Douglas Campbell’s “Pauline Dogmatics”: A Mini Book Review

Douglas Campbell is one of the world’s top 20 (if not 10) Pauline scholars around, and this book will likely cement this position.

Pauline Dogmatics is named after Campbell’s theological hero, Karl Barth (and HIS big book) and is a systematic theology based on Paul’s letters (from which Campbell excludes as pseudographical 1 and 2 Tim and Titus).

Campbell’s breadth and command of material is no joke. Whatever you think of his POV, the guy has certainly parsed everything there is to say about a Pauline topic and how to read it. At one point in this book he offered 16(!) hermeneutical principles to evaluate any given passage (affirming, avoiding, reconstructing, comparison, etc.); talk about laying the cards out on the table.

His Deliverance of God published a few years back was considered a milestone for its “apocalyptic” reading of Romans. (I know I haven’t got all the details down pat, but) his theology is about God’s sudden/unexpected/gift-filled revelation which transforms everything, necessitating a ‘rethinking’ (or reversed slash re-comprehension) of the Biblical story. God’s salvation is pure gift which saves, but also does so in a way which problematizes pre-Resurrection understandings of the plight of Man.

I guess you could say Campbell takes a “road to Damascus” theology in which, in some blinding flash of light, everything changes and the whole world is re-thought from that point on and if you disagree well, sorry, there’s no “common ground” for discussion. [This is one of the portions of this work I kept shaking my head on: Campbell’s anti-foundationalism, as in you either start with Jesus’ resurrection or we simply can’t reason and debate. This kind of epistemology and his universalism would be my chief complaints]

Campbell is certainly not “Old Perspective of Paul” but he’s explicitly not “NPP” either. Unlike folks like NT Wright, he happily declares Paul’s theology to be internally unstable at places and of course, uh, proceeds to ‘correct’ the apostle for the imposition of his “Jewish ethno-structures which lack Christological warrant”. Put simply, Campbell thinks Paul can be out-dated at times, esp on gender (smile).

Personally, one of his concepts I found fresh and worth pondering was the ‘resurrected mind’. Campbell says even though Christians await the future resurrection of the body, our minds are ALREADY resurrected in a sense (Col 3:3, 2 Cor 5:17, and other ‘new creation’ verses).

I also appreciate his endorsement of 100% patience and non-violence as the Christian’s MO; he even sorta endorsed Greg Boyd’s “divine Aikido” view of how God’s wrath works i.e. by God allowing slash ‘exploiting’ the sinfulness of people to create situations in which the sinner punishes himself via his own sins.

Also interestingly, especially for inter-disciplinarians, Campbell’s work offers new ways of looking at things. For eg, he uses Einstein’s theory of relativity, particularly the idea that time is a field, to explain how Christians who die are ‘with’ Christ ASAP (in objective reality, not just to consciousness) whilst at the same time we who are still alive endure through time. He also uses an audio analogy to explain how we experience both the Spirit and the Flesh competing within our being, it’s like having both Bach and heavy metal playing in the same room (you have to turn down one to hear the other, but both co-exists within the same space).

Such illustration permeate the entire book and makes for accessible reading (this 750-page Kong surprisingly took me only 2 weeks to complete, compared to NT Wright’s 1,000-page Godzilla which I haven’t been able to finish since 2013, baru 70–80%!). This is probably why Scot McKnight highly recommend this as a sort of pastoral ‘manual’ based on Paul.

Maybe not for everyone, but definitely worth getting for a church or seminary library.

Edu-trainer, Žižek studies, amateur theologian, columnist.