SBL: Review of the Review Panel on the Deliverance of God

In a sense there is little need for me to summarize this important session at SBL.  Andy Rowell provides the audio of the session here and lists some reviews of the book here. The details of those who responded etc can be gleaned from those sources.  So what follows are my reflections not so much on the book (which I am still planning to discuss more fully here) but on the Review Panel itself (note: I had to sneak out part way through in order to sing Happy Birthday to my youngest daughter over the phone – if there is something I missed, I am sure others will let me know).

1.  It was a good session.  I am growing a little suspicious of the number of 'book review' sessions at SBL, suspecting that they may be driven as much by marketing considerations as by scholarly/academic criteria.  But in this case, the importance of Campbell's book was self-evident long before the meeting, and the session devoted to its review lived up to expectations, not least because Campbell himself is a consummate rhetorician.

2. Mike Gorman's response, admirably accompanied by operatic arias from the next room, was predictable, but none the worse for that. Gorman forecasted his criticisms of the book in his blog posts here and here. In short, he doesn't see why we need to read Romans 1-3 as an ironic, satirical, speech-in-character portrayal of the view of Paul's opponents/ 'The Teacher' for the rest of Campbell's insights to be valid.

3.  Douglas Moo's response was also predictable, but from my own point of view, in a less satisfactory manner. Echoing a number of Gorman's points, he then tried to engage Campbell at the level of exegetical detail, not least surrounding the interpretation of the key terms in Romans 3.21-26. For me this was less successful because I agree with Campbell's take on e.g. Paul's righteousness language, pistis Christou, view of the atonement, use of OT etc etc. I naturally am inclined to think that Campbell has the better of the arguments at precisely these points.

4. Moo's response set up that of Alan Torrance perfectly.  For me, Torrance's performance was the highlight of the show: a dogmatician teaching biblical scholars a thing or two about hermeneutics.  Torrance made what, to my mind, was a petty devastating case for understanding the western forms of justification theory as (a) shaped by the developing judicial and contractual accounts of human relations in post-biblical western society and (b) therefore having a deleterious effect on the history of a western theological tradition that in turn served to legitimate the worst aspects of the culture in which it was embedded (not least its endemic violence). To me it felt a bit like Obama giving his inauguration speech with Bush sitting right there in front of him.  Torrance seemed to be saying to Moo (not personally, but as a representative of the traditional mode of interpretation) 'you think that what you are doing is (a) self-evidently right and (b) ethically innocuous – well think again'. Anyone who has read the preface to Campbell's book will know that the anxiety of influence here is complex, and that Campbell's initial re-assessment of Paul was prompted by reading Torrance's assessment of the effects of federal calvinism.  Anyway, I thought that Torrance was the star of the show.

5.  Campbell's response to these three was rigorous, humorous and, to the extent that he located his reading of Romans 1-3 in a broader literary and social context of satire and lampooning, illuminating. However, I am left with two questions, both of which lead me to think further about whether Chris Tilling is right when he suggests that 'I don't think anyone provided a clear refutation of his exegetical claims – at least in the session'.  Maybe not a clear refutation – but for me the conviction needs to come in the following areas. First, the suggestion made by Gorman and Tom Wright (and apparently Richard Hays, see the comments to Chris's post) in a question to the effect that Romans 1-3 can represent Paul's view without making it into a soteriological or epistemological 'foundation' seems to me to be more economical an explanation that the suggestion that it is, in part, not least 1.18-32, a speech-in-character. Secondly, at this stage I am less than convinced that Jerusalem stands behind Rome as the key exigence for the letter. I haven't got there yet in the book, but is 'The Teacher' ever named?  Is it James? Peter?  Final decisions must await complete engagement with the book, but at the moment these are my two areas of questioning.

What is undoubtedly true is that somehow the insights from this book that generate some degree of consensus now needs to be proclaimed from the rooftops: not just what an apocalyptic Paul looks like, but most importantly (as Torrance showed us) why this stuff matters.