have heard about the volume has touched on its formidable length (some of which is in small print). Campbell insists that his project requires such length if he is to bring down the citadel of Justification theory. I fear that the length is self-defeating, as it means that only the most determined specialist will work through to the end, and Campbell will have lost the readers he most wants to persuade.

A certain irony is at work here. In order to destroy the Justification citadel, with its emphasis on humanity's rational faculties, Campbell employs a highly rationalistic argument to bring readers to his side. Along the way he repeatedly employs militaristic imagery to describe his undertaking, finally identifying his book as an "important moment" in the "triumph" of the apocalyptic understanding of Paul. There is a good deal of combat imagery in Romans (much of which is obscured in English translation), but the combat is God's battle with sin and death on behalf of humankind, not a battle to be waged or decided by the likes of us.

Already there is talk about a shorter, more reader-friendly volume, and I hope it will come quickly. I also hope that it will focus on a positive statement of God's deliverance. If the citadel has fallen, what does the peace look like?

Download first edition of new journal Early Christianity for free

A new journal Early Christianity has made its first edition available free to download.

It includes a review of Douglas Campbell's Deliverance of God by Francis Watson, as well as an article by John Barclay on Romans 9-11 and a review of Robert Jewett's commentary on Romans by Mark Reasoner, amongst other articles.

Watson concludes his review with the following:

This is a highly unusual book which is likely to prove influential even
among those who remain unpersuaded by some, most, or all of its argu-
ments. For those who believe that Paul himself was responsible for the
contents of Romans 1 – 4, in spite of problems of coherence, Campbell’s
attribution of much of this material to a hypothetical opponent may
seem astonishingly arbitrary, the product of a determination to capture
the citadel of Justification theory by any available means and whatever
the cost. As we have seen, the theory itself operates with sovereign disre-
gard for the actual views of other Pauline interpreters, who find themselves
transplanted onto a terrain whose contours and features have been deter-
mined by Campbell himself. This may be at least as disconcerting for those
he enlists as his allies as for those he regards as his opponents (whom, it
should be said, he treats with courtesy throughout). Fighting to defend or
overthrow the mighty fortress of Justification theory, in the knowledge
that the truth of the gospel stands or falls with the outcome, is not a rhet-
orical posture that comes naturally to most of Paul’s “conventional”, un-
charismatic interpreters. It remains to be seen whether others will heed
Campbell’s clarion call to radical, high risk interpretative ventures
under his leadership.


Joint letter in the Baptist Times on Women in Leadership

In this week's Baptist Times (14 May) you will find a joint letter (of which I'm a signatory) contributing to the current debate over the affirmation of the leadership of women by the Baptist Union of Council. Here's what we said:

We have been interested, but not surprised, by some of the recent correspondence in the Baptist Times following the BU Council debate on women in leadership. Whilst the basis of the BUGB is the Declaration of Principle the Union’s constitution, which is agreed by Assembly, makes Council the body responsible for the general policy of the Union. The policy of accrediting women ministers has been settled for over forty years. On the basis of this policy ministers are ordained and commissioned for ministry within the Union, accredited and in due course recognised and affirmed each year at Assembly. The difficulty arises when churches decline to accept a particular group of people whose ministry has been affirmed and accredited in their name and the recent March Council reflected on the continuing struggle for acceptance that many women still experience in our churches. Historically we have handled diversity though a commitment to one another and dissent by encouraging each other to look afresh at what the Spirit is saying to us through Scripture and the wider Baptist Community. Council was not seeking to threaten anyone but rather to call us to discern how we proceed with integrity, grace and gospel conviction.

Council seeks, as part of its remit and through its deliberations, to discern the mind of Christ for the Union. This process of discernment by those gathered is profoundly Baptist, as is the subsequent offering of these reflections to Churches on behalf of the Union. It is surely not un-Baptist for the Union to say to its member churches that it affirms the leadership of women: we have been doing this since the 1920s. It is surely not un-Baptist for the Union to challenge those churches who disagree to reconsider their reading of scripture: without this, we might still be supporting slavery as a legitimate reading of scripture. It is surely not un-Baptist for the Union to actively seek to promote, facilitate and encourage the leadership of women: it is part of our calling to welcome those whom God has gifted among us. In fact, this is surely all very Baptist; it is an expression of the covenant relationship we have with one another in Christ.   One of the more troubling aspects of this conversation is that whilst it is clear that there are some in the denomination who do not agree that women should be ministers they are reluctant to voice this or to make the case with a biblical / theological argument. It maybe that we will not come to agreement but we will be better for listening to one another and grasping the issues.

Neil Brighton, Simon Woodman, Craig Gardiner, Andy Goodliff

Also worth reading is the first of two posts from Steve Holmes.

This issue needs now to find a wider debate, beyond just the letters pages of the Baptist Times.       


South Wales Baptist College seeks new Principal

South Wales Baptist College in Cardiff is looking for a new principal and a new tutor in doctrine for September 2011, to replace current principal John Weaver and tutor Roy Kearsley on their retirements. South Wales Baptist College predominantly trains people for Baptist ministry, but all staff are also part of the Cardiff Univeristy's Theology and Religious Studies Department. See here for more details.

download Regent's Reviews 1.2 (April 2010)

The latest edition of Regent's Reviews is now available here.

Books reviewed this edition include:

On Being the Church by Brian Haymes, Ruth Gouldbourne and Anthony R. Cross (this should have appear back in October, but accidently got missed). This is an important and interesting theology of baptist identity.

The Deliverance of God by Douglas Campbell. The argument of the book could see the most dramatic shift in Pauline studies since EP Sanders' book in 1977.

Beginning at Jerusalem by James Dunn

Pannenberg: A Guide for the Perplexed by Timothy Bradshaw

Christian Ethics by Michael Banner

Christ the Key by Kathryn Tanner

Who am I? Bonhoeffer's Theology through his Poetry edited by Bernd Wannenwetsch

The Trinity and Ecumenical Church Thought by William C. Ingle-Gillis

The European Baptist Federation: A Case Study in European Baptist Interdependency 1950-2006 by Keith Jones

Communities of Conviction: Baptist Beginnings in Europe by Ian Randall

The Myth of Religious Violence by William T. Cavanaugh

A Dictionary of European Baptist Life and Thought edited by John H. Y. Briggs

God and Government edited by Nick Spencer


SCM-Canterbury Sale

In the midst of the drama of the UK election, SCM-Canterbury have a very good book sale. Highlights include:

The Future of Love by John Milbank £8

Matthew (Theological Commentary) by Stanley Hauerwas £5

A Broad Place: an Autobiography by Jurgen Moltmann £9

The Peaceable Kingdom (2nd Ed.) by Stanley Hauerwas £12.99

Theology of Money by Philip Goodchild £10

Wrestling with Angels: Conversations in Modern Theology by Rowan Williams £11

Christ, History and Apocalyptic by Nathan Kerr £22

Wilderness Wanderings by Stanley Hauerwas £18

The Truce of God by Rowan Williams £0.75


A Theologian's Memoir

9780334043683s I spent most of yesterday reading Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir by Stanley Hauerwas (SCM, 2010). Hauerwas is 70 yrs old this year and offers here a theological reading of his life (I think his friend James McClendon would have approved). I'm sure I don't need to say much to encourage you to get a copy and read it. The book includes the difficult moments, of which by far the longest was his marriage to his first wife who became mentally ill.

It is simply a fantastic book. Highly readable. Difficult to put down. I wish more theologians would write this kind of book, it would help us see them as more human! Hauerwas shows that he became a theologian because he could not get saved. If Sam Well's Transforming Fate into Destiny gives us the story of how Hauerwas' theology develops, Hauerwas provides here the biographical story of what was going on. I was struck by his difficulty at various times to find a church that was home - the shape and content of the church's worship is important to him. He has no time for church growth strategies and leaves one church when a new minister arrives. I was struck that he was able to write what he wrote when his home life for many years was so difficult. I was struck by how much Hauerwas' is dependent on his friendships - a theology and practice of beings friends is central to his theology. For a theologian so famous and so influential, its good to see that they are just as ordinary as the rest of us, that is not to play down what an fascinating journey this son of bricklayer has been - you could not think Stanley Hauerwas up (which is something he says about Susan Allred at her funeral).

Don't just take my word but of the fifteen names who praise it - Rowan Williams, John Milbank, Giles Fraser, Graham Ward, Alan Torrance, Jane Williams, Luke Bretherton, Alister McGrath, Sarah Coakley, Enda Mc Donagh, Nicholas Lash, Fergus Kerr, Linda Hogan, Ann Loades and Conor Cunningham. Theologians don't write enough biography.


It was good says the Baptist blogosphere about Assembly

The reviews of Assembly are in and for the first time (since I've been going) the overwhelming response is it was the best in recent years. The usual moans are few in comparison to the large number of positive comments. So well done to the assembly planning team, you have obviously been listening and tried to respond appropriately - let's hope it is not a one-off.  

Neil Brighton

Julie Alyward

Craig Gardiner

Catriona Gorton and here

Tim Pressword

Lucy Wright

Glen Marshall day 1, day 2, day 3, day 4


Children and Communion (new Baptist Union study material)

Here's a more extended plug for the new BU study material Gathering Around the Table: Children and Communion that was launched at Assembly. In recent years (like the last 30 or so), the question of children participating at the table has become a big issue, especially in denominations where children have been baptised as infants. Where children are welcomed to the table in baptist churches this will often occur before baptism. The study material is not designed to give a set baptist response to the question, but to enable churches to explore how and why they might welcome children to participate in communion.

Study 1 explores the meal habits of Jesus

Study 2 explores the meal habits at Corinth. This is crucial because 1 Cor 11 is often used as the reason why children should not receive bread and wine.

Study 3 explores how communion is practiced today

Study 4 explores children and the church and the gospel incidents between Jesus and children

Study 5 explores children and faith

Study 6 offers six different models, from a more or less closed table (children are present, but receive a blessing rather than bread and wine) to an entirely open table.

As someone who was part of writing the material (which built on earlier attempts), I'd be very interested to hear how the material is received. So feel free to comment or send me an email.

I'm glad to see the Baptist Union wrestling with questions of children and their place in the church. Another group I'm part of is working on the BU children's strategy and this will hopefully be another good piece of practical theology.


A Day at Baptist Assembly

Spent the day yesterday at the Baptist Assembly and from hearing comments from others this has been a really Assembly, perhaps the best for a while. Anne Wilkinson-Hayes gave a great bible study on sunday morning. The theme for the weekend is one world: one mission and Ephesians was the set text. Anne provided an excellent theology of mission from Eph 3, an excellent antidote to baptist pragmatism. In the afternoon Glen Marshall gave the Baptist Minister's Fellowship lecture on the missionary minister. Anne had stolen some of his thunder, but he still offered a good description of how ministry might be missional. Later in the afternoon Ruth Gouldbourne gave the eighth George Beasley-Murray Memorial Lecture, which explored ministry and formation and the tension between churches' expectation of a more professional and competent ministry and those coming out of our colleges who see ministry as more sacramental (picking up on some of the findings of Paul Goodliff's doctoral thesis). The lecture I think will become available on the spurgeon's college website at some point in the future. The evening gathering saw new ministers welcomed into full accredited status.

Available at Assembly was some new study material for churches on children and communion - Gathering Around the Table: Children and Communion - which I helped write. You can get a copy for £3 from the BUGB website. Having been in a church which in the past struggled with this issue and in my opinion ended up with an unsatisfactory discussion and decision, this material will hopefully enable churches to engage in a deeper way with the issues.