Thursday, January 22, 2015

Book Review: Campbell's The Deliverance of God

There are certain books that you have to read in your field, whether you want to or not. Wright's Paul and the Faithfulness of God is one of them if you hope to be any kind of expert on Paul. I've come to admit that Douglas Campbell's The Deliverance of God is another. It's 936 pages.

Campbell teaches at Duke Divinity School but is originally from New Zealand. He also taught in London for a few years.

I see in this exhaustive, methodical tome a glimpse of my teenage self. His first chapter is an analytical philosopher's dream, a theologian's version of Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. In these opening pages, he tries to paint a picture of what he's about to do and why he's about to do it the way he's going to do it.

I find it a bit tedious at this stage of my life, but he's earned my endurance. I'll keep going and see try to keep an open-ish mind.

Some thoughts on the Preface, Introduction, and first chapter:
  • I would be offended if I taught with him in Otago (xxv). Apparently there was nothing there to stimulate his brain cells.
  • You can see that he is going to critique prevailing interpretations of Paul for being 1) individualist, 2) conditional, and 3) contractual. Here are also the first hints that I'm not going to end up going with him. I don't think Paul would have formulated himself necessarily in these terms, but to do what he's doing, I think Paul inevitably sets the stage for these three.
  • I don't have a problem with Campbell starting with somewhat of a draft that he then will deconstruct and eventually newly construct from scratch...
  • ... but I agree with the thought that his starting point is somewhat of a straw man. There were contractual, conditional arrangements in the ancient world long before Kant. He starts with a modernist draft of Paul that should rightly be deconstructed. But there are other "contractual" models that would be right at home in the ancient world (e.g., patron-client relationships assume a certain informal contract; suzerainty treaties were a sort of contractual arrangement). Again, he's going to deconstruct this starting point anyway, so it doesn't matter much to me at this point, other than the fact that I'm having to read through all this material he's going to later throw away.
  • He says we should assume coherence until we see otherwise. I'm very fine with this. The question is, "When we are working 'too hard' just to maintain the assumption of coherence?"
  • I'm fine with the idea of doing a hermeneutical circle. Start with a draft. Critique, revise, redraft. Repeat as necessary. There seems to be a "jump in at any point" dimension to the book, which is fine, although I intend to go from beginning to end.
  • He sets out in numbered form a modernist, Kantian version of justification as a contract. It's very propositionally set out and is the bulk of the first chapter. It's not worth critiquing because it's just a draft he's going to unravel. Patience, Ken. Be patient.
  • He ends chapter 1 with some recourse to Lakoff and Johnson's ideas of root metaphors. He mentions the fundamental anthropological and theological metaphors in the propositional structure of contemporary justification thinking. Again, since he's going to deconstruct these, I'm being patient. I will say that meaning is always synchronous, even if the diachronic sometimes leaves traces, artifacts in the synchronous. But metaphors aren't truly metaphors if they're dead in current usage. In that case, they've taken on a plain meaning. We might even say that they have become literal, though once metaphorical. 

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