Campbell-wrapping up Part 1

Let me wrap up the first part of the book Beyond Old and New Perspectives on Paul.  This first part is supposed to be about the problem Douglas Campbell sees with (especially) the older perspective on Paul.  The second part is labeled “Campbell’s Solution”.

However, this book is a series of papers by Campbell and others.  The editor has put them in order, and this order sometimes does not make sense.

After Campbell’s chapter called “Connecting the Dots” there is a chapter called “A Response to Campbell’s ‘Connecting the Dots’” by David Hilborn.  It isn’t a response to that chapter though.  It does not mention the discussion of Galatians, which is the main theme of that chapter.  Instead, it goes back to the chapter called “The Current Crisis” and responds to that.  This is probably not Hilborn’s fault. Editors seem to have misplaced and mistitled the chapter.

Hilborn asks critical questions about the idea of a Arian method opposed to an Athanasian method of theology.  Among other questions, he takes note of the postmodern, poststructuralist argument that Campbell makes and asks whether he is not just replacing one meta-narrative with another.

The postmodernist discussion of history makes me uncomfortable because I always suspect that we are moving away from history as reported events to history as some kind of political and social construction that ignores what happened.  But Douglas replies to Hilborn by saying that Athanasian orthodoxy is not about giving an account of all reality–a meta-narrative.  Instead, it is about the personal truth of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He points to Karl Barth, whose Christocentrism makes all narratives subject to the Lordship of Christ.

I am still uncomfortable about the danger of relativism here.  But I want to move on to the part of the book that is about interpreting Paul.  We will see if the postmodern  approach holds historical reality close or not.

A final brief chapter in Part One is by Kate Bowler.  She is a writer that I am aware of as an out-spoken critic of the prosperity gospel.  Her chapter is supportive of Campbell’s critique of the use of the idea of legal contract in much interpretation of Paul.  Her chapter is about “the Legal Mind of American Christianity”.  She says this comes out in American conservative, Pentecostal, fundamentalist and liberal theologies.

She points to the conservative Fundamentals published from 1910-1915, the Four Spiritual Laws pamphlet of Campus Crusade, the social justice checklist of mainline Protestants, and even to material endorsed by Oprah. All these, she says, express this American legal mind.   She says it is hard to find any kind of American religion untouched by what Campbell calls foundationalism.

She has a good point that Americans tend to think of religion in legal terms.  I would just note that most of what she mentions have African, Asian, and Latin American forms as well.  But maybe it has all been exported from America.  It seems to me that it was probably exported from places in Europe to start with.

My impression of the first part of the book is that Campbell has indeed identified a problem with the way Paul gets read and interpreted.  It was something I already saw before I read this.  So I am anxious to get on to Campbell’s reinterpretation of Romans to see if his solution comes from the actual thought of Paul.


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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