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 5–The
Injustice of God 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 JT turns God
into an unjust God with impossible demands. He summarizes, “Justification
theory posits a God of strict justice who holds all people accountable to a
standard they are intrinsically unable to attain, and this seems unjust.” (45)

JT requires that no one be able to
obey God’s commands and merit salvation. When the justice of the theory is
questioned, its defenders respond one of three ways, (1) pointing out an
especially sinful group’s deserving of condemnation, (2) insisting on a deeper
sense of our sinfulness, or (3) pointing out that the Gospel is an easy way

With regard to the first argument,
Campbell says that there may be groups out there that deserve condemnation, but
that JT does not rely on the existence of these groups. He writes, “The
theory’s vestibule targets ‘all,’ ‘without exception,’ and so must apply as
well to the very inverse of this category of justly damned reprobates! Humble
or saintly people will be included within its indictment, at which point the
theory’s actual ground becomes plainly apparent. Indeed, it is only when we
focus this calculus on good people that we comprehend its real dynamic. Truly
humble saints, who have devoted their lives to the service of others–perhaps at
great personal risk–and who disclaim any
pretense of perfect virtue
, will also be condemned at the end of the age as
insufficiently righteous.” (46)   

The second attempt at theodicy is
to insist upon recognition of our depravity. Gad may seem unjust, but that is only because we don’t understand the depth
of our depravity. Campbell agrees that we don’t understand our depravity and
that it is legitimate for Christians
to reflect on their sinfulness, but he points out that it is incoherent to
insert this defense in a non-Christian
phase of salvation. He writes, “The darker the depraved non-Christian mind, the
more incoherent the divine expectation that important conclusions will be drawn
rationally from the construction of the cosmos.” (47)

The third attempt at theodicy is to
present the Gospel. However, this defense is only valid for those people who
are fortunate enough to hear it.

Campbell concludes, “This stringent
ethical demand by God for ethical perfection from essentially flawed human
beings does not seem reasonable or just. Judgment is not pending merely for
wicked and hypocritical people but also for kind, despairing, and even saintly
folk, and this seems fundamentally unjust
in terms of proportionality
.” (47)

What do you think? Does God demand a type of obedience that we are
unable to perform? Is this just? 

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