Notes on The Deliverance of God: Part 3, The Systematic Problems of Justification Theory

After working through the intrinsic (analytical/theoretical) problems in Justification Theory, The Deliverance of God turns to consider the systematic problems of Justification Theory. These are, as noted in the last post, problems Justification Theory has in explaining Paul in a coherent fashion. As Campbell points out, whenever we import Justification Theory into Paul we immediately create tensions and contradictions in relation to other things Paul has written. In short, Justification Theory tends to import contradictions into our understanding of Paul. Rather than resolving tensions and conflicts within Paul Justification Theory tends to do the opposite. This is problematic for any theory hoping to explain Paul in a cogent fashion.

To illustrate this Campbell examines the soteriologies in Romans 1-4 and Romans 5-8. Historically, Romans 1-4 has been read as the dominant text supporting the key features of Justification Theory. If this is taken for granted (i.e., we assume that Paul is preaching Justification Theory in Romans 1-4) scholars have long noted that this creates tensions with the soteriology presented later in Romans 5-8. That is, if we read Justification Theory into Romans 1-4 we create tensions with Romans 5-8. This is an example of what Campbell calls a systematic difficulty. Rather than giving us a seamless and consistent reading of Paul from Chapters 1-8 Justification Theory tends to cuts Paul's argument into two pieces that don't fit together very well.

To illustrate the disjoint let me point out a few of the tensions (discussed by Campbell) between Romans 1-4 and Romans 5-8 (again, if Romans 1-4 is assumed to be a proclamation of Justification Theory). First, and I'm following Campbell's lead here, we need to sketch the soteriology of Romans 5-8 to make the relevant comparisons with Justification Theory.

The soteriology in Romans 5-8 is a soteriology that is often called apocalyptic. This is in contrast to the contractual soteriology found, presumably, in Romans 1-4. That is, Justification Theory posits an inward and tortured epistemological journey culminating in the exercise of the saving criterion ("faith"). In contrast, the salvation in Romans 5-8 is characterized by God's unconditional act of deliverance and rescue. There is no introversion. No emphasis on epistemology. No contract we must accept. No saving criterion we must exercise to "receive" God's gift. Rather, God decisively breaks into history through the revelation (i.e., apocalypse) of Jesus Christ who rescues us from "Sin and Death," the ontological condition of being "in Adam."

With this minimal specification we can now make some contrasts between the apocalyptic soteriology in Romans 5-8 with the soteriology of Justification Theory:

According to Justification Theory humans always have epistemological clarity. This is needed to make Phase 1 work. You need to realize that you are in a doomed situation. Further, we take this knowledge forward in time. We recognize our doomed situation and then move forward, prospectively, into Phase 2. Finally, the entire process is rationalistic. I move through the phases by coming to appreciate and believe in a set of propositions about myself, my situation, and about how to secure the gift of grace.

The soteriology in Romans 5-8 has none of these things. First, prior to salvation humans don't have epistemological clarity. In Adam we are deluded and blind. Hostile to God. Further, we make this realization only retrospectively. Finding ourselves delivered we look back and see the state we were in. Finally, salvation is neither introspective or epistemological. God pulls you out of Sin and Death. There is no sales pitch, no crisis of conscience. You simply discover yourself free from bondage. Like you've woken up from a long nightmare.

View of God:
The fundamental characteristic of God that drives Justification Theory is the attribute of retributive justice. Your first recognition of God is dominated by fear.

In Romans 5-8 God's character is wholly benevolent. Finding yourself rescued, your first recognition of God is an experience of love, joy and doxology.

Justification Theory has great difficulty connecting ethics to the experience of salvation. The crux of Justification Theory is to get the judgment of death shifted off one's head (through Jesus's substitution). More, recall that Justification Theory posits that the gift of grace emerges as the solution to "works-based righteousness." You can't save yourself by ethical practice so you must give up that attempt. Needless to say, this entire arrangement demotivates ethical living in Phase 2. Once saved there seems little left to motivate vigorous ethical living. Further, vigorous ethical living was the very thing you needed to be saved from!

Within Justification Theory this problem is usually addressed by contrasting justification with sanctification. Justification is that moment when you are declared "righteous." This happens when you exercise the saving criterion (i.e., accepting grace "through faith"). Sanctification, by contrast, is the ongoing process of Christian growth and maturity.

Campbell points out, however, that there are a number of problems with this solution. Specifically, Justification Theory only handles the consequences of sinful living (i.e., it removes hellfire from the equation). Consequently, it fails to specify the ethical code for Phase 2. Jews in Paul's day who converted and moved from Phase 1 to Phase 2 would be freed from salvation via Torah Obedience. However, once in Phase 2 what is to guide the journey of sanctification for this new, formerly Jewish, convert? Presumably they should continue to practice Torah obedience. There is nothing in Justification Theory to suggest that the rules of holy living changed from Phase 1 to Phase 2. Jews stand condemned in Phase 1 because of their fundamental moral incapacity. Not because the Law was invalid. If anything, the Law must remain in force in Phase 2 for God's judgment in Phase 1 to be just and right. Because if the problem was with the Law God should remove the Law, not condemn those struggling underneath it.

And, interestingly, this is exactly what we find in Romans 5-8. God rescues us from the Law (among other things). God's deliverance is, ethically speaking, a game changer. For both Jew and Gentile. No doubt, some of the older ethical practices will be carried forward. However, at root, a reset button has been pushed. A New Order has commenced.

All this is a problem for Justification Theory. Justification Theory needs the Law (God's moral expectations) in Phase 1 to be righteous and just. Only in this way can I be condemned as a moral failure. (Otherwise it's the Law that has the problem, not me.) But after salvation the Law should remain in full force. It is, after all, as we learned in Phase 1, the way God wants us to live. We just couldn't live up to its expectations. Grace thus saves us from the consequences of that failure but there is no reason to expect that the moral expectations (for the Jew at least) will be changing in Phase 2. And yet, no reading of Paul suggests that this is, in fact, how Paul viewed the Law in light of the apocalypse of Jesus Christ. A Paul writes in Romans 7.4-6

So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
Justification Theory, by focusing on the consequences of Law (hellfire) rather than the apocalyptic focus on ontology ("Who will rescue me from this body of death?"), has no real mechanism to explain the deliverance from the Law in Phase 2. Grace is simply about avoiding hellfire rather than the inauguration of a new ontology.

Campbell goes on to discuss many other systematic difficulties, most of which can be seen as points of contrast between a Justification Theory reading of Romans 1-4 and Romans 5-8. My goal in this post was to simply give a taste of Campbell’s argument, to show how, if we import Justification Theory into Paul, a host of tensions and contradictions quickly emerge. All of which should make us skeptical that Justification Theory is giving us the correct reading of passages like Romans 1-4.

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9 thoughts on “Notes on The Deliverance of God: Part 3, The Systematic Problems of Justification Theory”

  1. An ethical life is what? is it defined by circumcision of the heart, instead of the "flesh", like the "holiness" believe? and how do you imagine that will be accomplished? by legislation? by force? by habit? by humiliation? by judgment? by what actions will it be judged as "good enough"? When we sacrifice everything? When we don't care about anything other than God, like the suicide bombers? or is it our neighbor? should we live in poverty then to learn to emphathize with them? should we do penance when we fall short of whatever authority deems we "should" do to prove repentance or "love" or "duty"?

    Or is it really absurd to begin to talk about things concerning God, because humans are the creators of religion? and ethics is doing what is right in whose eyes? and by whose values? Who will "set the standard"? The United Nations? Obama? Congress? Smith in "Desiring the Kingdom", a committe of psychologists and sociologists, and policy makers? the local community? Socialists, communists, The Catholic Church, the BIBLE as the fundmentalists/evangelical or WHO?

  2. I'm with you so far, and the contradictions between 1-4 and 5-8 through the lens of Justification Theory seem rather damning. I'm greatly anticipating your take on how Campbell's proposed alternative paradigm proposes to introduce the two (seemingly) diametrically opposed viewpoints.

    Thanks for your hard work on this project!

  3. I'm really digging this, Richard. But don't discount the possibility that Paul decided to take a few tokes on some premium reefer between 1-4 and 5-8.

    Clearly, being a systematic theologian takes a degree of seriousness I lack.

  4. Paul isn't. The problem isn't in what he wrote. It's in trying to interpret what he wrote through a framework that doesn't fit what he was thinking or saying.

  5. Richard,

    It seems to me that Paul can be very heady, but he is no systematic theologian, laying out a systematic theology of justification. As I said responding to an earlier post, he wrote letters on the fly, dealing with specific human concerns of the churches he loved. He mixed metaphors and used rabbinic and Graeco-Roman rhetoric to explain something that had happened in the kairos of ordinary chronos, something new to both antique Jewish and Greek experience of the transcendent and the ethical: the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus as the affirmation of a God loving God's creatures and all creation. His aim was pastoral and pneumatic, not philosophical and theoretical. His—and other Biblical words—were not then and are not now a collection of legos to be shuffled and reassembled to satisfy our hunger for some kind of intellectual system of justification. Paul wrote because of and out of his experience of the risen Jesus in order to share that experience.


  6. richard
    why is it the general way in which we learn to study the hermetic of scripture is not as a flowing love letter from our god. and no one seems to notice the "but now" of ROM 3:21 to the "there is therefore now no" 8:1?
    to say nothing of the word "nullified"3:31 and correlating that into the subjective gender in 3:22 at 3:26 at this present time that He might be the just and justifier of the one who is of the faith of Christ...(i wont deal with 3:25 dealing with 1-4)
    it is about the faith of Christ the words and work of god put into practice. yes? so salvation becomes a work of a transformation into the likeness of the divine nature based on responsability to ability,in faithful believers
    reciprocating love and facillitating love

    anyway blessings
    rich constant

  7. what are those 1st. seven verses of Romans all about anyway,what does predicate mean????
    1:1 From Paul,1 a slave2 of Christ Jesus,3 called to be an apostle,4 set apart for the gospel of God.5 1:2 This gospel6 he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 1:3 concerning his Son who was a descendant7 of David with reference to the flesh,8 1:4 who was appointed the Son-of-God-in-power9 according to the Holy Spirit10 by the resurrection11 from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. 1:5 Through him12 we have received grace and our apostleship13 to bring about the obedience14 of faith15 among all the Gentiles on behalf of his name. 1:6 You also are among them,16 called to belong to Jesus Christ.

    how and

    ROM 15
    15:7 Receive one another, then, just as Christ also received you, to God’s glory. 15:8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised4 on behalf of God’s truth to confirm the promises made to the fathers,5 15:9 and thus the Gentiles glorify God for his mercy.6 As it is written, “Because of this I will confess you among the Gentiles, and I will sing praises to your name.”7 15:10 And again it says: “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”8 15:11 And again, “Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him.”9 15:12 And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, and the one who rises to rule over the Gentiles, in him will the Gentiles hope.”10 15:13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in him,11 so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.


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