Douglas Campbell's stunning presentation of God's relational love
Douglas Campbell’s new theology, A Pauline Dogmatics, is the most significant pastoral theology of Paul ever written. I do not mean this book is a classical “pastoral” theology so much as a theology of Paul that is fully pastoral.
This post will focus on chp 3, “A God of Love,” and this chp is architecturally foundational (sorry Doug) for the entire book. Grasp it and you get his entire project as this chp sets the direction of the whole.
I will put the chp into two major themes: the relational reality of God as a God of love, and the choice by God to mediate his love to us through the incarnation and mediation of other humans.
First, the relational reality of God as a God of love, and it begins with the way he problematizes what we need to see, and his problem is foundationalism: the choice to know about God on the basis of our own reasoning rather than receiving the revelation of God in Christ.
The attempt to construct an abstract, general, self-evident basis for the truth about God—foundationalism—eliminates the need for particular people in a tradition attesting to the truth that they have been personally enveloped by. The church seems unnecessary, people would supposedly reason to God self-evidently, abstractly, and individually. Hence, given that witness is God’s mode for mediating revelation, foundationalism now reveals itself to be even more destructive than first thought.
Relationality is the core idea here:
We learn a number of critical things from the revelation of God taking place in Jesus.
A person is a relational being. That is, a person is “extrinsic,” existing for, toward, and through others. We should therefore diagram people like flowers or stars, not like spheres or marbles.
We learn of this… because Paul speaks repeatedly of God as our “Father” and of Jesus as his “Son” (here less frequently explicitly, but often by implication), as well as, derivatively, of us as being adopted, possessing sonship, and being “brothers.” It follows that the Spirit is relational as well.
Image: Cover Photo
Metaphors matter and how we frame Paul’s theology matters. Campbell thinks it’s about family:
Family metaphors—as necessary, suitably healed—can now be seen to be fundamental to God’s nature, as against legal and political metaphors. Metaphors drawn from deep friendship can also apply. These relationships are relationships of love. We know they are [loving, about love] because while we were still hostile and sinful, the Father offered up his only beloved Son to die for us, and the Son obediently did so. So God is love in his inmost communal being, fundamentally and limitlessly. (The definitions of divine judgment and anger will flow from this basic reality.)
This takes us into the second theme: God mediating God’s love in the Son’s incarnation and our participating in mediation through relationships. Can I ask you to pause to consider the depth of this rather clear and even simple idea?
God reveals in the incarnation that he takes great pains to respect our personhood by meeting us where we are, “on our level.” The mediation of his revelations and relationship through other people now makes complete sense. It is a loving, respectful approach as an equal, although necessitating a great sacrifice on God’s part. The mediation of God through people is a preferred mode, not a determinative one. (God can show up in whatever mode he chooses.)
Now to us:
Human mediation extends the mode of engagement apparent in the incarnation. This mediation is possible because people can freely respond in perfect obedience to the divine will, at least momentarily in a dim echo of the constant perfect correspondence of Jesus’s human will to the divine will … When such correspondence happens, the divine will can be the divine will can be mediated accurately by way of obedient human activity. Those mediating the truth of God witness to it and confess it, because there is no common ground epistemologically for persuasion, and an attempt to establish one would be foundationalist folly.
Mediators can only point to the truth they know and assure others of its existence. Witnesses pass on the key claims about God to other converts and witnesses in a tradition, which is now a great tradition stretching back for two thousand years, and out to many, many further witnesses.