Jesus Creed

This is an incredible series being offered to us by Matt Edwards: a nine part summary and response to Douglas Campbell’s mega-book, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul
. Thanks to Matt Edwards.

The Deliverance of God 3–Problems
with Natural Theology in Justification Theory

We are evaluating Douglas
Campbell’s rereading of Romans 1-4 as presented in The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in
. In the book, Campbell rejects “justification theory” (JT), the
traditional way of understanding Romans 1-4. He describes JT as having two
phases–“the rigorous contract” (in which God’s ethical demands are made clear
to all people, all people are found to have fallen short of these demands, and
all people are declared worthy of God’s retributive justice) and “the
appropriation of salvation” (in which God, in his grace, offers a more
manageable criterion for salvation, “faith”). Most western Christians interpret
Romans 1-4 according to JT.

Campbell has suggested three steps
that JT advocates need to take in response to his rereading: (1) demonstrate
that JT is a valid option for Paul, (2) answer his critique, and (3) show how
JT is a better interpretive option than his rereading. We have undertaken step
(1) in a previous post, and over the next few posts we will be undertaking step
(2). When we are finished, I will suggest an approach to step (3).

Campbell argues that the natural
theology necessary to navigate phase one of JT is impossible. He summarizes the
critique: “Justification theory builds from the objective discernment and
linkage of certain propositions within creation–a universal recognition and
derivation that, in strictly rational terms, is impossible.” (39)

By this, he means that people have
to understand fundamental truths about God and his laws through nature and
reason before they can navigate phase two. (They have to realize that there is
a God and that they are a sinner before they need a Savior.) The list of things
that they must know from nature and reason is not small–theism, monotheism,
divine transcendence, divine retributive justice, divine concern for human
heterosexuality, divine concern for monogamy, and a fuller ethical system prohibiting
envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, gossip, slander, etc. (Romans 1:18-32,
Campbell 40)

Campbell writes, “Fundamentally,
the rational derivation of this set of propositions seems to be impossible. A
reflective individual in the modern world contemplating the cosmos would
probably not detect any of them.” (40) But, even if it is granted that theism
and monotheism are apparent in nature, that doesn’t get us where JT needs us to
go before we can negotiate phase two. Campbell writes:

“A case can be made here for God’s
singularity and transcendence, although perhaps the latter more plausibly than
the former. But it now looks next to impossible to demonstrate that such a God
is characterized by retributive justice and then in turn by specific commitments
in terms of sexual relations and interpersonal relations as the theory
enumerates those here. Such attributes and concerns cannot be shown to derive
in strictly rational terms from the bland god of the philosophers. How do we
deduce, by contemplating the cosmos, that a single transcendent god is offended
by homosexuality? The philosophically astute Greeks never made this connection.”

What do you think? What does Romans 1:18-32 teach about natural
theology? What does everyone know from nature and reason so that they are
“without excuse” (1:20)? (Make sure you read all of the way to v. 32.) Is this
possible? Can these things be known from nature and reason?  

Previous Posts
Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus