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Book Comments: New Perspective’s Fullness

posted by Scot McKnight

DougCampbell.jpgThe critics of the new perspective on Paul, and they have tended to focus on the work of N.T. Wright, now have their biggest challenge yet. Until we get Tom Wright’s fourth volume, and Tom is now writing it, Douglas A. Campbell hefty tome, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul
, will be the benchmark for how to read Paul.

Campbell’s book contains the fullest theological explanation yet of what he calls “Justification Theory,” and whether you agree with his own theory or not, his opening descriptions of the Reformation (Calvinist and Lutheran) understanding of Paul is about as complete as it gets. He sees it as modernistic, rational, individualistic, conditional, introspective, God as a God of strict justice, humans as stricken by ethical incapacity, and a satisfaction theory of atonement. 
Into this and against this Campbell proposes an unconditional model of redemption in which humans are rescued from their slaveries to sin and death; this deliverance occurs through Christ’s assumption of Adamic ontology and his death executes Adamic ontology; humans respond by dying with Christ in order to execute Adamic ontology and receive a new ontology “in Christ.” The new situation is communal and participatory and interpersonal. 
The book is more than 1200 pages long. It would be a fantastic vacation read or summer read for pastors; it is a must for professors and I believe should be read by seminary students as a primary text on Paul — whether one agrees with it or not. What Campbell calls the Justification Theory is deeply embedded in the Protestant consciousness; this sort of book reveals that consciousness and provides readers an opportunity to check whether it is the best reading or not.

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posted November 8, 2009 at 5:22 pm

1200 pages … ’nuff said

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don bryant

posted November 8, 2009 at 5:25 pm

Any reviews you recommend? I haven’t found much on it.

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dan chen

posted November 8, 2009 at 6:34 pm

Dr. Gorman is giving short reviews of campbell’s book here:
i am trying to figure out if i should get campbell’s book, dunn’s Christianity in the making vol 2. or Keener’s new jesus book for christmas. tough decisions:)

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posted November 8, 2009 at 8:47 pm

Scot, do you think it’s realistic for a seminary student or pastor to be able to read this kind of book? I’m currently finishing off a master’s degree in theology, and this is probably one of the toughest books I’ve ever read on Paul. I’m not convinced it’s the most helpful book either, and am hanging out for Wright’s fourth offering, which will probably be more helpful.

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Andy Rowell

posted November 8, 2009 at 10:04 pm

Scot McKnight

posted November 8, 2009 at 10:46 pm

Sean, I hope I haven’t suggested all pastors need to read this book. A pastor so inclined to study the new perspective debates could very well find this to be a great book to read so as to discover one major reading of Paul today.
Wright will be an easier read …

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Blessed Economist

posted November 9, 2009 at 2:00 am

What are the eschatology implications of his thesis?

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posted November 9, 2009 at 6:35 am

Blessed Economist-
“What are the eschatology implications of his thesis?”
That the Second Coming will take place before we are able to finish his 1,200 page book. :^)

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posted November 9, 2009 at 7:54 am

I’ve been really intrigued by Gorman’s reviews of this book as well as your summary of Campbell’s thesis. What did you think of the thesis (assuming you’ve completed the massive read)?

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derek Leman

posted November 9, 2009 at 8:07 am

Two questions.
(1) I hear in your review a lot of Adam. Does he say much about Abraham and the role of Israel in the world’s redemption?
(2) Does he exposit other New Perspective writers so that we get multiple ideas how justification works within a New Perspective framework?

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Scot McKnight

posted November 9, 2009 at 8:08 am

T, Campbell’s thesis on Romans 1-3 will not win that many adherents. That disagreement will shift how much of his overall thesis can be embraced.

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Scot McKnight

posted November 9, 2009 at 8:19 am

Derek, 1200 pages… it touches on all things Pauline and the new perspective.

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posted November 9, 2009 at 9:27 am

I got the impression from Michael Gorman that he is among the “non-adherents” to that part of Campbell’s thesis, but still gave the work as a whole high praise. I like how Gorman has attempted to put Paul’s take on justification within the larger context of Paul’s more common theme of life “in Christ” and it seems Campbell has taken a similar road. How critical is the thesis on Romans 1-3 to the core thesis re: justification as ontological, as you describe above, as well as Campbell’s “PPME” views?
(I know I might as well read the book, which I hope to do eventually. But have mercy! I have a law practice and young children!)

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Alan K

posted November 9, 2009 at 9:51 am

Judging from past comments you’ve made on this blog, my sense is that you would agree that Campbell’s critique of “traditional” justification theory is much needed. But I also sense that you do not agree with his thesis that Romans 1:18-32 is “speech-in-character”. That said, can you comment on Campbell’s insistence that to understand Paul we must read apocalyptically, working backwards as opposed to forwards (like salvation history)?

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John W Frye

posted November 9, 2009 at 10:35 am

Sean (#4) and Scot (#6),
Sean, I am one of those pastors whose adrenaline starts to flow when Scot introduces a book like this and suggests we pastors read it. A tragic paralysis happens to many pastors. They stay stuck in the theology of their seminary days, and read Max Lucado (not that that is totally bad). When human systems of theological thought are pontifically presented by the credentialed professors, the assumption is that those systems can’t ever change. One reason I love the Evangelical Covenant Church is that I have found that many of its pastors read, and read current works. Will every pastor read the book? No, no even in the ECC, but a lot will and the church will be better for it. Take up and read, my friend! :-)

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Alan K

posted November 9, 2009 at 11:46 am

Kudos to John (#15) for encouraging us to read. I would only hope that those who endeavor to step into the pulpit on Sunday would see reading a book like Campbell’s as part of the task and calling of being a preacher.

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Dana Ames

posted November 9, 2009 at 6:10 pm

Derek Leman @10,
my understanding of the “New Perspective” is that there is no one framework involved, except that Paul’s Jewishness is taken seriously, and implications are thought through from that starting point. Different writers see different implications.

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mark begemann

posted November 9, 2009 at 9:26 pm

Loren Rosson III has a lengthy review:
The first couple hundred pages are available for preview on Google Books.
i read the first 20 or so online and had to order it. i’m merely a dilettante, not a pastor or professional, and i barely have any college. just a normal family man, techie, Jesus geek. but when you hear multiple scholars commenting on the importance (“best thing since Sanders”) it makes you take notice. don’t get me wrong, it’s slow going (for me) and i find the reasoning a bit too heavy on propositional logic and (false?) dichotomies, but it’s worth the effort and time.

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Casey Taylor

posted November 10, 2009 at 11:26 pm

I’m a Duke grad who had Campbell for a Romans class (and many friends who had him in multiple classes). I’m also now a pastor.
I got most of what Campbell was talking about but was REGULARLY frustrated that he couldn’t find a way to be more CONCISE. Ultimately, I’m convinced that if his views are to gain traction beyond esoteric academic discussion, he needs to take the N.T. Wright approach and start writing some more pop level stuff.
That said, I’m 150 pages into the book. Mostly enjoying it.
Tip for pastors on reading: do it first thing, 30-60 minutes most days. You’ll get a lot read.

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