Book Notice: Pauline Dogmatics: The Triumph of God’s Love

Douglas A. Campbell. Pauline Dogmatics: The Triumph of God’s Love. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2020. 740 pages. $64.99 (hardcover).

Douglas Campbell, Professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School, has published multiple works in Pauline studies. His massive 2009 tome The Deliverance of God put him on the map as a major contemporary contributor to the field. Most of his writings in Pauline theology thus far has been polemical in nature, critiquing the traditional (or “Lutheran”) view of justification by faith. In his new Pauline Dogmatics, Campbell has provided a more systematic, constructive work which aims to “fill the gap” for readers “wanting to move beyond justification.” This book aims to show “what ‘nonjustification’ terms look like” (6).

For Campbell, love stands out as a central Pauline theme. Campbell starts with the fatherhood of God, asserting that the Fatherhood of God is not an addition to God’s identity; rather, God is “fundamentally familial” and revealed to us as Father (53). Jesus’s relationship to the Father as Son is not a “formal sonship” but should be seen through the lens of the Abraham-Isaac relationship: God the Son is the beloved Son (54). For Campbell, “At the heart of the universe is a play of love between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit” (55). What’s more, this love is put on display for sinners: “There the Father has offered up his beloved only Son to die for us, doing so, moreover, while we, the objects of this costly mission, were rebellious and hostile” (55; cf. Rom 5:8). Campbell’s treatment of God’s love is delightful to read. In some places it is even quite devotional in nature.

Unfortunately, however, in the rest of the book, Campbell’s hermeneutic seriously skews his picture of Paul’s theology. While Campbell rightly asserts that the Sache (“the heart of the matter”) in Pauline dogmatics is “the triune God revealed in Jesus,” he uses this trinitarian and Christocentric lens to “demythologize” Paul (7). Campbell frankly does not want to believe everything Paul says. In some places, he wants to “update” Paul’s thinking to what we (supposedly) now know to be true. In other places, he wants to “amplify” Paul beyond what he says to the final destination of his trajectory (8). Campbell concludes, “We will move, then, from Paul to Pauline theology—from Paul’s dogmatics to a Pauline dogmatics” (9). In other words, Campbell is quite comfortable going beyond what Paul said in order to make Paul more palatable and applicable to the twenty-first century.

Campbell states that his interpretive lens presents a “kinder, gentler Paul” (6). But reader, beware: a kinder, gentler Paul that obscures the biblical text is no Paul at all. Students of Pauline theology may want to read Campbell as an opposing conversation partner, but apart from his helpful discussion of love as a central Pauline theme, most readers will do well to supplement their reading of Campbell’s work with more reliable treatments that honor Paul’s own authorial intent and unique contribution to Christian theology.

CBS book notices provide brief descriptive summaries and assessments of new publications in biblical studies and biblical theology. CBS book notices are not full academic book reviews. The present book notice was written by Mark Baker (PhD, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary), Professor and Assistant Director of the Scarborough College Darrington Campus in Houston, TX.


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