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

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…

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

  1. T says:


    I’m encouraged by the bits and pieces of Campbell’s work that you and others are highlighting. When I’m explaining the gospel to people now, I tend to start with a description that “the good news” is about all the good that God is doing and wants to do for the world through Jesus. Everything he’s done, is doing and has in mind to do is good news (which is what the entire NT seems to be about). We are called to trust this good news, and get on board. I see a recovery of this “big gospel” in the quotes from Campbell’s book, and it encourages me to keep opening myself to that good news and keep living and giving it.

  2. MJG says:


    I’m glad! Spread the word! (Just don’t leave sin out of the picture completely :-) !)

  3. T says:

    Michael, of course. Part of what I mean by “all the good God is doing and wants to do for the world through Jesus” is our justification and our sanctification–our increased participation in the life of Christ as we simultaneously lay down our condemned lives that are enslaved to sin. Getting some freedom from sin (and not merely it’s penalty) is a big part of the good news.

    BTW, I wonder how much emphasis we have put on the use of the term “sin” even over and above the substance of the term. I just posted on this today, and didn’t have space there to include a “sin as a power” discussion, which I agree is a very important angle, but I’d be curious for your thoughts on the point of the post. In sum, I see too many in Church that want to focus on the term but not the problem (and its solution). The contrast to 12-step groups is especially painful here.

  4. MJG says:


    Off to SBL. Will try to look at your post at some point!

  5. T says:


    In retrospect, the problem I describe in my post may be a problem that is more unique to my context, which tends to be an inner-city environment where the right religious badges or correctness too often gets in the way of unity and/or ministering to the most hurting. It may not be worth your time.

    Thanks again for the review of Campbell’s work and all that you do bringing Paul and his message to greater light.

  6. Tim Marsh says:

    Dr. Gorman,

    I write as a former student of Dr. Campbell (well, just the Romans course). You wrote that Dr. Campbell’s reading of Romans 5-8 should not necessarily be dependent on how he proposes to read Romans 1-4. However, I would argue that his reading of 5-8 is necessarily dependent on his reading of Romans 1-4. His theology of 5-8 is dependent on a complete debunking of human faith as the soteriological mechanism in the process of salvation.

    Salvation (i.e., Romans 5-8) in his system is a total work of God and only realized retrospectively. Campbell will not leave any room for the appropriation of salvation, which Romans 1-4 traditionally espouses. In other words, there is no “sinner’s prayer” or “Roman Road” in a gospel presentation, but only the proclamation of the Lordship (i.e. divinity) of Jesus as revealed in his death as a martyr and subsequent resurrection.

    Whether one would agree with this or not, I would argue that for one to say that Campbell’s readings of 5-8 to be valid without accepting his reading of 1-4 is to say that one has not completely grasped the nuances of his reading of 5-8 (And, I do not claim to have done so, either).

    For Campbell, at least in Quest, and in class, it is an all or nothing deal on his reading. And, I have been wrestling with his reading since Spring 2007.

  7. MJG says:


    Thanks for the post. I will post a few excerpts from my paper on his book given yesterday at the SBL panel review of his book. A couple of points:

    1. I don’t claim to understand every detail in the book, but I may be the only person in the world other than Dr. Campbell who has read it four times.

    2. There are two things about Romans 1-3 that tell strongly against Dr. Campbell’s argument. First, the early part of Romans is not a prospective “Roman Road” but a retrospective interpretation of the human condition outside of Christ from inside Christ. If 1:18-3:20 is not prospective, than it can be integrated with chapters 5-8.

    Second, Paul himself uses some of the key words form Romans 1-2 later in the letter, especially in chapters 8 and 12-15, to show how life in Christ is the antithesis of the human condition in Adam in the fulfillment of what God intended. Why would he use that language if he did not agree with it?

    On this second point, which was raised both by me and by Fuller’s Seyoon Kim, Dr. Campbell said that if Kim is right, he is wrong. Quite and admission!

  8. [...] of God. Michael Gorman posted some previews of his contribution in four parts, one, two, three and four, with a retrospective part five after the panel. Amomng other bloggers Chris Tilling was [...]

  9. John Andrew Kossey says:


    In relation to your analysis of Rom 1:18ff: Has Doug Campbell more or less “equated” the wrath of God (Roman 1:18) with God’s being vindictive/punitive–his depiction of the opposing Teacher’s message?

    Is it possible that he has overstated his case for the present progressive in Rom 1:18? If I read correctly, “For the wrath of God is being revealed . . . ” cannot apply sensibly to Paul’s teaching prior to the final judgment (p. 359 of *DoG*),

    As Robert Jewett’s recently published essay points out (citation below), the revelation of the gospel informs/shapes our understanding of the wrath of God (page 26).

    I understand the wrath of God as one way that God nudges humanity towards saving deliverance/liberation in Christ. God’s love for humanity, even expressed as wrath thus remains supremely benevolent.

    In Romans 1, wrath is God’s turning over humans to their own devices. He allows a pervasive, unfit mindset that seeks self honor and stifles truth about being enslaved to sin’s tyrannical power and residing under death’s condemnation. That somber reality is what the gospel presently reveals.

    In the present age (between cross and last trumpet), can we appropriately say that the wrath of God “somehow” encourages repentance and participation in Christ?

    Jewett, Robert. “Anthropological Implications of the Revelation of Wrath in Romans.” Pp. 24-38 in Kathy Ehrensperger and J. Brian Tucker, eds., Reading Paul in Context: Explorations in Identity Formation: Essays in Honour of William S. Campbell. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2010).


  10. MJG says:


    Thanks for this. I saw the Jewett article and read it quickly a few months ago. I think you are right about the meaning of wrath in Romans 1 and Campbell’s misreading of the possible function of wrath now for Paul.

    I suppose, theologically, I would not disagree with your point about the (penultimate?) function of God’s present wrath–inducing us to hear and receive the good news. It seems to me, however, that for Paul the primary ideas about wrath are (a) that God is not pleased with humanity’s current covenantal dysfunctionality, (b) that there are natural and grave consequences to sin, and (c) that, paradoxically, God’s love alone can save us from our self-induced state of being under the wrath of God. Of course, as I think Jewett says, Paul and we see God’s wrath retrospectively through the lens of Christ, meaning that we know, thankfully, that it is not the only or final word from God about humanity’s condition.

  11. John Andrew Kossey says:


    Your b) and especially c) resonates well for me.

    I have some difficulty seeing how “covenantal dysfunctionality” aptly applies to non-believers. Please clarify “covenantal” in this phrase. If I am taking the term too literally, I apologize.

    For those who deny any part with God’s saving sovereignty and are living out God’s wrath, I’m not sure what covenant or covenant-like relationship is in effect.

    Outside of faithful, trusting participation in Christ (a divine gift), humans are incapable of pleasing God. So how can we understand that natural, in-the-flesh dysfunctional condition in covenant terms (excluding those who are of Jewish heritage for the sake of brevity)?

    From an objective perspective, the Lord’s incarnation/death/resurrection retrospectively–or retroactively–was and remains the once-for-all embodiment of faithfulness, redemption, and atonement for all humanity, Jew and Gentile alike.

    Perhaps I am stuck on a notion that the new covenant/new creation relationship with God involves actualized, trusting participation “in Christ” through the Spirit of the crucified and risen Christ.

    Whatever had occurred during the self-induced condition of being under God’s wrath prior to living in Christ does not seem clearly “covenantal” to me.

    Thanks for your help.


  12. MJG says:


    Thanks for the good reflections. I assume you would agree with (a) if it simply said “humanity’s current sin-filled state,” “idolatry and injustice,” or something similar. That’s what I mean. I think Paul portrays humanity (not only, but especially, Gentiles) in Romans 1:18-32 as guilty of rupturing proper relations with God and with one another, the two requirements of the covenant (vertical and horizontal relations, or love, if you will), from a Jewish or Christian perspective. That is, Paul’s portrayal of humanity as filled with the idolatry that leads to injustice is informed by, indeed shaped by, his covenantal ethical framework. Hence my language.

  13. John Andrew Kossey says:


    Your comments put my mind at rest with a).

    Here’s what I had missed: Paul’s retrospective covenantal framework highlights the futility/emptiness of relationships–vertical, horizontal, and “inward” (decent self-identity)–for those who exist in the self-induced state of God’s wrath.

    As a modest alternative to “sin-filled,” I suggest that hopelessly “sin-enslaved” also reflects the current state of humanity apart from those who belong to Christ.

    Metaphorically, one is in solitary confinement deep within dense, expansive growth of painfully prickly blackberry bushes; any personal struggle makes captivity ever more tyrannical.

    I really appreciate your valuable help, Mike.


  14. MJG says:


    I agree about “sin-enslaved” if we look at all of 1:18-3:20 (esp. because of 3:9), but I deliberately did not use such a term because I had just 1:18-32 in mind.


  15. John Andrew Kossey says:


    Yes, I was indeed thinking beyond 1:18-32. You are teaching me to remain sensitive to the immediate context. I wasn’t being careful. Thanks!


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