Sunday, September 20, 2009

William S. Campbell: Paul and Christian Identity, Part 3

This is the final part of my extensive review of William S. Campbell's book Paul and the Creation of Christian Identity. Part 1 is available here, whilst part 2 may be located here. Campbell reviews Paul’s use of terms describing Israel and concludes that gentile Christ-followers are not to be confused with Israel. In chapter eight he unpacks the implications of his preferred model, earlier referenced in chapter six, which questioned the views that gentile Christ-followers were either Israel, New Israel, or Israel redefined. Instead, God offers an inclusive salvation to “Jews as Jews and gentiles as gentiles.” (p. 127) The covenant was given to Israel and the gentile Christ-followers may share in the blessings of the covenant through Christ; however, in Campbell’s view it would be incorrect to propose a separate covenant for gentiles. The imagery of the olive tree found in Romans 11:17-18 serves as an integrative metaphor for Campbell through his discussion of Paul’s understanding of Jewish identity, for example: “Only with Israel can gentiles share the richness of the olive-tree.” (p. 137) This chapter provides the reader with a clear understanding of the reasons for needing to maintain separate identities for Jews and gentiles and Campbell provides a cogent analysis of the arguments on both sides of this issue, though often finding himself differing with other eminent Pauline scholars (e.g., E. P. Sanders on covenant, N.T. Wright on redefining Israel, C.H. Dodd on the transfer of election, James J. D. Dunn on gentiles needing to see themselves as Israel, M. Zetterholm concerning the fluidity of ethnicity, and various nuances with Käsemann’s approach throughout the chapter).

Chapter nine serves the purpose of defining the essence of Campbell’s approach to identity formation. Christ-defined identity is one in which an individual’s previous identity is not eradicated but becomes a sub-set or nested identity with the preeminent identity being that which is Christ-defined. This chapter addresses many of the questions and implications that arise from the previous chapters. The key to understanding Campbell’s approach is “the retention of one’s particularity in Christ, whether Jew or gentile.” (p. 156) Because of this approach Campbell realizes that this impinges on Paul’s mission and he notes “Paul therefore is the paradigm for Jewish Christ-identity but not for gentile.” (p. 156) Paul, therefore may not serve as the universal model for all Christians, one can see how this statement could have contributed to some of the problems in the Pauline communities, if he is urging them to imitate him (1 Cor 4:16) and the communities are attempting to do that from a different social location and nested identities, confusion and misunderstanding could have arisen (c.f. 1 Cor 5:9-11). He shares being in Christ but because of ethnic and cultural differentiation Paul remains an Israelite and the Corinthians are not, and this creates a situation where differing identities may be operative in the life of Paul’s community. Campbell is sensitive to his understanding of new creation theologizing and argues for an understanding of 2 Cor 5:17 that allows for continuity with one’s former life and identity, the model for that becomes transformation – which is the topic of the final chapter of the book.

Chapter ten explicates the significance of Paul’s transformational theologizing in which the past is transformed but not obliterated. He rightly notes that the universalizing tendency within systematic theology relates to the decontextualization of Paul’s theologizing. Paul was not developing abstract philosophical-doctrinal statements and to use Paul this way guarantees that one will misunderstand the nature of Paul’s theologizing which was “designed to change people, to transform communal life and to create a Christ-like pattern of life within his communities.” (p. 161) Thus, the concrete social situation is Paul’s starting point, not the development of creedal formulations. Because of this understanding the fronting of Roman imperial ideology is vital to comprehending Paul’s rhetorical intent, that is, what Paul was attempting to do to his auditors/readers. Campbell’s description of the rhetorical function of Paul’s letters may be described as resocialization: “one’s previous life, its culture and its social context are viewed by Paul as the raw material of a transformed existence.” (p. 166) So, for Paul, resocialization serves as the vehicle for new creation identity formation. Paul theologizes from within the symbolic universe of Israel and his communities are thus structured within that universe. Campbell makes a strong case for maintaining a separate identity for Israel and gentiles, recognizing that these two groups are interacting in new ways because of the Christ-event, he concludes that “Christ-following Israelites are the link between the church and Israel” (p. 170). This, in fact, became Paul’s role as he formed his alternative communities throughout the Roman Empire.

Campbell’s work concludes with a bibliography, indices of ancient sources, and modern writers. His work opens up fruitful avenues for further research in the area of identity formation and early Christian origins. This book should be read by Pauline scholars, especially those working in Romans. Campbell’s creativity and ability to sustain an argument makes this work well worth the time invested and provides a much needed perspective in the current debate on identity formation in early Christianity.

My original book review for this work appeared in CTR. So, after reading this, what are some of the weaknesses in Campbell's approach? If his approach is accepted does it call into question historic Paulinism? What scriptural evidence could be marshaled to weaken his argument?

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