This post begins a series of modest reflections on Douglas Campbell’s latest book, entitled The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul. Campbell’s thesis is relatively simple, but its implications are potentially far-reaching. He argues that many of the contradictions and inconsistencies that have preoccupied Pauline scholars at least since the late nineteenth century may not be inherent features of Paul’s thought so much as fissures formed by the imposition of an essentially foreign interpretive framework, or what Campbell calls Justification theory. NT scholars sometimes refer to this somewhat inaptly as the Lutheran Perspective, in order to differentiate it from the increasingly inaptly-named New Perspective on Paul, but most laypersons will have encountered it in the form of the classic Protestant doctrine of Justification by faith.

Regardless of the terminology one uses, Douglas Harink’s remark on the book jacket is accurate. The Deliverance of God “launches a massive attack on the bastions of Justification,” a doctrine that many Protestants view as the non-negotiable core of Paul’s gospel and which Campbell himself calls “the most formidable account of the data that we yet possess” (p.13, Campbell’s emphasis). Yet the inscription that precedes the title page is telling when considered in light of the contents of his book: οὐαὶ μοί ἐστιν ἐὰν μὴ εὐανγγελίσωμαι (“woe to me if I do no preach the gospel,” 1 Corinthians 9:16). Clearly Campbell does not think that Justification theory is the core of the gospel.

Caveat lector. I should state from the outset that, for several reasons, I am already favourably predisposed toward Campbell’s position. Boasting what amounts to an undergraduate minor in Dispensationalism with a dash of Bonhoeffer and a smattering of classical Reformed theology, I know just enough to be dangerous but not enough to convincingly resurrect the persona of an offended Evangelical. Secondly, as a Pauline scholar and practicing Orthodox Christian my sympathies generally align more closely with what Campbell calls the alternative paradigm, a participatory view of salvation emphasizing God’s initiative to rescue humans from the oppressive forces of sin and death rather than a juridical view emphasizing the satisfaction of divine retributive justice accomplished through the atoning death of Christ. I am, however, interested in hearing more responses to Campbell’s challenge from my capital “E” coreligionists.

Campbell’s tome is not for the faint of heart. It weighs in at a hefty 1218 pages (including 240 pages of endnotes and 40 pages of bibliography and indices), and his dense prose occasionally obscures rather than clarifies. I do not expect to fully digest the contents for some time, but judging by what I have read so far, and by initial reactions in the blogosphere and beyond, it appears to be a landmark study.

Next post in this series:
The Deliverance of God, Reflection 2: Douglas Campbell v. Pat Robertson

Other posts in this series:
The Deliverance of God, Reflection 3: Theory v. Exegesis
The Deliverance of God, Reflection 4: The Economy of Salvation
Sin, Debt, and the Economy of Salvation