Blog comments are usually the worst, but every once in awhile you can find gold in them.
Scot McKnight and Douglas Campell had a little back and forth about the Apocalyptic Paul and on reading narrative on Scot’s blog the other day which I thought was instructive in terms of their different approaches to narrative.
I have reproduced the discussion below.
SCOT: Richard, I’ve observed the same and queried the same. In the intro to my Colossians commentary I say the apocalyptic Paul group is the most supersessionistic of the Pauline interpreters.
The old perspective was indeed supersessionistic; the new is less so; the apocalyptic revives the old on this one.
However, the one thing I’ve noticed is that the apocalyptic group tends toward more pluralism so they may see Tom as too evangelical for their pluralistic tastes.. so the charge comes perhaps from that perception more than the narratival vs disruptive side.
DOUGLAS CAMPBELL: Umm. This really isn’t it. The charge against Tom is that he erases torah-observant Jewish Christians in particular. Which he does. This is a bad sign, and what most of us are upset about. Good history suggests that the early church – at least arguably – comprised torah-observant messianic Jews and non-torah-observant (or less torah-observant) converts from paganism. This is a much more inclusive position than either the old or the new Lutheranism. It’s not pluralism for the sake of pluralism. It’s just good theology and good ethics, and provides very important resources for combating things like racism (“whiteness” anybody?).
The Apocalyptic crowd really don’t erase Judaism, or creation, despite how they are depicted. I should know. I am one of them. The Apocalyptic claim is simply that the truth about God is known definitively in Jesus. Everything is then clarified in the light of this. It’s an epistemological claim, and to a certain extent a phenomenological one. It’s not an ontological claim, which would lead directly to Marcionism. The persistent misrepresentation of Apocalyptic readers in radically discontinuous ontological terms is simply an attempt to discredit their approach in obvious terms, and thereby to remove them from further consideration for those who don’t know better. It’s a fundamentally dishonest – or, shall we say, unfair – move, although it’s rhetorically very effective. (I did discuss all this at SBL in 2002, published in Quest in 2005. And I was by no means the first. Lou Martyn was sitting next to me and liked the paper by the way. But really, you just have to read one of the main figures and it’s obvious they’re not Marcionites after about five pages.)
SCOT: Thanks Douglas, I read your piece in the LA Times about salvation history in NT Wright (quite exasperatingly critical, if I may) — narrative continuity, and I’ve read your three books … I see more than Torah-observant Jews not being observant in Christ in your critique of Wright in that approach, and I see the same in your Quest’s approach to salvation-history (Rom 9-11) vs. apocalyptic (Rom 5-8).
On inclusion of Jewish believers as Torah-observant… I suspect that is the case, at least for some (though 1 Cor 9:19-23 has some serious tensions), but the issue is just as much must all Jews believe in Jesus for redemption, right? Isn’t that also another cutting edge on the supersessionism debate? I see Tom’s so-called supersessionism to be a messianic eschatology making claims about the reorienting of Jewish history.
When I read the apocalyptic folks I confess I feel all sorts of discontinuity and all sorts of supersessionism. Saying one isn’t supersessionistic isn’t enough — one has to show continuity in spades and affirm Christ in spades and see where it all lands on the table.
One more, Douglas. If the Jewish believer remains observant, isn’t that observance in the Spirit and in following Christ a kind of new Torah observance out of sync with typical Torah observance? So I still see a kind of supersessionism even in Jewish believer Torah observance.
DOUGLAS CAMPBELL: Hi Scot. Not sure what piece you’re refering to here in the LATimes. I did something for Marginalia. Does that come out in something to do with LA? If it isn’t then it isn’t me.
You’re probably right to detect some other problems that I have at this point with Tom as expressed in other places, but the post was specifically responding to “supersessionism.” So that’s why I addressed the erasure issue.
In terms of the other problem with “salvation-history”: that’s not an issue of supersessionism for me primarily, although it leads that; it’s a more basic problem of theological foundationalism. If salvation-history is treated in the wrong dogmatic location it tends to function as a theological foundation. You must treat salvation-history at some point, obviously, but that needs to take place in second position, under Christological control. Then things should all unfold quite healthily and constructively – and inclusively.
I would also reiterate what I said below in response to Richard: I do affirm and at times applaud much of Tom’s oeuvre. I just don’t sign off on all of it. But this is just what scholars do, right? We scrutinize each other’s positions very carefully because a great deal is at stake.
SCOT: Douglas, thanks for this. You reviewed PFG in the LA Times (at least in my memory!) — Gorman and I both commented in the comments. (I’ll dig into finding where it was.) You were very critical of the continuity-narrative/salv hist approach of Tom in that setting.
Yes, Richard brought up the supersessionism issue — which operates at a number of levels, some criticisms are to the point but miss others, and while those who level criticisms have others kinds of supersessionism at work.
I’m for a priority in christology but “christ” means nothing apart from a narrative and salv-hist, right? It is a claim that Jesus is the fulfillment of a promise/narrative. So without the narrative, no christology; christology having priority? I’d agree with that, but I get nervous about disruptiveness.
Found it: LA Review of Books. Marginalia.http://marginalia.lareviewofbo…
DOUGLAS CAMPBELL: Well, I have no problem with the importance of explicating Christ within a narrative. The key question, however, is, to put matters at their absolute simplest: Who is in charge of the narrative? For me it’s absolutely crucial that Christ is in charge of his own narrative. That he would use prior narratives and resources is fine, but they must be under the control of Christ as and when he arrives. And some things are new at that moment. Newly perceived, etc.
Critically, it follows from this that we don’t formulate a narrative in advance that he then fits into. Then we take control of the narrative and take control of him. This is what I see Tom doing at times.
Do we, for example, formulate a problem in advance of Christ and independently of him that he then comes to solve? We have thereby, with the best of intentions, taken over his meaning in advance of his arrival. (Every problem contains an implicit solution.)
So it’s all very well to talk about narrative and salvation-history. But there are fundamentally different ways of formulating these. Which direction is “the pressure of interpretation” coming from? Tom’s tends to flow “forwards,” from plight to solution, whereas I would suggest the correct disposition is “backwards,” from solution to plight. More of a Damascus Road approach we might say. “I was blind, but now I see.”
If I may: that approach is precisely the problem by formulating the hermeneutical posture as a false dichotomy. Either it is backwards (you) or it is forwards (Tom). The reality is that it is a both-and: both an existing narrative and one that gets singularly advanced with newness (and revolutionary at that) in Christ. Christ is in charge of how we frame the narrative, but the narrative he is in charge of is an already existing narrative he fulfills and expands. As in Luke 24?
DOUGLAS CAMPBELL: But these are not the same thing Scot. The first “forwards” refers to narrative resources that exist in history. The “backwards” move is epistemologically sovereign. There’s not epistemologically sovereign move working forwards. Putting things like this just confuses matters I’m afraid.