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 7–Problems
of Conversion 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 is
inconsistent with what we know about conversion–both in what we know
empirically about how people actually convert, and in what we know about how
Paul himself converted.

Campbell argues that most people do
not become Christians by means of navigating phases one and two of JT. More
important to conversion are human networks, rational choice, and predisposing
conditions. In other words, people are most likely to convert from one religion
to another when their social ties to the new religion are stronger than their
ties to the old one (Campbell follows Rodney Stark, 130-33). People also
convert when they perceive a new religion to offer them something of benefit
(following Stark again, 133-34). Finally, converts are usually young, educated,
unattached, and “seeking” (following John Lofland, 134-36). JT may be a useful post-conversion explanation of one’s
conversion, but it doesn’t explain why
people convert.

Further, JT doesn’t fit with
explanations of Paul’s conversion. It would be odd for Paul to endorse a
theology that didn’t explain his own conversion. Paul explains his conversion
in Galatians 1:12-16 and Philippians 3:4-11. His conversion is explained by
Luke in Acts 9:1-22, 22:3-21, and 26:12-23. Of these, only Philippians 3:4-11
comes close to using the language of JT. However, even there Paul doesn’t speak
of his pre-Christian existence in terms of despair. He says that he was
“blameless” (3:6), and that he only realized the uselessness of his works after he converted (3:7-11). The other
passages speak of Paul’s conversion in terms of revelation and commissioning
to preach to the Gentiles.

Campbell notes that there is no
mention of Paul’s conversion in the major justification texts and that there is
no mention of justification in the main conversion texts. He concludes: “Not
only is the linkage between Paul’s
Justification discussions and he references to his conversion absent, but the
latter texts contain no explicit mention of
Justification, which means in turn that there
is no direct evidence that the apostle’s conversion took place in accordance
with that theory’s expectations
. We expect a journey through a long
struggle with sin illuminated by the law before the bar of God’s stern justice,
to the relief of justification by faith alone (and as certain texts from Luther
arguably suggest). But we never get these.”

What do you think about this? Why did you become a Christian? Where you searching for an answer to your
“sin problem” as revealed to you in nature, or did you realize your “sin
problem” through preaching and/or reading the Bible? Does JT explain your
conversion? Does it explain Paul’s conversion? Campbell does not discuss 1
Timothy 1:12-17 because of the methodological difficulties that would present.
If we consider them, do they change anything?  

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