The small handful of people who might be longterm readers of this blog, will know that I'm a Douglas Campbell convert, stemming from the two years that he taught me way way back in 2001-2003. He taught me to read Paul's letters and thought that made the apostle come alive and make sense. I've found it difficult to read Paul in any other way since. I'd like to think that if things had been different, and if it was say Wright or Dunn who had been my first teachers, I still would have comes to my senses when eventually reading Campbell. The problem for Douglas Campbell converts is that how do we encourage others to discover the wonders of Paul through his eyes, for his big book, The Deliverance of God is well over a (off-putting) 1000 pages. That problem is now over, for Paul An Apostle's Journey is less than 200 pages. You can read it an afternoon! Paul An Apostle's Journey is a book I can recommend to my congregation - and I will.
Campbell has always approached reading Paul as both a life and a thought question, Paul's thought has to be understood through his life. So alongside seeking to understand Paul's gospel, Campbell has sought also to construct carefully and closely Paul's biography, starting with his letters and then where appropriate bringing in material from the books of Acts (so his academic level account in Framing Paul and the forthcoming Depicting Acts). In this new book, we go on a journey with Paul from his conversion to his arrival in Rome, taking in the different letters - the early ones (on Campbell's account) to the Thessalonians, then the later ones, first (Philemon, Colossians, and 'Ephesians') and then, in different circumstances the problem ones (1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians and Romans). In this way Campbell explores Paul's gospel, his evangelism techniques, his ecclesiology, his views on culture, sex and gender, and his view on Israel.
What then the book offers is both an interpretation of Paul's life and theology, and also how that should impact our own Christian living and theology today. Campbell is not some disinterested historical scholar, he wants to press his readers to seeing that Paul the apostle continues to speak to us today. The book begins by saying that Paul is the 'most influential political philosopher in the USA today', although of course we don't recognise him as such or if we do tend to read him wrong.
Campbell's at his best on pages 37-39 using a metaphor from music and pages 79-83 exploring prison life and pages 164-69 on God wins and pages 173-77 describing Paul's final journey.
This book introduces you to the apostle Paul and his journey in around the Mediterranean as he planted churches. Its an easy to read, amusing at moments, full of insight, careful scholarship and its out to convert. Reading Paul An Apostle's Journey is like being back in the classroom with Campbell, this is the book lots of us have been waiting for. Sometimes its brevity leaves you with follow up questions, which the endnotes promise will be addressed in the book's follow up Pauline Dogmatics in Outline, but generally you're being pulled along for the ride. The only weakness might be the questions that are offered at the end of every chapter which basically work as an English comprehension test. It would have been good to see these slightly more open-ended, but considering that reviewers of previous Campbell volumes have often lacked basic comprehension of his arguments, perhaps they are necessary!
If you've struggled with the apostle, if you've found him difficult or rude, Paul An Apostle's Journey will be a Damascus Road experience.
Tom Wright's also got a biography of Paul out this month, many will buy it, and it will be interesting to see how the two books compare, but I recommend Campbell's as the one that can really make the difference to the reception of Paul in churches and seminaries and beyond today.