Campbell-Alan Torrance and the pressure of interpretation

Just so we know what we are basically talking about, Douglas Campbell’s thrust is to reinterpret the first four chapters of Romans so that they do not speak for Paul.  Paul, according to Campbell uses a rhetorical device to set up the argument of his opponents.

It is the opponents of Paul who think that Gentiles have a near-Torah based on nature and conscience.  It is the opponents of Paul who set up the “Roman Road” approach to the gospel where human ethical failure puts God in a dilemma about how to save us and God resolves this by transferring the punishment due us to Christ in his death.  Paul rejects this.  Then, according to Campbell, Paul lays out his own gospel in Romans 5 ff.

Pretty radical!  No wonder Campbell has stirred things up.

The first essay in Beyond Old and New Perspectives on Paul is by Alan Torrance. Torrance is from a Scottish family that includes Thomas F. Torrance, a prolific and well-known theologian of the Barthian school.

Alan Torrance comes at Campbell’s proposals from the standpoint of a theological tradition that goes from Calvin through Barth.   He shows how what Douglas critiques corresponds to Federal Theology in Reformed theological history.

Torrance, as a theologian, does not deal with the particulars of interpreting Romans.   What he does is tell us where the “pressure of interpretation” comes from that causes Campbell to want to see Romans 1-4 as not representative of Paul.

There are two drastically different ways of coming at the human problem.  The first is that you can try to see it from the standpoint of the unredeemed.  This calls for the ideas of conscience  and natural law so that unredeemed man has some knowledge of God and law.  These ideas are individualistic.  They are about what the individual sinner can know.

The other way is to see the human situation from the standpoint of a person already redeemed.  This is the standpoint of one already caught up on God’s new creation and new community.

This second view has to be that of Paul.  It is the view of Romans 5-8.  It is what drove Campbell to look for a different explanation for Romans 1-4.

Thus, Torrance does not speak to the exegetical issues but he is very sympathetic to Campbell’s program on theological grounds.

In his brief response, Campbell is entirely positive about what Torrance says.  He says that some of the critical essays will try to deny the sharp discontinuities between these two approaches.  He is grateful to Torrance for setting them out so clearly.

It is this distinction and these two fundamental modes of knowing and speaking that are ultimately at issue in the different ways of reading Paul that I am discussing. . . .

I am going to put off making a judgment about this theological argument.  It seems to me that the interpretation of Romans ultimately has to turn on exegetical and historical reasons.

I have read a good deal of Thomas F. Torrance.  He made the intriguing argument that Barthian theology actually conforms to scientific methods once you realize that the object is God and not the natural world.  This is thought-provoking.  But is it convincing?

Thomas made a point that I recalled as I read Alan’s essay.  He talked about the Copernican revolution in cosmology.  Everything depended on standpoint.  When you put yourself at the center, the sun seems to be going around you.  To get to the truth, though, you have to get outside of yourself and adopt a more cosmic standpoint.  Do you see some parallels between this and the argument Alan Torrance is making?


About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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