Category Archives: eerdmans

Pauline Dogmatics: The Triumph of God’s Love

The eschatological heart of Paul’s gospel in his world and its implications for today

Drawing upon thirty years of intense study and reflection on Paul, Douglas Campbell offers a distinctive overview of the apostle’s thinking that builds on Albert Schweitzer’s classic emphasis on the importance for Paul of the resurrection. But Campbell—learning here from Karl Barth—traces through the implications of Christ for Paul’s thinking about every other theological topic, from revelation and the resurrection through the nature of the church and mission. As he does so, the conversation broadens to include Stanley Hauerwas in relation to Christian formation, and thinkers like Willie Jennings to engage post-colonial concerns.

But the result of this extensive conversation is a work that, in addition to providing a description of Paul’s theology, also equips readers with what amounts to a Pauline manual for church planting. Good Pauline theology is good practical theology, ecclesiology, and missiology, which is to say, Paul’s theology belongs to the church and, properly understood, causes the church to flourish. In these conversations Campbell pushes through interdisciplinary boundaries to explicate different aspects of Pauline community with notions like network theory and restorative justice.

The book concludes by moving to applications of Paul in the modern period to painful questions concerning gender, sexual activity, and Jewish inclusion, offering Pauline navigations that are orthodox, inclusive, and highly constructive.

Beginning with the God revealed in Jesus, and in a sense with ourselves, Campbell progresses through Pauline ethics and eschatology, concluding that the challenge for the church is not only to learn about Paul but to follow Jesus as he did.

Table of Contents
Part 1: Resurrection

1. Jesus
2. Vigilance
3. A God of Love
4. A God of Story
5. Resurrection & Death
6. Resurrection & Sin
7. Defending Resurrection
8. Election

Part 2: Formation

9. A Learning Community
10. Leaders
11. Love is All You Need
12. Loving as Giving
13. Loving as Faithfulness
14. Loving as Peacemaking
15. Loving as Enjoying

Part 3: Mission

16. An Apostolic Foundation
17. Defining the Other
18. The Triumph of Love
19. Mission as Friendship

Part 4: Navigation

20. Missional Diversity
21. Evaluating Paganism
22. Transforming Paganism
23. Request Ethics
24. Rethinking Creation
25. Navigating Sex and Marriage
26. Navigating Gender
27. Beyond Colonialism
28. Beyond Supersessionism
29. The Pastor’s Wisdom

A review copy arrived some time back, for which I thank the publisher.  Eerdman’s also published Campbell’s previous big volume, ‘The Deliverance of God’, which I did not at all like.  I happen, in fact, to agree with Bruce Clark’s take as published in the Tyndale Bulletin.  Of that earlier work, Clark wrote

Campbell launches a sustained attack against traditional theological conceptions of justification and aims to free Romans 1-4 (on which these conceptions seemingly rest) from a widespread rationalistic, contractual, individualistic (mis)reading, which gains its plausibility only by the modernistic theological superstructure forced upon it. Campbell then presents an in-depth re-reading of Romans 1-4 (as well as parts of chs. 9-11, Gal. 2-3, Phil. 3), in which Paul engages in a highly complex, ‘subtle’ polemic, creatively employing ‘speech-in-character’ as a means of subverting a Jewish Christian ‘Teacher’ whose visit to Rome threatens to undermine the Roman Christians’ assurance of salvation. Campbell argues that justification is participatory and liberative: Christ’s death and resurrection constitute the ‘righteousness/deliverance of God’, by which he justifies, or delivers, an enslaved humanity from the power of sin. This article concentrates primarily on Campbell’s own exegesis, concluding that, while important aspects of Campbell’s critique of both “justification theory” and traditional readings of Romans 1-4 must be carefully considered, his own exegesis is not only ingenious, asking too much of Paul and the letter’s auditors, but altogether untenable at key points.

Untenable is the right word.  It was, then, with no slight ‘fear and trembling’ that I made my way into Campbell’s nearly as big book this time.  Would it’s argument, too, be essentially untenable?  Would it suffer from the same sorts of eisegetical mis-steps?  And would its massive size (over 700 pages) be off-putting?

The answer to those questions cannot be either yes or no.  Instead, the answers to those questions and others is that the volume at hand is ‘complicated’.  On one hand, Campbell is a very good writer; and on the other, he tends to verbosity.  What could be said more briefly, without losing profundity, is instead said at sometimes numbing length.

In the movie ‘Amadeus’ there’s a scene where the Emperor encourages Mozart to cut the score of his opera down a bit, the Emperor exasperatingly remarking, ‘There are too many notes’.  Mozart reacts with a bit of dislike, ‘There are just as many notes as required, Majesty’.  And I suspect that Prof. Campbell would have the same reaction if he were to hear that his book has too many words.  But there are only so many words the mind can process before it grows overwhelmed.

Fortunately, the present work is on better footing than the previous ‘Deliverance’.  Though there are still places where Campbell’s exegesis is more like eisegesis.  In, for example, the chapter titled ‘Navigating Sex and Marriage’, Campbell seems to be trying much too hard to make ancient texts modern.  Campbell notes, e.g., on page 598, that Paul thinks in a ‘binary’ way.  How else would Paul have thought?  How else would anyone in all of the history of Christianity have thought about such issues except in binary terms before the last decade?

Furthermore, in the ‘Theses’ section of the chapter Campbell does his best to move readers beyond a traditional sexual ethic in order to encourage them to embrace a wider perspective on love and marriage.  This, of course, has nothing to do with Paul and everything to do with setting Paul aside and moving beyond him to a modern sexual ethic.  Paul is no longer the object of the study, but rather is merely the launching pad for a progressive Christian theological perspective.  Note Campbell’s wording in the final thesis:

‘The churches need to be concretely supportive and restorative here (as they should also be for any others burdened by these structures and their function)’ (p. 620).

In sum, traditional ethics are a burden placed on teens and when said teens wish to explore other avenues of sexual expression, churches should help to unburden them.

What we have, then, in short, is a treatment of Pauline theology that is really a description of Campbell’s own theology.  In much the same way that Karl Barth’s treatment of ‘Romans’ was more Barth than Paul, Campbell’s ‘Pauline Dogmatics’ is more Campbell than Pauline.

Which brings me to the next observation concerning Campbell’s book:  he is too dependent on Barth and not dependent enough on exposition of texts.  There is scarcely a segment of the book that doesn’t call on Barth’s testimony in an effort to make the case but there is very little exposition throughout.  This, though, in its own way fits nicely into Campbell’s appreciation of Barth, since Barth, too, had little interest in the text of Scripture aside from using it as a spring-board for his own intentions.

Another oddity in terms of the book’s contents is what is NOT included.  The title of the book is ‘Pauline Dogmatics’, which leads one to suspect that the chief theological concerns of Paul will appear at some point.  Yet, strikingly absent, is a chapter or even a section on ‘Justification’.  Indeed, the word does not even appear in the subject index.  Once.

Even casual readers of Paul are familiar with his interest in justification.  One merely needs to read Romans 1-6 and that becomes abundantly clear.  Yet a volume titled ‘Pauline Dogmatics’ has deemed it less important a topic than ‘Colonialism’, which Paul would have known nothing about (in terms of the modern notion of colonialism), which nonetheless has a chapter all its own.

Mind you, I enjoyed reading this great big volume.  I liked the fact that Campbell gives readers short subsections to break up the massive thing.  I like the fact that Campbell offers ‘theses’ at the end of each chapter which nicely summarize the argument of each.  I like the ‘key scriptural references’ section at the end of each chapter too, although these are a tad cherry picked and don’t necessarily include texts showing different perspectives (Paul, after all, was the kind of guy who contradicted himself).

Each chapter also has a short ‘key reading, further reading, and bibliography.  And, unsurprisingly, Barth appears – constantly.

Before you go away thinking I disapprove of this book, I don’t.  I like it.  I just wish it had a different title.  I would call it ‘Campbell’s Dogmatics’.  And leave Paul out of it.  Since, as far as I can tell, Paul isn’t in it anyway.

God’s Spies

This interesting volume arrived some weeks back and I have enjoyed reading it very much.  The publisher’s notice says

East Germany only existed for a short forty years, but in that time, the country’s secret police, the Stasi, developed a highly successful “church department” that—using persuasion rather than threats—managed to recruit an extraordinary stable of clergy spies. Pastors, professors, seminary students, and even bishops spied on colleagues, other Christians, and anyone else they could report about to their handlers in the Stasi.

Thanks to its pastor spies, the Church Department (official name: Department XX/4) knew exactly what was happening and being planned in the country’s predominantly Lutheran churches. Yet ultimately it failed in its mission: despite knowing virtually everything about East German Christians, the Stasi couldn’t prevent the church-led protests that erupted in 1989 and brought down the Berlin Wall.

The work reads more like a spy thriller than a work of non-fiction and it tells the genuinely appalling story of the ease with which Pastors were persuaded to inform on others to the East German government.  It tells the story of the willingness of pastors and university theologians to cast their lot in with the State against the Church.  It shows, in stunning detail, the means by which the State co-opted willing Pastors and by doing so undermined the Gospel’s very proclamation.

The biggest mistake the Church ever made was to baptize Constantine.  The second biggest mistake it ever made was to follow Luther’s doctrine of the ‘two kingdoms’.  And the third biggest mistake it has made is a combination of those two things: the submersion of truth and faith to political interests.  The story here told makes that painfully clear.

Braw begins her tale of woe with personal remembrances of her family in Sweden and her grandfather’s interaction with East German Pastors who, it turned out, were working for the government.  She then tells of her interviews with leaders of the East German government’s Church division as well as details she gleaned from talking to Pastors who both collaborated with the government and who stood in opposition to the State.

The most amazing thing about this story is its contemporary relevance to the American church; for it too is being pressured to submit to State power and manipulation.  And there are many clerics and high profile Evangelical leaders like Robert Jeffress, Franklin Graham, Eric Metaxas, and Jerry Falwell Jr who are doing their best to meld the Church and the State in the same way that the Church and State were melded in the East German spies whose ultimate goal was to advance an ideology (Communism) at the expense of the Gospel.

There really is nothing new under the sun. The temptation for the Church has always been to clutch on to worldly power.  And we are seeing that again in our time just as the East German church officials saw it in theirs.  Just as Constantine saw it in his.

Constantinianism, then, is the threat posed by the East German government and the American Right.  And Constantinianism will always be a threat until the Church as a whole realizes that man cannot serve God and something, anything else.

In sum, this volume is a reminder of what happens to a State when its Christians become its agents instead of the agents of the Gospel.  It is an important warning and one that needs to be heeded.  I commend it to you.

An Interview with James R. Edwards- Author of ‘Between the Swastika and the Sickle: The Life, Execution, and Disappearance of Ernst Lohmeyer’

Q. Your book is a fantastic example of the biographical genre. What is it about biographies, in your estimation that are so engaging?

A. Yes, biographies have a special power! I think they are engaging because peoples’ lives are generally more interesting than are ideas alone. But for me personally there is something more. I almost never act on something, even if I believe it is true and right, unless I see someone else act on it. That’s the advantage and power of a biography—we see the virtue in action, and that changes lives.

Q. There are several instances in your book where you mention biographical details from your own life. What led you to make the decision to do this?

A. Very perceptive question. Ernst Lohmeyer was a German who died seventy-five years ago, and he spoke no English and never came to America. That separates him from an American reading audience big time. I nevertheless believe that his life is worthy of being remembered, and that his witness has special relevance for us today, even in America. I tried to share some of my own story, especially as it intersected with the quest to solve the mystery of his disappearance and death, to provide a bridge for readers into Lohmeyer’s story.

Q. Your autobiographical remarks are extremely interesting. Do you have plans to write an autobiography?

A. Well, I have not thought of my life as having autobiographical significance. I would have to think more about that.

Q. We have a connection with Professor Eduard Schweizer in common, who lectured in our New Testament Seminar at Southeastern Seminary. I found him amazingly engaging. He made a remark that has stayed with me all these years: American scholars are afraid, oftentimes, to offer original ideas. Instead they feel obliged to argue on the basis of what is already known. But this hardly moves scholarship forward, which is why cutting-edge Biblical scholarship is European. Would you agree with that sentiment?

A. Great to hear of your contact with Eduard Schweizer. He is indeed engaging—a first-class New Testament scholar and theologian, committed to the church, and genuinely interpersonal and affable. I have two responses about his comment that American scholars are afraid to offer original ideas, choosing rather to stay on more beaten academic paths. First, American scholars have certainly pioneered the social context of the Bible, and especially the New Testament, and this is a significant contribution (although much of this contribution has taken place since Schweizer wrote). But there is some truth to his comment. It must be remembered that Germans had a two-century head-start in Biblical studies over American scholars, so it is not surprising that Americans have been playing “catch-up” for much of the 20th century. But there is another and more serious reason why his comment is important. American scholars have not been trained as rigorously in ancient languages—Hebrew, Greek, Latin—as have German scholars. Even today in Germany, scholars in the humanities hand out Latin texts untranslated, assuming students’ proficiency in reading the original. When I studied in Zürich and later in Tübingen, students in both Old and New Testament courses would open their Biblia Hebraica or Nestle-Aland New Testament (and this was before Readers Editions that define infrequently occurring words at the bottom of the page!) and cite-read from the original Hebrew and Greek in class. It is rare to find comparable proficiency in ancient languages in American theology students, even in doctoral students. Weakness in ancient language proficiency keeps one a step removed from ancient texts, and that distance from original texts reduces the ability to be ground-breaking. The same distance almost inevitably increases one’s dependence on secondary literature, and preoccupation with secondary literature is more likely to be redundant than original.

Q. Schweizer wrote a series of commentaries on the Gospels. How would you rate his treatment of Mark compared to Lohmeyer’s?

A. Good question. Very briefly, Lohmeyer was more independent in his scholarship, insisting on seeing Gospels as “wholes” rather than dismembered into fragments as form and redaction critics saw them. Schweizer was a student of Bultmann, and he was influenced by Bultmann’s form criticism and historical skepticism. Some of Schweizer’s comments about the text can strike American students as dismissive. Nevertheless, Schweizer regularly makes comments that are both simple and brilliant, stimulating readers, and especially preachers and teachers, with marvelous insights into the text.

Q. Prof. Lohmeyer is known in America, I think, only among a generation of older New Testament specialists. What provoked you to seek to make him known to a far wider public?

A. Yes, Lohmeyer is known only to a shrinking circle of American New Testament scholars. I doubt my book will rekindle the reading of his books, at least in America—for with only two exceptions all Lohmeyer’s books remain in German—but I hope it will awaken an interest in the significance of his life and thought. Lohmeyer’s work, especially in the Gospels, has weathered far better than that of most of his contemporaries, including Bultmann. The reason for this is that Lohmeyer gave preference to original texts over secondary literature, and this gave his work freshness and insight that has endured. Another scholar of the era who did the same was Adolf Schlatter, and his works, too, continue today to be read with profit. Regarding the significance of Lohmeyer’s life, his personal integrity in resisting Nazism and Soviet communism, and paying for the latter with his life, makes him more than a great scholar. It makes him a modern martyr, in my mind, whose example and witness is increasingly relevant in the world today.

Q. Tell us about Lohmeyer’s marriage to his wife Melie.

A. Lohmeyer and Melie met, and they prospered in marriage, because of the strong meeting of their minds. They loved the medium of words in their relationship. They wrote literally thousands of letters to each other in the course of their lifetimes. They even wrote letters when they weren’t apart. They were almost like the two lobes, right and left, of one brain. This description of marriage is quite foreign today for those of us who think of marriage primarily in terms of emotions and feelings rather than thoughts and words. The challenge for us moderns is in cultivating marriages of substance and character; the challenge for Lohmeyer and Melie was not to allow their love to grow cold.

Q. As far as I know, there is only one German biography of Lohmeyer. What do you think is the reasons for this?

A. Yes, there has been only one major biography before mine. And there is a reason for this. When the Soviets arrested and executed Ernst Lohmeyer, they put a blackout on his name, his works, and his memory in communist East Germany. The Soviet Union did not fall until 1990, which means that the blackout on Ernst Lohmeyer lasted nearly a whole generation, from 1946-1990. In 1979 I mentioned Lohmeyer’s name in a public meeting in Greifswald, East Germany, the city where he was arrested and executed, and my doing so sparked something of a minor crisis. Lohmeyer was executed as “enemy of the state,” and anyone who tried to find out about him became an “enemy of the state” as well. That quashed the possibility of a genuine biography until the 1990. By then people may have thought that it would be impossible to resuscitate him from such long obscurity.

Q. I couldn’t help but think of contemporary issues as I read through your narrative. The rise of nationalism, xenophobia, hate speech, etc. all have very current parallels. Do you see parallels between German in the 1930s and America today?

A. Yes, unfortunately. The world we have known is changing greatly. Think of it: the EU and NATO that have brought seventy-years of peace and prosperity to Europe never seen before are being dismantled in favor of nationalism and isolation. We see an upsurge of fear of immigrants, promotion of self over the common good, rise of meanness and malice, loss of charity and compassion, sacrifice of personal virtue for the goals of wealth and power, and the favoring of autocracy over democracy. When I went to Germany in the fall of 2016 to write my biography of Lohmeyer, I thought I was producing a work of history. But as I pondered the above changes it stuck me that Lohmeyer’s story was not just historical. It is prophetic!

Q. Lohmeyer suffered horrible mistreatment by both Nazis and communists. Why do you think the Russians, especially, were bent on destroying him?

A. Totalitarianisms are cruel, and both Nazism and Soviet communism vented their cruelty on Lohmeyer. Totalitarianism depends on one thing above all else: fear. If tyrants can make people fear them, they can control them. Most people are vulnerable to fear, and that contributes to the success of totalitarianisms. Lohmeyer was also vulnerable to fear, of course, but he chose not to succumb to fear, and hence he was unable to be controlled by communist threats. He was a person of moral conviction and courage, intellectual independence, and indomitable faith. When the Soviets saw that he was unintimidated by their terror and might, they had no choice but to arrest him on false charges, convict him on false charges, and execute him. He lived a hard life. But it is important to remember the most important thing about his life: the future always lies with virtue, not with vice. Virtue empowers life; vice warps life. Today, there are streets and squares in Germany named for those resisted Nazi and communist oppressions, streets named for Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sophie and Hans Scholl, Martin Niemoeller, and yes, Ernst Lohmeyer. There are no streets named for Adolf Hitler or Heinrich Himmler. People won’t even name their dogs Adolf.

Q. What are you currently working on?

A. I am currently writing a book on how the Jesus movement in the Gospels became what we know as the Christian church. It’s entitled, From Christ to Christianity. How the Jesus Movement Became the Christian Church in One Lifetime (Baker). When we read the Gospels, we see a Jesus movement that was Palestinian, rural, Jewish, Hebrew- and Aramaic-speaking, associated with synagogues, worshipped on sabbath, staffed with apostles, and so forth. Only seventy-five years later, Ignatius of Antioch witnesses to a vastly different Christian movement that was pulsating throughout the Roman Empire, urban, Gentile, Greek-speaking, worshiping in churches on Sunday rather than Saturday, overseen by bishops and elders, and so on. In the space of one lifetime the forms of the Jesus movement changed more than they have in the 2,000 years since the death of Jesus. And yet, the DNA of the movement, its essence in the salvation brought in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ remains unchanged. Pretty exciting! That’s worth a book.

JW– I look forward to reading it! Thank you, Professor, for your time. And thank you most especially for a book that I think is one of the most interesting written in recent years.