“THE DELIVERANCE OF GOD: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul” by Douglas A. Campbell has just been added to my wish list. Here are a couple of quotes from a book review that gives you a hint at the reason why:
All works of scholarship begin with a problem, some crisis, controversy or conundrum. Campbell’s area of scholarship is Paul, his letters specifically. As you might imagine, Pauline scholarship is awash in controversy and debate. We won’t go into those debates in depth. I barely understand many of them. But to give you a taste let me present three:
The Meaning of Pistis Christou
What we know for sure is that Pistis means “faith” in Greek and that “Christou” means “Christ.” So far so good. But in the Greek there is some genitive ambiguity concerning how the two noun’s–faith and Christ–are to relate to each other. Martin Luther, and those who followed him, translated Pistis Christou as “faith in Christ.” But a growing number of scholars (e.g., Richard Hays, N.T. Wright) have argued that the proper translation of Pistis Christou should be “faith of Christ.” Wow, so much hanging on the switch from “in” to “of”! But it really is a huge change. Specifically, the change moves us from an anthropocentric view of salvation to a Christocentric view. In the former, the human person is the locus of salvation. I, Richard Beck, must have faith in Jesus Christ. My act of faith functions as the key to unlock salvation. In the latter view, it is the faithfulness of Jesus that unlocks salvation. Christ’s faithfulness saves me.
Paul’s Soteriological Inconsistency
Pauline scholars have argued that Paul’s soteriology, his view of salvation, is hopelessly muddled if not outright contradictory. To be sure, this might be unfair to both Paul and the canon. Paul might not be aiming for logical consistency. Plus, Paul might not have written everything we attribute to him. Regardless, it is worrying that Paul, the great theologian of the faith, might be confused or contradictory. For example, when scholars read Romans they see inconsistencies between the soteriology presented in Romans 1-4 and the soteriology presented in Romans 5-8. Of course, not everyone sees these inconsistencies, but as with the Pistis Christou debate, this is a location of scholarly controversy.
The Characterization of Second Temple Judaism and “Works of the Law”
When you hear the Jews described in church, and Paul’s life as a former Jew, they are described in a fairly stereotypical way: The Jews were trying to “earn” their salvation through “works of the Law” (Torah obedience). In short, the Jews were legalists. And this legalism was a source of great pride as many Jews felt that they were, indeed, “blameless” before God. Now, this characterization of the Jews has important soteriological functions. Namely, “Christian” salvation through grace is, at root, a rejection of legalism through works of the Law. Grace is the opposite of legalism. In short, the Christian notion of grace requires a backdrop of Jewish legalism for it to make sense, to be something “new and improved.” The trouble is, is this characterization of the Jews a straw man? Specifically, there is a great deal of biblical and extra-biblical evidence that suggests that legalism wasn’t really a problem, for Jesus, Paul or the Jews. Now, legalism was a problem for Martin Luther, his monastic attempts to save his damnable soul. But scholars have argued that Luther’s problem wasn’t the Jew’s Problem. Nor Paul’s. Nor Jesus’s. And, once again, there is debate about all this. It’s another location of controversy in Pauline studies.In sum, these are three examples of the debates within Pauline scholarship. There are many more and Campbell reviews them all. Exhaustively.
and from part II
why is God so harsh? Why isn’t his nature more kind, generous and forgiving? Humans don’t demand perfection from each other. We forgive. God, apparently, doesn’t. And it’s not clear why, in light of Justification Theory, God couldn’t be this way. Why couldn’t God be forgiving and nurturing in light of our transgressions? Not that God would be a pushover, but at least God would be nice and reasonable given that he’s working with human beings, creatures that frequently make moral mistakes because, like any animal, we get scared or confused. The trouble for Justification Theory is that if God were like this–nice and reasonable–then the salvific machinery of [the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus] is rendered moot. God doesn’t require the blood sacrifice of Jesus because God is intrinsically forgiving.
At the very least, Richard Beck‘s initial reviews of this book (part I and part II) have set the hook in my mind. I have been struggling with this image of God that makes a certain televangelist’s comments on Haiti seem not only reasonable but also logical, even required, in order to keep up continuity.
The need to uphold this theory may also be why people respond to the push back on this televangelist’s comments with “One does have to wonder ‘what’s up with Haiti?’ “, “we cannot say what God would and would not do” and even “God has done this type of thing in the past, why do we not think He could do it today?” These push backs always come with the “not that I think He is behind it, but…” If this is the image of your God, why don’t you just grow the balls to say that “God demands justice and maybe Haitians got what they deserved! End of story.”
Sorry. End of rant. Read the reviews and let me know what you think about all this.