Time, Death, and Relationship

Time, Death, and Relationship

Just a few days ago, Jessie (my wife) and I were talking about what happens when someone dies. (Nothing like a light conversation just before bed, right?) There is a tension in Scripture on this point. “The dead cannot sing praises to the LORD,” the Psalmist declares, “for they have gone into the silence of the grave.” This seems pretty clear. At least until the Spirit gives John a glimpse of heaven, where the dead from the Great Tribulation who are crying out praises to God, waving palm branches. What should we do with this tension?

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The Truth of God?

“Accurate God-talk is Jesus-talk. And God-talk that is not in some very direct sense Jesus-talk is probably not God-talk.”

– Campbell, Pauline Dogmatics, p. 17


For Douglas Campbell, Karl Barth is the theologian who does not need to be named. While conceding that Barth didn’t get everything right, Campbell suggests “that an accurate account of Paul reads him in quite a Barthian way primarily because Barth was in many respects a faithful interpreter of Paul” (p. 2). This should come as no surprise, given that the title of Campbell’s book echoes the title of Barth’s magnum opus, Church Dogmatics.

But what does Campbell mean by reading Paul in a Barthian way? The start of an answer to this question quickly arrives as we move into the first chapter, simply titled “Jesus.”

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Pauline Dogmatics: What are we working with?

The most daunting exam during my time at Divinity School was in Douglas Campbell’s “Life of Paul” class. In theory, the exam was simple. Learn the Pauline letters inside and out. Know which ones are, according to Campbell, authentic. Know where Paul likely was when he wrote them. Know who people were, and where they were from, that Paul mentions in the letter. Know the arc of Paul’s life as told through the letter. In practice, it was very difficult. For Campbell, it is pure joy.

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Paul: An Apostle’s Journey [Review]

In a recent interview about his book Paul: An Apostle’s Journey, which Eerdmans kindly sent to Theology Forum for review, Douglas Campbell said, “This book is out to make disciples.” Lord willing, the book might do just that. I can say, with certainty, the book challenged me to be a better pastor.

As a student at Duke, I took Campbell’s “Life of Paul” class. He writes the way he speaks, with clarity and wit. The book is intended to introduce Paul’s life and theology to “people who have not been shaped by a seminary experience” (xi). Campbell has done a fine job of writing accessibly, with chapters broken into manageable subsections and concluded with review questions. He keeps his writing fresh by including metaphors and, the true heart of Campbellism, humor. (Even now, I can hear him laughing at himself after the “whole hog” pun on p. 127.) Though I was introduced to much of the content throughout his class, I found myself thoroughly engaged by the prose.

The book follows Paul’s life, but according to Campbell’s unique method.* Campbell starts with Paul’s letters in order to reconstruct the narrative according to Paul’s own account. This stands as an alternative to the conventional approach, which reads Acts first to discover the narrative of Paul’s ministry and then fills in blanks with Paul’s letters. Campbell assumes the details of the stories in Acts are mostly solid (he mentions only two minor details that Paul’s letters seem to correct). The trouble lies in the timeline (p. 5-6). From an inter-Gospel comparison, we know the author of Luke-Acts is willing to adjust the order of events. Why shouldn’t we assume he’s done some shifting in Acts? This way of reading is exciting. Like reading a mystery novel, the reader joins Campbell as he pieces together fragments into a cohesive story. What most readers see as inconspicuous remnants of a lost community, Campbell sees as answers to puzzles left unsolved. Continue reading