The third chapter of Beyond Old and New Perspectives on Paul is “The Current Crises” by Douglas Campbell. Here Campbell sets up his understanding of the contrast between two views of salvation in Christ. Oddly enough, for something about the “current crisis”, it has a lot to do with the fourth century argument between Arianism and Athanasius.
Campbell is not specifically talking about whether Jesus is divine or not, which is what I have understood that the Arian controversy was about. He is talking about what he calls methodological Arianism. His idea is that even though the Church rejected the results of Arian thought, a major strand of Christian thinking continued to use an Arian method.
As I understand him, he means that Athanaius started with Christ as the ultimate self-disclosure of God and reasoned back from that to all other doctrines. Arian method, on the other hand, was to start with the human predicament as we know it from nature and reason forward in a problem-solution way.
Methodological Arianism led to “contractual foundationalism”. This means, I think, that in more recent times social thought in the West has revolved around contracts–think the social contract. When imported into theology, this has resulted in a false equation between covenant and contract. It has led to interpreting Paul’s theology in terms of a legal transaction whereby the penalty for our breach of contract gets transferred to Jesus in a new contract that cancels out the old one.
The next two chapters by Chris Tilling and J. Warren Smith question Campbell’s account and, in the case of Smith, offers an alternative idea.
I am not going into much detail about this. I am more interested in getting on to the actual discussion of Romans. But Tilling and Smith raise questions about whether Paul and Athanasius really were that close together.
Smith says that Campbell wants to use Athanasius and Arius as parallel to the twentieth century clash between Barth and Brunner on natural theology. Athanasius and Barth both say “Nein!”
Smith’s field is patristic theology and he suggests that there is a different fourth-century heresy that would come closer to what Campbell is talking about. The Heterousians were called neo-Arians, but they differed from Arius in that they believed the human intellect was capable of understanding the mystery of God. Arius himself had a much more humble view of human intellect.
It seems to me that, lost in all this discussion is our lack of knowledge about the historical Arius. The orthodox burned his books. What we have is a creation of Athanasius who used what Arius supposedly said as a foil for his own theology.
Because, to me, book burning is worse than heresy, I do not automatically side with Athanasius. I do believe in the divinity of Christ. But I am not sure I get there the same way Athanasius did. (Tilling suggests an alternative way that he thinks Paul got there by putting the YHWH-Israel relationship next to the Jesus-Church relationship. His point is that Paul and Athanasius did not use the same method. I would like to read more of Tilling, who has written a book on this.)
The base issue, it seems to me, is that Campbell believes that the method that comes across in Romans 1-4 contradicts Paul’s method in Romans 5-8. Thus Romans cries out for a new interpretation that does not take Romans 1-4 as Paul’s own program. This issue, for Campbell is black and white, heresy and orthodoxy. There are others who do not see it quite this starkly.