Douglas Campbell Interview

Douglas Campbell Interview



We had the honor and privilege to interview one of my favorite scholars and theologians - Douglas Campbell. Campbell's work is brilliant and life giving, challenging and liberating, while remaining extremely complex. For Campbell's biography see here.  We would whole heartily recommend reading his books - see here. 

1) How do you understand the term "apocalyptic" in Pauline scholarship? Many (myself) are confused on how this word is used, can you explain what this word means in Paul?

When I use this word (and I am not the only one to do this) I am referring to Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus, when God “revealed” or “disclosed” to him fairly directly that Jesus was His Son, and in fact the Son and so also his as in the LORD. This had important immediate consequences for Jesus’s followers, and for Paul’s (then Saul’s) behavior! But the key point to grasp is that we know about God, like Paul, because God has freely (and lovingly) reached out to reveal what He is like to us. And this is very very important.

It means that at the heart of Christian truth is a process that we are not in control of - Neither do we have direct access to the truth of God by way of our own efforts. We have to acknowledge that we know about God, and simply know God, because God has made things obvious to us – and this is very good news. The truth about God is much better positioned in the hands of God as against in our hands. In our hands, we would mess it up and distort it and get lost. If God is in charge of disclosing the truth about God in Christ to us, then we are in an invulnerable position precisely because it is not a position we have to create or to defend. God will guard it. This is what I and those like me mean when we appeal to an apocalyptic approach to Paul. 

I fear that this word has been rather unnecessarily confused in recent times by those who are unsympathetic to this approach to Christian truth. (They tend to want to stay in charge!) The word “apocalyptic,” like many words - strictly speaking, “signifiers” - can denote different things. So it can also refer to particular Jewish writings of a certain type in Paul’s day – writings like the book of Daniel. I have no problem with this. But it just isn’t what “apocalyptic” readers of Paul are talking about when they use it. They are using one of its other senses. They are picking the word out of a few key texts where Paul himself uses it to describe what happened to him – and that has to be fair, right?! Check out Galatians 1:15-16, followed by 1:11-12; Romans 1:16-17 (and 3:21-26); and 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 (word in v. 10); then Ephesians 3:2-7 (word group in vv. 3 and 5).

Basically, Paul said he was apocalyptic or “apocalypsed.” Jesus was revealed to him. Why don’t we all just accept this, and get on with other, more important discussions?

2) What is Romans 5-8 really about? What is Paul wanting his audience to know?

Paul is actually responding to two very practical questions here, but in responding to them he has to lay out his most important theological positions because they are such significant questions. Moreover, he has to lay these answers out rather fully because the Roman Christians have never been taught by him personally. So he can’t presuppose earlier teaching and make abbreviated allusions to it as he probably does in Galatians. And this is very fortunate for us!

Question 1. Is Christian behavior necessarily and fundamentally structured by the commands of Moses? Paul’s answer. No. But why? (This is a big move – think of converting someone to Christ and then saying “don’t worry about the Bible; we’re part of a Christian movement that has dumped it….”)

Paul’s answer – which I have to summarize brutally briefly here – is that Jewish teaching, like any other teaching, is powerless to change and to transform our basic nature that, in Adam, has been invaded and occupied by evil (5:12-14). Our minds are consequently besieged by evil thoughts (ch. 7), suggested by evil forces. So what we need is transformation, the Jewish notion for which is resurrection. And Paul points out that Christians have been joined to Christ by the work of the Spirit. So they have, miraculously, died with Him, and then been resurrected into His new glorious spiritual life with God. (Yay!) They have now, at the least, new minds that know God and can do what God wants. So this is the way forward. It’s a new ball game. 

Question 2. If we have dumped the commandments of Moses, what will happen on the final day of judgment, when we stand before God’s throne being assessed? Won’t we turn out to have failed to live righteous lives and so be susceptible to His anger, which will issue in turn in punishment and hellfire? 

Answer 2. No (again). God loves you. He has demonstrated this by sending His only Son to die for you when you hated Him (5:6-8). So God is on your side against all the things and powers that want to accuse, judge, and kill you, and when God is on your side, you’re in good shape. You’re going to win. Your relationship with Him is unbreakable. (Chill.)

3) You seem to have a high trinitarian theological perspective, can you explain why?

Well, for a number of reasons.

I think the Trinity is the heart of Christianity, principally because I think it describes the sort of God we are involved with. So I join my voice to all those forming, signing off on, and endorsing, the ecumenical creeds. I think they’re right and we have to defend these truths with our lives. 

I also think the Trinity is at work quite evidently in Paul’s life, and in the way he describes what is going on in his life – in his churches, and in the way he first founded those churches. 

But if you read my answer to the first question carefully, you would know that I witness to the truth of the Trinity, and confess it, because God has revealed God to me (to us) in these terms. God has shown us that Jesus is God present with us in person. We know this as the Spirit has revealed that. We have been brought into a relationship with a/the Father, his/the Son, and their Spirit. The Trinity is just what it is all about. It’s where we start – because it starts us there – and where we end up. Perhaps most importantly, the Trinity is both what and how we worship. 

4) What is the salvation Paul believed in? It seems that there are a plethora of views, how would you describe Paul's views concerning salvation?

I think I’ve probably already covered most of this in my answer to question two above when I addressed Paul’s understanding of ethics – which means that I also see Paul understanding salvation in Jesus in a participatory way that involves us and changes us. This is quite important too. (The atonement affects us concretely. We don’t just look at it “out there” a long time ago, and then go off and try to work out how and why we should be good people.)

But let me add here that Paul understood salvation like a good Jew, as resurrection and entry into the Age to Come. But the remarkable variations he proclaimed here were: (1) this has already started; we are part of this now, especially in our possession of new minds molded and shaped by the Spirit and by Christ’s mind; and (2) God has reached out, in love, to draw pagans, and not just His chosen people, the Jews, into this blessed reality. Remember also that this new resurrected reality has resolved our current problems because Jesus has assumed and carried our broken and blighted Adamic nature to the grave, executed it, and then been resurrected in a new spiritual state beyond sin and death. (Hallelujah!) What a great gospel! 

5) You have stressed liberation and freedom in your book, what do you mean by this? Does this liberation and freedom compromise a life of works?

You can probably see from what I’ve already said that there is something profoundly liberating about the life we live as Christians, tasting and experiencing concretely the risen life of Christ, beyond the struggles and horrors of the Adamic state. It’s as if we have been serious substance abusers but we’re now clean and making great progress through AA. It’s like night and day. We’re free from our seductive but deeply destructive habit. So it’s all about freedom (freedom “from”). But it also sets us free “to” act properly and well in a way we couldn’t before.

Does this compromise works? As Paul would probably have said: “heck no” (Greek mê genoito). We have been set free to act in a good way and should proceed to do so as vigorously as we can. 

When we sin we are pushing back against the life- and health-giving relationships that God has gifted to us in creation and then restored to us in the gospel. We are literally breaking our being. We are damaging ourselves – holding our feet out and sticking them into the fire. Why would we want to do that again after we have been set free? It makes no sense! (That won’t stop us of course which just goes to show that sin doesn’t make sense. It is senseless, which is to say, evil, evil being an ultimate lack of sense.) 

6) What do you hope people will see by reading your book on Paul?

I hope they will see a good, loving God more clearly. I hope they will connect Christ more strongly to God the Father and God the Spirit, and sense the great compassion and love of God – a love that surpasses our capacity to understand it. And I hope that they will sense better that great love that God has for those around us – especially for those we find difficult to love. And I hope that they will read Paul this way more consistently and enthusiastically. There are some tragic but very widespread misreading’s of Paul out there that get in the way of this dynamic message of compassion and inclusion. If the real Pauline gospel is grasped and let loose, then amazing things can happen.

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