Other parts to this series can be found on my Deliverance of God page

As part of my summary and (slight) analysis of Campbell’s The Deliverance of God (hereafter DoG), I will condense and articulate Justification Theory as Campbell states it.  Justification Theory (or JT) is Campbell’s name for the classic Protestant statement of the core of the Gospel, namely Justification by Faith alone.  Historically, this is often called the “Lutheran” reading, but Campbell opts for “Justification Theory” instead.

DoG is fundamentally a critique and rejection of Justification Theory.  Campbell appropriately begins his tome with his articulation of JT.  He acknowledges that he is susceptible to creating a “straw man,” but strives to articulate the “opponent’s reading” as well as he can.  For the sake of discussion on the blog here, it’s also necessary to state what JT says.  Growing up in a Protestant church, JT was rarely explained in full, but it was certainly latent in our thinking.  So, now we can begin!

Campbell describes Justification Theory as a soteriology (theory of salvation) of two contracts.  The first one is rigorous, and the second one is generous.  The first contract goes something like this:

  • Premises
    • Humans are rational, self-interested and ethical.
    • God is omnipotent and just.
    • Everyone knows God is omnipotent from examining the Universe.
    • Everyone knows God is just from their own conscience.
    • God’s ethical demands are made known to Jews through the Old Testament laws.
    • God’s ethical demands are made known to everyone else innately (through their conscience)
    • Rewards and punishments will be meted out by God in accordance to a person’s obedience or disobedience of these ethical demands.  (Have you obeyed or not?)
    • Present injustices will be resolved at the end of time on the day of judgment.
    • The future age will have a positive aspect (heaven) and a negative one (hell).
    • God will determine an individual’s destiny based on their merit, whether they’ve obeyed his ethical laws or not (in accordance with Romans 2:6-10).
  • The Introspective Twist and the Loop of Despair
    • As we try to fulfill God’s ethical demands, we fail.  After failing, we try harder to fulfill God’s demands.
    • The harder we try, the worse we fail.
    • This results in a “Loop of Despair,” where we grow more and more depressed as we realize we cannot fulfill God’s ethical demands.
  • At this point, the “Generous Contract” enters:
    • God redirects, graciously, the punishment we deserve to Christ (who dies).
    • Because of his sinlessness and divinity, Christ can offer unlimited satisfaction of divine justice through his sacrificial death.
    • God redirects, generously, the perfect righteousness of Christ to sinners who are now viewed as if this righteousness were their own.
    • God, again graciously, offers faith as the criterion for accessing this righteousness.  This is manageable, unlike the the rigors of the first contract.
    • Individuals who have this faith access the perfect righteousness of Christ and will receive a favorable judgment on the day of judgment (they’ll go to Heaven).

Campbell goes through these in more detail, but that will suffice as a depiction of JT.  Toward the end of chapter 1, he lists these as the “root” metaphors of Justification Theory:

  • Humanity is ultimately individual, rationalistic, and self-interested. Humans are primarily cognitive (thinking is our most basic task).  By thinking, we discern the second “root” idea:
  • God is primarily an authority figure of strict justice. The “philosophical man” discerns the most fundamental divine attribute is retributive justice (that is, God punishes wrongdoing and rewards right-doing).
  • Humanity perceives itself to be “ethically incapable.” Humanity tries to do right in light of God’s justice, but is unable to fulfill these commands.
  • There needs to be compensatory mechanism of satisfaction, namely, Christ’s atonement. Jesus’ death pays for the sins from which humanity cannot escape.
  • The criterion of salvation is faith.   An individual accesses this work of Christ by believing in the revelation of Christ’s death and resurrection.

Campbell is working here on the theoretical level.  He only wants to with JT on a theoretical level since his approach is “theory” driven.  Discussion of the key Biblical texts will come later, but right now he wants to highlight the integrity (and also the difficulties) of JT before interacting with the important texts.

I’ll respond a little bit to his method in a separate post, but I find his articulation of the classic interpretation fair.  Admittedly, I haven’t done a tone of reading on classical Protestant theology, but it does fit will with both my reading and my experience growing up in Church.  If there’s something “amiss” in this representation, please let me know.  I’ve cut out a lot to make the summary manageable, so it’s likely I left something important out!

~alex

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