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Deliverance of God 4 (Matt Edwards)

posted by Scot McKnight

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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posted June 9, 2010 at 9:07 am

I would say capacity and comprehension are not the same things. We may have capacity to understand but often fail to comprehend the magnitude of what we are facing or we do not wish to comprehend (I have the capacity to understand physics but I failed the course because I didn’t like it or think it was important, even though it is).

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posted June 9, 2010 at 9:10 am

What makes anyone think that humans are inherently coherent? My experience is that humans are inherently incoherent and irrational, full of conflicting ideas and a propensity for thinking one thing and doing another.
Now if we were talking about an argument or a book or a machine, then there may be a problem. But we are not, we are talking about people. People are generally fundamentally incoherent, imho.
Therefore I don?t have any problem with people having a full capacity to know the will of God and do otherwise. No problem with knowing that one thing will bring happiness and another sadness and them choosing the one that will bring sadness.
People?s inherent lack of coherence led them to follow a way of God (the law) that was not complete. Jesus came to set the record straight and show that, yes, there is resurrection and life that will triumph over the ill conceived will of people who know that they should deserve death for their actions but continue to do it anyway.

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John W Frye

posted June 9, 2010 at 10:58 am

This incoherence is popularized by touting two/three historical names: Pelagius and Augustine/Calvin, with Pelagius (and later Arminians) opting for (some) capacity and Augustinian/Calvinist stressing absolutely total depravity (not one iota of capacity). One allows for common grace to move us; the other only sovereign (electing) grace. I had not considered that JT theory requires totally depraved people to access knowledge of God enough to condemn, but not access knowledge of God for redemption. Fallen people can read natural revelation, but are clueless regarding special revelation. Popular theology contradicts itself by even impugning natural revelation…there are beauties in creation that Christless eyes will never see. What’s up with that? I think neo-Reformed thinking regarding reality is at the core schizophrenic.

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posted June 9, 2010 at 11:27 am

On a personal note, I’ve always found justification theory to be a bit confusing. And since many equate it with Gospel truth, I often feel much more comfortable and think it easier to explain something like Barthian theology to a person than actually sharing the Gospel.

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Dana Ames

posted June 9, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Yes, it is incoherent. It figured heavily in my move away from Evangelicalism. It’s abundantly clear that people without faith in the Triune God can do morally good things. JT has no way to explain this without heading into dualism.
The image of God is retained in us, and we have a conscience, which, though weakened, is able to sense what is appropriate behavior in relationships. See the newly released studies on how babies and toddlers respond when they see good and bad behavior. Our problem is that, by cutting ourselves off from the uncreated God through untrust, we cut ourselves off from life, and so try to maintain our own lives from our own created selves. Luke 9.20-25
As my favorite blogger, Fr Stephen Freeman, states: “Christ did not die to make bad people good, but to make dead men live.” Jesus died primarily to destroy death, which also has ramifications with regard to sin, because we sin out of fear of death (what we believe will be “death” to us, as well as actual physical death) – Hebrews 2.14-15.
He also died:
-to transform death, in suffering it as a human being, into part of the means of our healing (that which the Son, the Word of God assumes will be healed- paraphrase of St Gregory the Theologian, I think). If we are dead in Christ, death, though the final enemy, is no longer to be feared. Luke 9.20-25 and similar.
-to take upon himself (which is also the whole Trinity taking it upon ThemSelf) the entire consequence of our untrust of God (representatives of humanity condemn and kill God!!! “ (we) killed the author of life.” Acts 3.15)
-to display God’s love and mercy and kindness and forgiveness, and perhaps above all, God’s humility.

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Michael W. Kruse

posted June 9, 2010 at 12:56 pm

I’m with Dana.

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posted June 9, 2010 at 1:05 pm

I’m still convinced that Campbell is fundamentally misreading both Romans 1-4 and historical theology, at least in what I gather from the summary.
Campbell asks: “Can we posit significantly separate ethical thought processes within the same basic human faculty, one pure and uncorrupted, the other impure and corrupted?”
This question misrepresents the text and the tradition. Nowhere does Romans 1-4 indicate that human beings can perceive God and His moral law in nature in a “pure and uncorrupted” fashion, even if that text teaches a natural theology. Quite the opposite. Although humans can know something of God from nature, human thinking becomes “futile,” “foolish,” “darkened,” and “depraved” (Romans 1:21-28).
Augustine, of course, famously developed this notion and linked it to desire and love in the story in the Confessions about the pear trees. The desire for good things is right and God-given, but it invariably is directed towards improper ends. This isn’t a contradictory anthropology with two different human faculties. It is one set of faculties — reason, emotion and desire — that is inherently good but directed to evil ends. And it is not the human faculties that are evil, but the human will that directs those faculties towards evil ends.
It seems no contradiction at all to posit a set of good faculties that are misused for evil as an exercise of the will. The computer you are reading this on is “good” — it is fit for its purposes and can be directed towards proper ends, like discussing theology. But it also can be directed towards evil ends, like viewing child pornography. This does not create any dilemma about the ontology of the computer. (Yes, this would suggest some sort of dualism with respect to the human person, but at least a holistic dualism has been the position of classical Christian theology).
Further, nowhere does Romans 1-4 or the Augustinian / Reformed tradition suggest that human beings inherently have an “ability to deduce and appropriately fulfill” the moral law from nature alone. Again, quite the opposite. Campbell’s reading of Luther seems particularly strange here. In Bondage of the Will, Luther made it crystal clear that human beings in their “natural” state are completely unable to fulfill the moral law. I can’t imagine an anthropology less “optimistic” than Bondage of the Will.
Paul himself sums all this up (again famously) in Romans 7: “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.”
It seems to me that Campbell is not driven by particular tensions in the text or in the tradition, but rather by what he perceives as an injustice in the text and the tradition. He seems to think it must be possible to both fully understand and completely fulfill the moral law in order for God’s judgment of sin to be fair. It is the old problem of the meaning and justice of original sin. Whatever else we might say about the meaning and justice of original sin, I don’t see it as a fundamental anthropological contradiction.
In short: I still don’t get it.
Captcha: funnies committee

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posted June 9, 2010 at 1:11 pm

What does it mean to know the dikiaoma (judgement, ordinance, decree?) of God? Is it distinct from the dikiaoma of the law?

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posted June 9, 2010 at 1:12 pm

@Dana and Michael — I don’t think (at least from the summary) that Campbell’s issue is whether human beings can do any good at all. If that were the only issue, then I would agree with you that a critique of the strongest scholastic Reformed versions of Augustinian total depravity might be in order. Michael, I’m sure you’d want to appeal to the Thomistic natural law tradition here. But the Thomistic tradition also recognizes that, because of sin, human beings cannot “adequately fulfill” the moral law without Divine grace.
I don’t think this is uniquely an “evangelical” issue. As the Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification puts it:

We confess together that all persons depend completely on the saving grace of God for their salvation. The freedom they possess in relation to persons and the things of this world is no freedom in relation to salvation, for as sinners they stand under God’s judgment and are incapable of turning by themselves to God to seek deliverance, of meriting their justification before God, or of attaining salvation by their own abilities. Justification takes place solely by God’s grace.

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posted June 9, 2010 at 2:12 pm

I don’t think anyone here, not even Campbell if I understand correctly, is arguing that we can attain salvation on our own merit. I think Campbell’s point is that the deliverance of God is manifested only in the faithfulness of Jesus. For the most part, (barring some issues of semantics) that seems to jive with what you quoted above.
The question here is trying to reconcile the apparent inconsistencies in the text. I’m not trying to defend Campbell’s reading, but I think there are clearly some difficult things to understand in Paul’s argument here, and we are trying to understand them because we believe it should make sense. Does it not seem inconsistent to you, at least on the face of it, for Paul to declare that the idolators have depraved minds, and then still expect them to be able to discern the ordinances of God? These are real questions that we can’t just gloss over. I’m interested in how you read the text.

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Dana Ames

posted June 9, 2010 at 3:01 pm

I understand the Thomistic stance as you express it, and the quote from the Joint Declaration. And I’m not coming from that mindset. I’m Orthodox, and the eastern tradition doesn’t do Scholasticism. As I understand it, there was some engagement with Aquinas’ ideas, but they were pretty much rejected except for his last one, about not being able to talk anymore about God :)
The eastern church does not view Grace as some created thing extrinsic to God himself; it is God the Holy Spirit actually acting. There is no vocabulary regarding “meriting” or “attaining salvation”. Salvation is not “attained”, it is entered into- it’s our healing as we are united with Christ. Therefore, there’s no vocabulary related to “imputation”, but lots related to “participation”. We have what God has wanted to give us because of being In Christ.
Humans are viewed as continuing to have freedom; that’s part of what makes us human, as well as Persons created in God’s image. But we exercise it in relation to moving into or away from trusting God for life, rather than simply keeping moral laws. One is able to be moral insofar as one is able to love and trust God and therefore to exist without worrying about whether what one does in relation to others will bring harm to oneself. The door always stands open for us to do what is right; our choice is whether to move toward God and people in love, regardless of the cost. Jesus as a human being exercised his human freedom completely in the way Adam should have done, with complete trust in God, enabling complete self-giving movement toward the Father and humans in love. The Resurrection was the capstone; Jesus went through death and came out the other side. In union with him, so will we. This was the Witness (martyrdom) of the early church, not some complicated (late medieval) theological construct about justification and merit.
For Orthodox, Roman Catholicism and Protestantism are viewed as two sides of the same coin mainly because of this legal understanding. I’m probably not expressing this very well. Orthodoxy starts with the Trinity and relationship, and views the human problem in those terms, rather than in legal terms; there is not much appeal even to “natural law”. It’s quite a different approach. Read Fr Stephen’s blog for a while if you want to get the sense of this.

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posted June 9, 2010 at 3:03 pm

RMahoney (#10) — if Campbell’s only point is that the deliverance of God is manifested only in the faithfulness of Jesus, then I really don’t get what all the fuss is about. Luther would have said the same thing, no?
I agree with you that Paul is difficult (he was difficult even for author of 2 Peter!), and I don’t claim to be a scholarly authority. But, no, I don’t see the facial contradiction, because “depravity” means doing what you know to be wrong. “Depravity” isn’t a kind of “insanity.”
To be sure, there is a subtle and difficult relationship between “slavery to sin” (Luther’s bondage of the will) and responsibility for sin. I’d probably agree that Paul doesn’t fully work out in philosophical terms how human beings are both bound to sin by nature and bound to sin by choice. But I see these categories as complementary, not contradictory.
I’d also suggest that there can be a legitimate difference between what people actually know and what they are responsible to know. In the law, we regularly use the categories of “actual” and “constructive” knowledge. An individual is culpable for acts and omissions that violate standards the actor “knew or should have known” or which the actor is legally deemed to have known even if actual knowledge is lacking. Often, this is in virtue of the inherent relationship between the legal authority and the actor.
For example, every citizen of the U.S. is equally subject to the general authority of the rule of law, and therefore every citizen is generally deemed to have constructive knowledge of all the statutes and regulations on the books, even though it’s literally impossible for anybody actually to know all of them (“ignorance of the Law is no excuse”). Because the statutes and regulations are published and theoretically accessible to all, all are charged with responsibility under them. If you choose to exercise a “depraved mind” and to neglect investigating what the law books actually say, then you are liable for the consequences. I see Paul’s argument in Romans 1 not so much as a natural theology as a “judicial” argument akin to this legal concept of constructive notice.

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posted June 9, 2010 at 3:06 pm

@Dana — thanks — yes I can see how this summary of Cambpell would resonate more with the EO approach. I wonder though — do you see him as doing something “new,” or is he really repeating earlier Eastern approaches to Paul?

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posted June 9, 2010 at 3:09 pm

correction in my #12: I would say depravity is doing what you know or ought to know be wrong.

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Dana Ames

posted June 9, 2010 at 5:25 pm

DO @13
Well, he’s surely doing something new for Protestants to consider. The eastern church doesn’t have to take apart something with regard to Pauline interpretation that it didn’t have in the first place. I haven’t run across any writings of the Fathers that deal with any purported “silent antagonist” Teacher in Romans.

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Jim M

posted June 10, 2010 at 10:05 am

The original sin was rape. Still is.

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