CWR Review – Douglas Campell’s “Pauline Dogmatics” by Matt Hyam

A Review of Pauline Dogmatics, by Douglas Campbell, Eerdmans, 2020.

“Theology is the linguistic outworking in truth of our developing love affair with the God revealed in Jesus.”

– Douglas Campbell

“Theology is the linguistic outworking in truth of our developing love affair with the God revealed in Jesus.”1

When this book arrived, it needed two people to carry it, as it is only slightly smaller than my car,2 and when I finished it, I was certainly expecting to be presented with a t-shirt proclaiming, “Pauline Dogmatics – Finisher 2020”. Alas, this never happened.

            First, I should say that I find it hard to even wrap my head around the idea of how someone could write this book. As the name suggests, it is essentially Campbell’s take on “theology according to Paul”, which, as you can imagine, covers a huge range of topics. I take my hat of to him because, to be able to have such a strong grasp on such a broad range of things and to be so familiar with Paul is simply incredible.

            Second, I should say that I loved the book and I think that, if you have a big enough house to store a copy, you should read it! It is absolutely fantastic. Campbell has made me rethink things that I did not know were even up for rethinking. His insight is only matched by the amply evident pastoral care that is at the core of everything that he says. That said, given the huge scope of the book, it would be worrying if I agreed with everything, but we can come onto that.

            For me, the core of this thesis is Campbell’s challenge to foundationalism, by which (I think) he means theology built on anything other than the revelation of God through Jesus. This theme runs through the book and is reviewed in every chapter and topic. The fundamental premise is that by starting with another foundation than Jesus, we end up building in dangerous ways. If we read Paul’s letters, “in terms of a fundamentally legalistic and retributive God, and in terms of a punitive atonement and contractual salvific terms,” then we end up with “a deep misreading of Paul’s gospel…and the destructive ramifications of false accounts of the gospel are far-reaching.”3 Campbell’s contrasting of this with an understanding that, “the revealed truth about the nature of God in Jesus is a gift from God to us, and this particular gift is one over which we have absolutely no jurisdiction,”4 is highly significant and applied throughout his book to various subjects to challenge assumptions. He unveils the subsequent dangerous dogmatics that many have embraced, and helps us to see, and undo, much misunderstanding in much of Western interpretation of Paul.

Download full review: Pauline Dogmatics Review

[1] Pauline Dogmatics, 314.

[2] This is sarcasm, for those of you not familiar with British humour.

[3] Pauline Dogmatics, 741-2.

[4] Ibid,33.

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