Campbell gets to “The Heart of the Matter” after a preface describing the origin and structure of his project and a brief introduction discussing three interpretive conundrums, for which I defer to Sean the Baptist’s summary. Campbell does not “proceed directly to exegesis,” however, which as he puts it “would be to advance blindly into thoroughly prepared positions—a suicidal interpretive project” (p.8). Having locked horns with a few ardent ‘Justification theorists’ in the past I can appreciate Campbell’s caution. Instead he argues that the complex culprit that has plagued Pauline scholarship for over a century is “an amalgam of a particular reading of various Pauline texts . . . and a theory of salvation” (p.12). For the remainder of the chapter he concentrates on developing a rigorous account of that theory. That account sets up the following chapters, which concern:
- Intrinsic Difficulties (Ch. 2): tensions inherent in the theory itself, irrespective of exegesis.
- Systematic Difficulties (Ch. 3): tensions created by the apparent presence within Paul’s letters of an alternative soteriology.
- Empirical Difficulties (Ch. 4): tensions between the theory’s description of ‘reality’ and the results of historical and social-scientific research, especially concerning Judaism and conversion.
Of particular interest at the systematic frame is Campbell’s salutary critique of “Coercion and Violent Punishment” (pp. 87–95). In this section Campbell notes that the concept of retributive justice operates at two critical points in Justification theory. At the pre-Christian phase the theory exerts pressure on individuals to move to the Christian phase by asserting that God will eventually hold everyone accountable for their actions, whether on the basis of natural law (for non-Jews) or special revelation (for Jews). At the Christian phase it offers what amounts to acquittal for individuals who acknowledge that their punishment has been redirected to Christ (point 1). Those who, for whatever reason, do not express such faith will experience punishment directly on the day of judgment (point 2), and, importantly, they may experience a foretaste of such punishment even prior to the day of judgment.
A comparison of Pat Robertson’s remarks on the horrific tragedy unfolding in Haiti and Campbell’s comments on the implications of Justification theory for the fate of those who have willfully refused the gospel shows how Campbell’s account of justification theory can help explain certain socio-political and ecclesial realities. First, Robertson’s remarks:
Now Campbell: Those who have refused the gospel’s offer of redirected punishment have betrayed a high degree of irrationality and/or willful disobedience. Any misfortune they might experience prior to the day of judgment is therefore appropriately construed as a proleptic experience of the punishment that awaits them, although it may also double as a pedagogical prompt. And perhaps these two dynamics may be fused when non-Christians experience awful punishments at the hands of given government (although the forces of nature, including disasters, can also function at this point). Essentially, non-Christians are a category that is fundamentally appointed for violent punishment (p. 88, my emphases).
Next post in this series:
The Deliverance of God, Reflection 3: Theory v. Exegesis