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 4–Inconsistent
Anthropology 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
anthropology of JT is inconsistent. He summarizes, “Justification theory
presupposes in humans an inherent ability to deduce and appropriately fulfill
the truth of certain axioms and, at the same time, a profound universal
sinfulness–that is, fundamental and simultaneous capacity and incapacity.” (44)

Campbell suggests that Luther’s
brilliance was in his ability to merge two divergent themes in Christian
thought–the optimistic anthropology of Pelagius and the pessimistic
anthropology of post-396 CE Augustine. Like Pelagius, Luther argued that human
beings have the ability to understand God’s ethical demands and that they would
be rewarded for doing so. However, he also argued, like post-396 CE Augustine,
that human beings are deeply sinful and thus unable to obey God’s commands.
While clever, Luther’s synthesis is fundamentally contradictory. Campbell

“Can we posit significantly
separate ethical thought processes within the same basic human faculty, one
pure and uncorrupted, the other impure and corrupted? Can we claim that one
part of the is faculty, along with its activity, is pristine but one part
deeply flawed? This seems incoherent and consequently unsustainable.

Hence the claim that in the first
phase of Justification individuals possess both capacity and incapacity seems
fundamentally incoherent. The model’s all-important anthropology is essentially
garbled. (It is also worth emphasizing that this conundrum will be the deeper,
the more any ‘depravity’ or ‘original sin’ is emphasized within the ontology of
the non-Christian.)” (45)

What do you think about this argument? How strong is it? If human beings
are depraved in their reasoning, how can they discern God and his laws so as to
be “without excuse” (Romans 1:20)? On the other hand, if human beings have the
capacity to understand and obey, why did Jesus die (Galatians 2:21)? Does JT
need both capacity and incapacity? Is this incoherent?

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