Guest Blog: A Look at Douglas Campbell by Sam Bostock

As part of our guest blogging initiative James Clarke & Co is pleased to bring you this insightful post by Sam Bostock who is currently studying a Bachelor of Divinity degree at Union Theological College, Queen’s University, Belfast.

Douglas Campbell is one of the most important and interesting of recent writers on the Apostle Paul. He is a prominent, if somewhat isolated, member of what is called the ‘apocalyptic’ school of Pauline interpretation. In this post we will briefly introduce Campbell’s work to new readers.

At the centre of Campbell’s ouvre is the 1,200 page tome The Deliverance of God: An apocalyptic rereading of justification in Paul (Eerdmans, 2009). Supporters have claimed that it is “potentially the most high-impact work on Paul since E.P. Sanders“, whose 1977 work Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Fortress Press, 1977) can be fairly said to have launched the New Perspective on Paul movement that has dominated the field of Pauline scholarship since.

Others are less impressed: in a critical review Barry Matlock asserted that Campbell has “zeal for Paul but not according to knowledge” while N.T. Wright recently called Deliverance a “remarkable book”, and then devoted almost 40 pages to critiquing it.

When one begins to look more closely at Campbell’s proposals it seems odd that his work would generate so much debate. Although Deliverance covers an enormous amount of ground, at its heart is an idiosyncratic reading of Rom 1:18-3:20. Campbell suggests that large sections of this text, notably 1:18-32, do not reflect Paul’s own theology at all. Rather, they are part of a ‘Socratic’ dialogue with a Judaizing false teacher, in which Paul reduces the Teacher’s ‘gospel’ to absurdity by parody and by pointing out the inconsistencies in his argument.

Campbell advances this reading against what he suggests is the dominant historical reading of Romans 1:18-3:20 (which he calls ‘Justification Theory’). In Justification Theory, 1:18-3:20 develops a kind of rational argument in which Paul convicts every human being that they have “sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”, as a preparation for hearing the gospel, which Paul explains in 3:21 on. Without this traditional reading of Romans 1-3, Campbell thinks, no-one would think that Paul’s preaching of the gospel was anything like this.

So why does this matter? Campbell sees two massive problems with Justification Theory. Together, they threaten to wreck our understanding of God and the gospel. The first problem is that Justification Theory suggests Paul argued “forwards” – moving from general principles about humanity that everyone knows to specific conclusions about sin and the need for the gospel. The problem with that, Campbell says, is that in other places, e.g. Romans 5, Paul argues “backwards” – he starts with the unique event of Christ’s coming at the end of the ages, and rethinks everything in light of this apocalyptic event. The traditional reading of Romans 1-3 not only makes Paul look inconsistent, but worse, it allows normal human reasoning to make the incarnation seem like the result of logical argument. Surely, Campbell asks, the revelation of God in Christ is bigger than that?

The second problem with Justification Theory is that it presents salvation “in terms of two contracts, the first one universally failing and the second one appearing more generous”. God gives humanity a hard task initially, and when we (inevitably) fail, he sends Christ so that we need only believe in him to have eternal life. The problem Campbell sees here is that this outline of the gospel presents God as fundamentally contractual; a God of rules rather than a God of self-giving love. Read Romans 1-3 not as a way to be convicted by sin before hearing the gospel, and instead as a demolition of a false gospel, before the real gospel is presented in Romans 5-8, and we see a God not of contracts, but of sheer grace set forth in Christ: “God, who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all…”

Anyone familiar with the theology of Karl Barth or the Torrance brothers will be recognising some of the themes here, and that is no coincidence. Campbell’s is a highly theological reading of Paul, influenced at root by reading two essays by J.B. Torrance. This, along with his detailed description of Justification Theory, makes his work difficult to digest: Campbell’s proposals are so big that they touch on a wide variety of areas and disciplines: doctrine (of revelation and salvation), theological history (early, Reformation and modern) and highly technical exegesis are all rolled into one in Campbell’s massive work.

Anyone wanting to begin to think about Campbell’s work would do well to take a look at a volume of essays published by James Clarke & Co. Bringing together papers from two conferences devoted to discussing Campbell’s work, they feature original (and short!) essays from Campbell himself, along with responses from scholars in a range of disciplines, with the two seminal essays by J.B. Torrance reprinted in an appendix.

Few readers will find themselves agreeing fully with Campbell’s proposals, but I suspect most will find themselves grateful for being forced to think more carefully about how they read the great apostle of grace.

Sam Bostock is currently undertaking a Bachelor of Divinity degree at Union Theological College, Queen’s University, Belfast and was studying Douglas Campbell for a paper.

Beyond Old and New 9780227174630

If you would like to read more on Douglas Campbell’s work in Pauline studies then you may be interested in Beyond Old and New Perspectives on Paul: Reflections on the Work of Douglas Campbell edited by Chris Tilling. Click through to find out more or to buy the book.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and if you would like to get involved in writing a guest blog post for either our James Clarke & Co or The Lutterworth Press blogs we would be delighted to hear from you!

Please send your name, degree title and university to, along with the topic that you wish to cover.

Guest Blog: Timothy Carson’s Review of ‘Vital Truth: Convictions of the Christian Community’

Vital Truth Convictions of the Christian Community by Nigel G. Wright
Review by Rev. Dr. Timothy Carson

Here is the work of a pastor and scholar who knows that the two sides of the same coin belong together; the pastoral touch reaches to practicing Christian souls and the teacher of the faith serves up a theological meal worth consuming. In fact, the combination of these ingredients makes the entirety stronger. Let us be clear: Not everyone can write with such sensitivity and gravitas at the same time. And that is because they lack either one or the other side of the formula. Dr. Wright has both.

What is this? On the one hand it is by organizational form a systematic theology. But it is not a systematic written for the sake of other scholars or students of theology. It is a systematic written for the Christian community. It is written to those who are already Christian and have perhaps ridden their pew for a very long time. It is written for the sake of those who have practiced faith but want to seek more understanding, definition and clarity. Neither a magisterial systematic nor a simple summary, its length and format is somewhere in-between and is similar to other “primers” of the faith that have been written throughout the centuries. Every generation picks up the task of distilling the Christian story into to its palpable essentials. This is another run at that same project and the goal of Vital Truth. It is a Didache for today.

Starting places often indicate one’s theological position and that is true for Vital Truth.  The first word of the book is about the resurrection faith. In fact, the kerygma frames the totality, beginning and end. The fundamental Christian proclamation is the jumping off place, much as it was for the early Christian evangelists. And from there further exploration is made into Creation, Christ, Trinity, Church and other traditional Christian doctrines.

Because Wright does theology in a confessional way – presenting, explaining and relating traditional themes and sources of authority – the book functions most closely as an apologetic, presenting a defense of the Christian story in logical and methodical ways. Most often he defends the doctrines by explaining their sensibility. Abundant with scripture and historic references Wright stands in the tradition of a Luke Timothy Johnson or N.T. Wright as he presents the plain sense of the story without reinterpreting by means of other philosophical categories.

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Vital Truth: Convictions of a Christian Community by Nigel G. Wright is available here.

I found his defense of the particularity of the Christian message – the revelation of Christ, particular eschatological claims, our ultimate destiny – similar to what Brian McLaren has called “generous orthodoxy.” It is a Christian position that is clear about its particular story without the arrogance of defining the limits of God’s activity in the world. We make claims and affirmations about where God is at work without defining the many places God is not at work, thus condemning all non-Christians. For example, Wright makes sure to steer clear of a simple pantheism when discussing the God of creation; God has a creation but is not the creation. But that does not negate the understanding held by so many other Christians and world religions that God is interwoven in the fabric of the cosmos. God may both have and be in the created order, energy manifesting in matter. Not monism but closer to panentheism. So his orthodoxy is clear but open and generous. Certain things are left where they belong, in the land of our unknown and God’s known.

There is nothing uncertain or unclear about this propositional language that includes careful nuance. As clearly as I understand these well-presented positions I leave this fine book concerned, maybe even anxious. This is a book for believers and believers in the world of classical theism. As in neo-orthodoxy the message is unwavering regardless of the vagaries of the culture that surround us. It is not especially concerned with correlation to other pathways of wisdom or new revelations of truth from other sources.

What haunts me, really haunts me, is that many – the majority who are not in our churches – will not give this elucidation of the faith a chance because it is not connected in compelling ways to some of the very things either dismissed or omitted: the new physics and universal, mythical and symbolic substrate that give the Christian story its power. The assumption is that the Gospel cannot be confined by anything as relative or culturally determined as these. But it is exactly those touch stones in the culture that will make the rest of the story approachable, interesting and even digestible by the 21st century person in the West. If we insist on an exclusively historical or literal rendering of the meaning of some of the Christian doctrines we will lose enormous numbers of those who might otherwise be drawn to God. This will not be because some saw the truth and others did not. There are other reasons.

Christian apologists have, throughout the centuries, found ways to create correlations between the vital truth of the Christian story and the vital truth generally revealed in the world. My great fear in this urgent moment is if we do not take up that challenge the wisdom and peace that we treasure will be lost on the many and held only by a few. And that will not be the result of divine election. That will be the result of us not taking up the hard work of cultural translation and bridge building.

There is a reason that the early Christian missionaries, those before the colonial period, went and lived with those whom they served. They had to become fluent in the language, culture, poetry and story of those with whom they shared the Christian story. We will have to do the same. If we do not there will be no one left to consider such faithful writing as this.

Rev. Timothy Carson, D.Min, Senior Pastor of Broadway Christian Church
Columbia, Missouri, USA


Author of Transforming Worship, Your Calling as a Christian, The Square Root of God, Six Doors to the Seventh Dimension and Liminal Reality and Transformational Power. Click here to read his most recent author Q&A.

Recent praise for Vital Truth:

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“The experience of a creative theologian, teacher, and pastor are clearly on view in this theologically rich account of the core convictions of the Christian community. Profoundly and imaginatively written, yet eminently accessible, this volume will be a wonderful resource for those who wish to go deeper in their understanding of core Christian doctrines.”
Graham Watts, Tutor, Christian Doctrine and Ethics, Spurgeon’s College, London

“Nigel has a real gift for exploring profound theological truth in a very readable way. I have found that his books inspire, challenge, and develop my thinking and practice as a Christian leader, and so I am delighted to commend this latest book to you.”
Lynn Green, General Secretary, Baptist Union of Great Britain

“In a day when many Christians have a hazy grasp of their faith, Nigel Wright’s Vital Truth comes as a timely corrective. Written with commendable clarity, it succinctly and accessibly explores the core convictions of Christianity. It is persuasive, winsome, and readable. Chapters are short enough to be savoured and provide excellent material for small group study. Definitely a book to get hold of.”
Brian Harris, Principal, Vose Seminary, Perth, Australia

Vital Truth: Convictions of the Christian Community is available for purchase here now.

For more information see our website:


Guest Blog: A review of Margaret G. Sim’s ‘A Relevant Way to Read’ by Zoe Hollinger

James Clarke & Co is proud to present a guest blog post from Zoe Hollinger, a PhD student studying the intertextuality and the use of the Old Testament in Hebrews from Belfast.

Review of Margaret G. Sim’s, A Relevant Way to Read: A New Approach to Exegesis and Communication. Cambridge: James Clark and Co., 2016; 136 pages; £17.50; ISBN: 9780227174425.

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A Relevant Way to Read: A New Apporach to Exegesis and Communication by Margaret G. Sim

In A Relevant Way to Read, Margaret G. Sim draws from her background as a linguist and Bible translator in order to provide a brief introduction to relevance theory and its application to biblical studies. Relevance theory originated as an attempt to explain how humans communicate, emphasising the importance of inferring information and optimising relevance. Although some of the insights gained from relevance theory have influenced how linguists translate Scripture, little work has been done on how the theory may benefit NT exegesis. Through her utilisation of relevance theory, the subject of her PhD, Sim intends to provide a new angle through which old interpretive problems can be examined (p117).

Sim’s study can be divided into two parts: the first section provides the theory behind her study (chapters 1-2), whilst the second demonstrates how one can apply this theory to particular areas of NT interpretation (chapters 3-7).

Chapter 1 introduces the reader to debates regarding the nature of communication and authorial intent. In contrast to deconstructionism, which denies that texts have meaning, Sim argues that relevance theory provides a more satisfying explanation for how humans communicate. This is because the very creation of a text implies that the author intends to communicate with her audience (p2). This reality coheres with the basic premise of relevance theory: “The speaker assumes that a hearer listens to what he has to say because she is interested in it: it has relevance for her” (p4).

In chapter 2, Sim begins with a short orientation to the topic of relevance theory, charting its origins in the work of Deirdre Wilson and Dan Sperber, before discussing the main points of the theory and providing a definition of key concepts used: underdeterminacy, inference, metarepresentation, and ostension.

Chapters 3-7 demonstrate the working out of relevance theory by applying it to a number of contentious issues in NT interpretation.

Chapter 3 deals with how the NT authors re-present their thoughts, and the thoughts of others, in their writings. As a result, Sim examines the understanding of NT metaphor and issues surrounding the use of the OT within the NT. She concludes that the expectation of exact resemblance in citations is a modern notion and should be abandoned, and that more weight should be given to the use of metaphor, echoes and allusions when attempting to gain insight into a NT author’s communicative intent (p51).

Sim redefines irony in chapter 4 as “echoing a thought, belief or utterance of another while maintaining a distancing attitude to such an utterance” (p70) and demonstrates the usefulness of such a definition through an analysis of 1 and 2 Corinthians.

In chapter 5, Greek particles are analysed to determine how they can guide interpretation. Sim is rightly critical of the idea that each particle has a fixed lexical meaning and shows, through the use of relevance theory, how these words signal to the reader what the author desires to communicate.

Chapter 6 examines the difficulty of understanding conditional sentences. Sim encourages a move away from traditional categories ‘factual’ and ‘counterfactual’ since the potentiality of a conditional sentence is decided on pragmatic terms. Instead, she focuses on the logical relationship between the two clauses of the conditional sentence in order to provide a clearer exegesis of NT passages.


Chapter 7 concludes the book by providing a summary of Sim’s argument, as well as touching on issues relating to tense and time in Greek verbs. This is not a detailed discussion, however, since the chapter’s aim is to encourage scholars to employ the basic insights of relevance theory in their future research. Sim illustrates and provides support for her arguments with a wide variety of examples drawn from day-to-day interactions, NT passages, ancient Greek authors, and even classic works of literature. Each chapter ends with a summary of the key points dealt with in the chapter. Sim also provides a more substantial glossary at the back of the book as well as further reading for those interested in understanding relevance theory in more detail.

For non-specialists with no previous background in linguistics, A Relevant Way to Read provides a clear and concise introduction to relevance theory. The book is comprehensive in its summary of the main ideas associated with relevance theory, but does not overwhelm the reader with unnecessary information. Sim avoids the over-use of technical vocabulary and only provides enough linguistic theory to enable a biblical scholar to apply it to the text of the NT. Scholars more aware of the intricacies involved in the arguments surrounding relevance theory may protest that Sim has not covered everything that there is to be said about relevance theory, but that is not her purpose (p28), and, as with any short introduction, the book is necessarily selective.

Sim’s book is to be commended for its originality. It sets a precedent for further research into biblical texts, since relevance theory has not garnered the attention it deserves in biblical studies. Nonetheless, the novelty of this theory may mean that some of Sim’s conclusions are open to further questioning or refinement, but the benefit of this is that it invites scholars to interact with how relevance theory applies to specific problems in NT interpretation.

Sim’s attention to the original NT Greek text will appeal to students with a background in Biblical languages, but the provision of her own English translation of each text means that students with little or no grasp of the original Greek are still able to understand the force of her arguments.

Overall, Sim has written an incredibly accessible orientation to relevance theory and its application to NT exegesis, one which will appeal to senior biblical scholars and graduate students alike.  It is sure to influence a number of future studies as scholars seek out new and original methods to apply to NT texts.

Zoe Hollinger is currently undertaking a PhD on intertextuality and the use of the Old Testament in Hebrews, under the supervision of W. Gordon Campbell at Union Theological College, Belfast.

If you would like to get involved in writing a guest blog post for either our James Clarke site or Lutterworth Press, we would be delighted to hear from you!

Please send your name, degree title and university to, along with the topic that you wish to cover.