The biggest names in Pauline scholarship have all more or less written their big books on Paul (apart from one NT Wright, from whom we have the only teasers of The Climax of the Covenant and Paul: Fresh Perspectives). E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (1977), Richard B. Hays, The Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (1989 [see also his collection of essays, The Conversion of the Imagination, 2005]), J. Louis Martyn, Theological Issues in the Letters of Paul (1997 [to be read alongside his Anchor Bible Commentary on Galatians, 1997]), James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (1998), Francis Watson, Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith (T & T Clark, 2004 [see also Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles, 2007]). In the case of Hays and Watson, they have moved their research focus to the gospels, which is also the case for Dunn in his retirement.
In 2009 Douglas A. Campbell, after 15 years in the writing, published The Deliverance of God and said, that although these scholars had given important fresh insights to the task of understanding and describing Paul's theology, that all had failed to free themselves from what he called Justification Theory, which was like a virus that had infected all exegetical work. Justification Theory is contractual, conditional, Arian (foundationalist), a priori, Forward reading of Paul's letters which emerges fundamentally out of readings of Romans 1-4.
The reaction to Campbell's work has been that although many find much to agree with him in his understanding of Romans 5-8 (where Campbell thinks Paul is at one of his most clearest in terms of what he believes the gospel is), they are unable to join him in his reading of Romans 1-4.
What does Campbell do with Romans 1-4?
1. He says that with F. C. Baur everyone of Paul's letters is written because of opposition and this is also the case with the letter to the Romans.
2. The opposition Paul faces in Rome is the same opposition who were present in Galatia - Jewish Christian Teachers
3. Romans 1-4 then is Paul in direct engagement with this opposition. The interlocutor in Romans 2-3 is the opposition. Campbell then makes a fairly big and decisive claim that Romans 1.18-32 is not the voice of Paul, but the voice of the opposition - we have a block quote of their theology - to which the rest of Romans 2-3 is Paul demonstrates that its claims make no sense. Romans 1.18-3.20 is not Paul preparing for the gospel, but is Paul showing why another 'gospel' is wrong, that is, Romans 1-3.20 is not A which then leads to B (Romans 3.21-26), but should be read antithetically A v B.
4. Other recent attempts to provide new readings of Romans 1-4, Campbell argues tend to either reframing the text (so the likes of Watson and Sanders) or reread the text (so the likes of Dunn and his rereading of the motif of 'works of law' and Stowers). Campbell claims that none of these deal with the problem. We are stuck in a swamp!
4. Paul's gospel is unconditional, covenantal, Athanasian, a posteriori and apocalyptic - it is entirely grounded in the revelation of Jesus Christ. So instead of the slogan sola fide, he is sola Jesus.
5. If Campbell is right in The Deliverance of God it has massive implications for Pauline scholarship and yet also systematic theology and practical theology, most notably in evangelism, which are in large part wedded to the Justification Theory model. This partly why it took 15 years to write as Campbell meticulously seeks to demonstrate in the first nine chapters how so much of theology is caught by this reading.
Last week's two-day conference on Deliverance saw Campbell present the arguments, with admittedly, a largerly friendly audience, the highlights of which was Campbell's live reading of Romans 1-3 as he understands it and later his singing of Charles Wesley's And Can it Be verse 4, as one of the best articulation's of Paul's gospel. (It was nice to meet Alan Torrance, Jeremy Begbie, Andrew Goddard, Chris Tilling, Scott Hafemann and say hello again to Eddie Adams).
In my humble (and non-specialist) opinion it is for others to offer a better reading of Paul, rather than just a dismissal, which works at every level of exegesis, argument, theory, and theology. This is one of the strengths of Campbell's argument.
Campbell was asked, what about if we agree with you, but we can't go with your reading of Romans 1-3. I don't think that works, because what then do you to with Romans 1-3.
We can look forward to Campbell's articel review of Tom Wright's Justification (and apparently Tom's reply) and also (probably) in 2013 a theological commentary on Romans, tentatively titled The End of Religion: A Theological Rereading of Romans.
If you can't face the length of Deliverance (Chris Tilling called it a monsto-graph), then let me encourage you to read The Quest for Paul's Gospel (an earlier set of essays) and Campbell's responses to Gorman and Tilling in the Journal for Paul and his Letters (Spring 2011) and Matlock and Macaskill in the Journal for the Study of the New Testament (December 2011). You will never read Paul the same way!