Archive for November, 2009

Advent I

Sunday, November 29th, 2009

Today is the first Sunday in Advent; it is NOT “Thanksgiving Sunday.” Each year in Advent and the Christmas season I read through a book called Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, once published by Plough Press, an arm of the Bruderhof communities, and now by Maryknoll.

The particular danger which faces us as Christmas approaches is unlikely to be contempt for the sacred season, but nevertheless our familiarity with it may easily produce in us a kind of indifference…. We are all aware of the commercialization of Christmas…. We shall without doubt enjoy the carols, the decorations, the feasting and jollification…. But we may not always see clearly that so much decoration and celebration has been heaped upon the festival that the historic fact upon which all the rejoicing is founded has been almost smothered out of existence.

What we are in fact celebrating is the awe-inspiring humility of God, and no amount of familiarity with the trappings of Christmas should ever blind us to its quiet but explosive significance.

—J.B. Phillips, “The Dangers of Advent” (emphasis added)

Reviewing Campbell (5) / SBL 2009 Report (2)

Friday, November 27th, 2009

The Monday afternoon session on The Deliverance of God by Douglas Campbell drew a good crowd, as everyone expected. I began my review with a summary of the book for 5 minutes, including this sentence that fulfilled a request from several people for a one-sentence summary of the book: “Wilhelm Wrede marries J. Louis Martyn, and they have two children, “speech-in-character” and “alternative theory.”

Here and for the next two posts are some excerpts from my critique and counter-proposal, which Douglas calls mere “reframing” and then accuses me of “psychologizing” (see comments on Chris Tilling’s blog, under his wife’s name [Rachel]).

The absolutely crucial problem in Douglas’s analysis of Romans is his characterization of Rom 1:18—3:20 as a whole. This problem has two parts, one formal and one material. The first problem is the lack of convincing criteria to establish the existence of the Teacher and the identification of his words. The second problem is the matter of perspective: is 1:18—3:20 a prospective argument from the pen of a judgmental Jewish-Christian teacher advocating a “program of desert” (p. 343), or is it the retrospective assessment of Paul himself?

Douglas’s rereading of Romans and justification hangs, at least according to Douglas himself, on his rereading of Rom 1:18—3:20. He argues that 1:18-32 and much of chap. 2 do not contain the words of Paul, but of the Teacher.

The problem he faces, of course, is the apparent lack of formal criteria, or signals, to identify the words of Paul and not-Paul. Although ancient rhetoric does not require such formal criteria to indicate a shift in voice, there needs to be some formal and/or contextual markers to make the argument for “non-Paul” credible. To take the most important issue, we consider 1:18-32, which Douglas labels “speech-in-character”: Paul speaking in the voice of another, namely the Teacher. Speech-in-character is in fact a recognized form of rhetoric. But what exactly qualifies as “speech-in-character”? Douglas has defined this genre very unclearly and way too broadly.

Romans 7 is the stock Pauline example of speech-in-character. Its first-person-singular language seems very much like “play-acting” (p. 529, one of Douglas’s synonyms for speech-in-character). But are quotations of Corinthian slogans and other short pieces of text really specimens of speech-in-character, as Douglas claims (pp. 540-41)? I don’t think so, but Douglas wants us to think so because he claims that they, like Rom 1:18-32, have no overt cues signaling that they are quotations, yet most scholars still think they are quotations, not Paul’s words. Similarly, are short rhetorical questions and exclamations like m? genoito (see p. 537) really examples of speech-in-character? Again, I don’t think so, but Douglas wants us to see how pervasive speech-in-character is in Paul.

Furthermore, at times the assigning of parts in 1:18—3:20—this to the Teacher, that to Paul—is torturous in the extreme, as if some mid-20th-century source-critic had provided a set of colored pencils and an assignment to find sources, and evidence for those sources, even if there was none. This is especially true in the case of 2:12-16 (p. 559).

So the question arises, Does Douglas find evidence for the Teacher, or does he need evidence for the Teacher because he has read Romans in such a way that Romans 5-8 and 1-3 are totally incompatible? Or because he needs to reject 1:18-32 for other (theological?) reasons? One sometimes has the feeling that Douglas ascribes the bulk of 1:18—3:20 to the Teacher(s) out of desperation. Nothing else seems to solve the problems—his summary listing includes 56 of them (p. 431)—with the “contractual” theology he has identified! To do so, however, he reads the rhetoric of the second-person-singular pronoun in 2:1ff as direct address to a real individual and is thereby forced to engage in dubious mirror reading and historical reconstruction.

At times, Douglas wants to have his cake and eat it, too. For instance, he is emphatic that Paul’s second-person attack in 2:1ff is not against Judaism but against one Jew, the Teacher, yet he curiously claims that Paul is very indirect in his attack on the Teacher in 3:19-20 because he “wishes to perpetuate the illusion that he is speaking in somewhat generalized terms” (p. 584).

Thus the existence of “the Teacher(s)” and the location of his (their) voice is at least “underdetermined,” to use Douglas’s term: there is no hard evidence.

Douglas has committed a textual “sin of omission” (his term; e.g., p. 338); it is not self-evident that “a fairly overt network of dramatic, stylistic, and substantive signals systematically encodes the argument of 1:18—3:20 as a whole in terms of a particular figure” (p. 345), namely the Christian Teacher who “adopts a posture of thoroughgoing judgment” (p. 345). Also underdetermined is the alleged specific role of Phoebe (e.g., p. 532) in knowing and then interpreting for the Roman auditors these signals. [That is, he provides NO evidence that Phoebe would have interpreted and did interpret the letter orally as he wants us to read it. I noted this in my written remarks, but not in the oral presentation. Too bad I did not have a Phoebe to interpret me, but at least I am leaving a blog post to indicate this point for future generations!]

Next post: problems with the characterization of 1:18—3:20 as “prospective.”

SBL 2009 Report (1)

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Back from New Orleans and a fantastic SBL. Duke ThD student Andy Rowell recorded two of the sessions I was part of, “Romans as Christian Theology” and “Panel Review of Douglas Campbell’s The Deliverance of God.” Go here or here to hear them in various formats.

Among the highlights this year for me besides these two sessions: catching up with good “old” friends (partial list: Andy Johnson, Richard Hays, Tom Wright, Jim Miller, George Hunsberger, Warren Carter, Nijay Gupta, Ben Blackwell, Marianne Meye Thompson, Bart Ehrman, Neil Elliott, Jeff Siker, Joel Green, Dean Flemming, Duane Watson, Michael Barram, Daniel Kirk, Kathy Grieb, Susan Eastman, Ann Jervis, Kathleen McVey, Stephen Chapman, Mike Holmes, and of course Douglas Campbell) and making new ones; checking in with younger scholars in an effort to both encourage them and learn from them; hanging out at Café du Monde (famous beignets [French donuts]; eating meals in jazz venues (easy jazz as well as real New Orleans jazz); the session on Philippians and missional hermeneutics; the session on Philippians and intertextuality; browsing the books; getting a free copy of Bible Works (which I will be reviewing soon); etc.

My next post will be excerpts from my review of Douglas Campbell’s books.

Reviewing Campbell (4)

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

So far I’ve been positive. However (before I head off to SBL)…

Douglas is quite certain, and quite dismayed, that Romans 1-3, especially 1:18-32, contains a “prospective” soteriology of desert. But I would contend that this analysis is misguided. The allegedly prospective character of Romans 1-3 should not be confused either with Paul’s basic understanding of the structure of the gospel itself or with the structure of the “plan of salvation” that Paul presented to potential converts. Romans 1-3, as part of the rhetorical and theological structure of the letter to the Romans—not of Paul’s gospel or preaching—is exactly what Douglas says it is not: a retrospective argument.

The early part of Romans does not contain a soteriology of desert based on divine retributive justice but rather a theology (properly speaking) of fairness (divine impartiality) and an anthropology of commonality—specifically of common requirement and common inability due, ultimately, to a common enslavement. Indeed, there is really no soteriology in these chapters at all. The texts that might be read as presenting a soteriology of desert function rhetorically and theologically for Paul, not to portray the means to salvation, but rather to indicate the need for such a means outside of the self, precisely because of the explicit and implicit anthropological affirmations (what Douglas calls “ontology”) found throughout Romans 1-3. These affirmations can only be made retrospectively, in light of Christ and of being in Christ.

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Friday, November 13th, 2009

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More on Campbell’s “Deliverance of God” (3)

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

At the end of the book, Douglas summarizes his view of Paul’s gospel as “the countervailing gospel [i.e., contra Justification Discourse] of sanctification, ethical efficacy, and ecclesial community” (p. 935); I think this is a fabulous summary of Paul. In the same context he claims that his argument

is meant to be an important moment in the advance to ecclesial and scholarly triumph of the participatory and apocalyptic gospel, which is also really to say, of the Trinitarian gospel—an ecumenical gospel that both Protestants and Catholics can presumably affirm (obviously in accord with both the Orthodox and most post-modern Protestant traditions), a gospel both old and new…. an authentic and orthodox Pauline gospel. (p. 934; cf. my similar comments in the Introduction to Inhabiting, p. 8, n. 22)

Douglas has indeed rendered a tremendous service both to Pauline scholarship and to the church. He rightly insists that the material content of Romans 5-8, transformation or sanctification or “ontological reconstitution” (e.g., p. 185), is not supplemental to the gospel or to justification but constitutive of them:

Paul’s account of sanctification is his gospel. His description of deliverance and cleansing “in Christ,” through the work of the Spirit, at the behest of the Father, the entire process being symbolized by baptism, is the good news. It requires no supplementation by other [e.g., “contractual”] systems. (p. 934; cf. pp. 187-88)

However, Douglas believes that his thesis about 1:18—3:20 as “alien discourse,” and only this thesis, elevates Romans 5-8 “to its rightful status” (p. 934), because his thesis, and only his thesis, makes it possible to “affirm coherently that ‘God justifies the ungodly,’” that is, that God unconditionally delivers those enslaved to Sin (p. 934). While I strongly affirm his overall interpretation of Paul’s gospel, I think Douglas’s reading of 1:18—3:20 is wrong, and that his reading of Paul’s gospel does not depend on his reading of 1:18—3:20.

More to come…

“We” Do Not Have Troops: An Open Letter to the Church in the U.S.

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

Dear Pastors, Other Church Leaders, and All Fellow Christians in the U.S.,

It has been commonplace recently to hear requests for prayer and other forms of support for “our” troops. The problem is that “we” do not have any troops. By “we” I mean the Christian church. It is not my intent in this letter to convince anyone to become a pacifist. It is only my intent to make our speech appropriately Christian and accurate.

When we gather, we confess our faith in the one God revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth: “We believe in one God….” When we gather, we confess that Christ came “for us and for our salvation,” which are not references to people of any particular nation, not even the nation in which we happen to live. When we gather, we confess our participation in a community that transcends space and time and nationality: “the communion of the saints….” When we gather, we do so, therefore, as one small, local part of a worldwide community called the church of Jesus Christ. We do not gather as Americans, even if we happen to be Americans. We gather as Christians.

Therefore, when we talk about “our” troops, we are being inaccurate. The troops do not belong to us, that is, to the Christian church, the communion of saints, the Christians gathered together in a particular church. The troops do not represent us; the troops do not fight for us; they are not on a mission from us; they are not our troops. They are someone else’s troops, even if some of them happen to come from our churches. They are, to be theologically correct and grammatically accurate, “their” troops. They go at someone else’s behest. They are someone else’s soldiers and missionaries. The church does not have troops except prayer warriors and mission workers and apologists and martyrs and common believers who bring every thought captive to Christ and who fight daily not against flesh and blood but against and principalities and powers. Those are our troops. Let’s pray for them, for us.

When we talk about “our” troops, we also make another mistake. Even if one believes that the church in the U.S. should pray for “the” troops, we should not use the word “our” because it is exclusive and therefore inaccurate in another way. How so? Many, if not most, churches in the U.S. have members or regular participants who are not Americans, but they are Christians. To pray for “our” troops, referring to U.S. troops, is impossible for these people. The invitation to prayer or support for “our” troops therefore creates a division in the church that ought not to exist.

The prayer of the church should always be a corporate prayer in which everyone can participate and to which everyone can say “Amen.” The mission of the church should always be a mission that all can support. Prayer for “our” troops and support for “our” troops do not fit this essential criterion of inclusion. We need to find something more appropriate that all in the church can support and pray for. Given all the needs in the world, that should not be too hard to do. The end of war, rather than support for it, would not be a bad place to start. (Even Andy Rooney of “60 Minutes” might agree [see his Nov. 8, 2009 comments].)

Speech about “our” troops is possible only for a church that has lost track of its fundamental and ultimate identity. It is the speech of civil religion, not of the international, transnational church of Jesus Christ. It is time to clean up our speech.

Your brother in Christ,


A Foretaste of my Review of Campbell’s “Deliverance of God” (2)

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

Campbell on the Nonviolent Paul

One of the real gems in The Deliverance of God is an excursus entitled “The Case—Briefly—against Coercive Violence in Paul” (pp. 89-94). It is offered in as an argument for the superiority of Campbell’s “alternative theory” to “Justification theory” because the latter leads to coercion and violent punishment. (Bear with me if you are not so sure about that.)

Campbell makes six main points:

1. The cross, the center of Paul’s soteriology, is noncoercive and nonviolent. Those who participate in Christ participate in his nonviolent reaction to injustice.

2. Despite their sinfulness, Paul views non-Christians essentially benevolently. He is fundamentally not interested in retributive justice for them.

3. Paul’s attitude is especially important given his violent past, which, in Christ, he has repudiated.

4. Paul never uses coercion in his evangelism.

5. Paul repudiates vengeance by Christians.

6. Paul reinterprets military images metaphorically.

It is about time that NT scholars start taking Paul’s perspective on violence and nonviolence seriously! I have made some similar arguments in chapter four of my book Inhabiting the Cruciform God, though there I focus more on the role of the resurrection in Paul’s transformation and the resulting ethic, and also, more briefly, in Reading Paul.

A Foretaste of my Review of Campbell’s “Deliverance of God” (1)

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

I have been buried for two weeks writing various essays and presentations, including my review of The Deliverance of God at SBL. I will post more extensive excerpts after the fact, but here are a few brief excerpts to whet the appetite.

1. Douglas’s thesis: “Before presenting his own gospel to the Romans, Paul cites and ridicules the false gospel of the Teacher(s), the outline of which can be found, mixed with some response from Paul, in 1:18—3:20. Rom 1:18—3:20 is simultaneously ‘the intrusion of an alien discourse’ (p. 934) and ‘a reduction to absurdity’ of the Teacher’s alternative gospel (p. 528), by which not even the Teacher himself can be saved (568, 572, 593 et passim). Paul’s own views, according to Douglas, are preserved in Romans 5-8, which presents a liberative, participatory soteriology. This is the heart of his ‘alternative theory’ to Justification theory, and Douglas’s rereading will ‘essentially eliminate Justification theory and all its associated difficulties’ (p. 525; cf. pp. 527-28).” (He lists about 50 such difficulties!)

2. Summary of my review: “I blurbed Douglas’s book and was possibly the most positive of the five who did so:

Douglas Campbell’s continuation of the quest for Paul’s gospel is a bold exercise in deconstruction and reconstruction. One may disagree with parts of the analysis, or take a somewhat different route to the same destination, but his overall thesis is persuasive: for Paul, justification is liberative, participatory, transformative, Trinitarian, and communal. This is a truly theological and ecumenical work with which all serious students of Paul must now come to terms.

This means, more bluntly, that in my estimation Douglas is both profoundly right (‘his overall thesis is persuasive’) and simultaneously off the mark (‘One may disagree with parts of the analysis, or take a somewhat different route to the same destination’). Fortunately, he is terribly right where it really matters: in his perceptive characterization of the liberative and participatory character of justification in Paul. Unfortunately, the relatively narrow topic of this panel’s review—the book’s treatment of Romans 1-3—is where Douglas is, I think, off the mark.”

Have any of you read DOG yet? Any thoughts?