Monday, March 5, 2012

The Deliverance of God: A Statement of the Problem

I've finally begun reading The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul, and I'm immediately seeing what all of the hoopla was about. I thought it might be worthwhile to blog through the book as I read it (so it will be "live blogged" in a sense), assuming I have the drive to keep it up. This means that you will probably see more evaluation of Campbell's argument from me only as we get deeper into the book. This book is almost 1200 pages if you include the end notes, so be ready for a long ride!

I wanted to start today with a brief discussion of the basic premise of the book and an overview of the first chapter. Campbell believes that we've largely misunderstood Paul at many key junctures. This has led to misunderstanding justification and the gospel. The order of the book is to first expose the weaknesses in our current understanding of Paul and then to help us reread Paul, especially keeping an eye open to the bigger picture of what he's doing.

Campbell begins the introduction by discussing what he sees as being at the heart of the conventional approach to Paul's letters and his gospel. At it's core, this approach has 'powerful commitments to individualism, to rationalism, and to consent, these being organized in turn by an overarching contractual structure' (7). These happen to be 'fundamental components within Western history and culture' that dominate large swaths of the world today (7).  This is what causes so much concern for Campbell. Our understanding of justification seems to be too compatible with how our society is structured. Paul's letters can in effect support these commitments because we too easily overlook their particularity (even scholars do this with Romans), seeing especially Romans as a fairly generalized argument on the nature of salvation rather than a circumstantial argument. If Campbell is right, and I think that he is assuredly at least partially so, then this is a big deal.

In chapter one Campbell lays out what he calls the justification theory of salvation. Here he lays out in propositional form and in very fair fashion what one would consider a very robust traditional explanation of the gospel according to Paul (it looks very much like a traditional exegesis of Romans 1-4). The story of Martin Luther's conversion would very nicely follow the flow of Campbell's argument. Along the way he deals with all of the presuppositions that gird the argument and the key metaphors that help explain it. The goal of this model (to greatly simplify what Campbell says) is to convince rational, self-interested, introspective individuals to realize their ethical inability and the certain retributive judgment of God that awaits them, so that they have no other choice than to believe certain things about Jesus, that his atoning death would count for them.

We'll pick up next time with chapter two and Campbell's analysis of this argument.

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