Creation, Conflict and Cosmos: Plenary 1 (Stephen Westerholm)

The first plenary session in the Princeton conference on Romans 5–8 was by Stephen Westerholm on the topic of "Righteousness: Cosmic and Microcosmic"

Taking his cue from Paul's dikaiosune language in Romans 5:1 and 5:19 Westerholm sought to spell out the overall meaning and purpose of Paul's righteousness and faith language within his theology. The argument would be unsurprising to anyone who knows Westerholm's work. Righteousness is a category of cosmic morality: the ordering of the universe towards which human life (individual and communal) can be directed, or not, and in line with which human behaviour can (or can not) correspond. God's dikaiosune is God's action in re-ordering a disordered world. Paul's contribution lies in the largely pessimistic assessment of human capacity to be righteous, an assessment that is retrospective in the light of the Christ event, as well as the emphasis on faith as the believing response to the word of the gospel.

This soteriological framework, present in Romans 5.1 and drawing out all that Paul has been saying about the exemplary role of Abraham as 'believer' in Romans 4, is really what makes Paul tick. The language of 5:19, and the more objective, inclusive, perhaps even universal dimensions of Paul's soteriology, are to be read in the light of the basic righteouness/faith paradigm as outlined above.

As usual, Westerholm steered a path between aspects of the 'traditional' (pre-New Perspective), New Perspective and apocalyptic readings of Paul. The first question was asked, as one might expect, by Douglas Campbell who, rightly in my view, challenged the 'having your cake and eating it' aspects of Westerholm's presentation. Does God's 'No' to a disordered universe ground God's 'Yes' in the Christ event, or is it the other way round? My own concern was especially around Westerholm's use of wisdom literature as the primary matrix for understanding the meaning of righteousness within Judaism. By appealing to notions of 'the order of the universe' as something epistemologically and theologically prioor to notions of covenant, election and, of course, Christology, Westerholm continutes to read Paul primarily as a theologian of the human condition.