Tuesday, February 2, 2010
The Conundrum of Paul's Roman Letter
Last week my copy of The Deliverance of God came via Amazon Books. It has been a while since I tackled a 1000 page book,(with small print, mind you). Douglas Campbell has written his life work after 20 years of thinking about Pauline Theology.
As an amateur Pauline Theologian who has himself been rethinking the essential questions of the Gospel for the last ten years I feel that I have been invited into the presence of a very gifted, and very patient scholar to discuss a very essential issue. ie. justification theory. He draws you into the conundrum with careful building block arguments, and I am loving it, have gotten through 100 pages with very many highlighted sentences and comments.
Richard Beck at Experiment Theology is way ahead of me in the book and in his ability to write a cogent review. I am indebted to him for interesting me in this scholarly research.
What is the issue? That reformation Theology has built a Justification Theory from Romans 1-4 that is fundamentally different the the Transformation Theory of Romans 5-8. We have read into Paul some concepts not from Paul's heart but Luther's experience. We have a hell bound guilty mass of humanity whose only hope is to move under Christ's atoning work through a process that involves declaring our inability to be saved by works, yet requires the rationality to believe and exercises our faith to be saved. Sinners are saved by deciding to follow Jesus, Hell and eternal punishment are the just end of a retributive God who will give everyone, Jew and gentile the just desert for their sin. Christ pays for the sins of those who ask.
Romans 5-8 posits a helpless humanity trapped in sin and unable to break out, thus God in Christ identifies with us in his incarnation and life and performs the first essential to the deliverance of helpless and hopeless sinners through His death, resurrection and life giving reconciliation of sinners while they were in that lost condition, God elects the helpless, not rewards the good responder. So God has compassion on the lost, and so do the saved since they received grace unconditionally. Evangelism and a whole lot of things change to balance out Paul's essentially inclusive and more positive and universal hope of Christ's complete restoration of Adam's fallen race.
Just getting started but that is his trajectory and it has been mine for a while.