Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Justification and Politics?

I'm currently reading through Douglas Campbell's Deliverance of God as mentioned in my previous post. So far it's been pretty good but one consistent critique that I've encountered in virtually every review I read of this book is its length. One particular scholar, Beverly Roberts Gaventa, summarizes this critique as such in Christian Century:

"This is a book that deserves to be read, but virtually every conversation I have heard about the volume has touched on its formidable length (some of which is in small print). Campbell insists that his project requires such length if he is to bring down the citadel of Justification theory. I fear that the length is self-defeating, as it means that only the most determined specialist will work through to the end, and Campbell will have lost the readers he most wants to persuade."

On some levels, I think I can agree, I'm currently on page 305 and he's still clearing the ground, so to speak, so that he can eventually lay down his own interpretive framework, namely, an apocalyptic reading of Paul. Be that as it may, it's been very instructive so far and in this subsection titled 'Justification and Liberal Political Individualism,' Campbell looks into John Locke's political theory to see how the Justification paradigm fits with Locke's own program, furthering its own agenda while circumventing the need to have a tight connection to the Pauline texts themselves to establish the paradigm as viable. In one subpoint, Campbell lays out a pretty strong critique:

"In addition to its enjoyment of four significant affinities with liberal politics — individual contracts, the notion of consent, the privatization of religion, and the characterization of all human relationships in terms of a discourse of currency — Justification is unable to protest very vigorously against liberal politics ... Special revelation associated with either the Scriptures or the Christian dispensation is limited to the private sphere and constrained by the individual's need for faith alone. And tradition and institutional control are repudiated as not genuinely religious. Moreover, Justification finds it notoriously difficult to generate any significant ethical observance from its converts (indeed, it arguable cannot generate this). The theory is hostile to any religious activity beyond faith, labeling it derisively as "works." The ecclesia constituted by the theory remains similarly weak; it is fundamentally individualist, confessional, and voluntarist, rooted in consent. It can ask very little from its converts. And these limitations raise a frightening prospect."

I'm still on this chapter, so we'll see where this all leads. Meanwhile, it seems that the axe that Campbell is grinding is getting bigger and bigger...


Michael said...

It seems like he took a lot of heat for this work, but from what I've actually read of it I like it. And at 1,300 pages it would surely be a treat. If I recall correctly you'll be studying under Campbell at Duke? You are very fortunate Mike.

Mike S. said...

Michael: I didn't realize he took "a lot of heat" for DoG, but I guess I'm not surprised, considering he decided to take on centuries worth of reading Paul. It's definitely a hefty book (I think it surpasses my next largest book by almost 700 pages!), but as you said, from what I've read, I don't have too much problems with what he says. I don't know if I agree with everything, but his methodology seems sound and he lays out his arguments very thoroughly (hence the length).

And yes, I will be taking his Pauline theology seminar next semester, and we'll see afterwards if you could still call me "fortunate"! :)