Shortly after I graduated from seminary, I “tried on,” if you will, the penal substitutionary view of atonement, as articulated in the writings of J. I. Packer. Some of you may have read his classic book Knowing God. I read it on the recommendation of my evangelical friends. Packer is very persuasive on the atonement. So for a little while I appropriated the satisfaction theory into my preaching. But it never quite fit. While I felt comfortable preaching that, in some undefined sense, God has stood in our place and borne God’s judgment against our sin, I never felt comfortable proclaiming a full-blown presentation of penal substitutionary atonement. I couldn’t see a way to reconcile such a theory with my deep conviction that God is absolute and unconditional love … indeed, the two positions seem quite contradictory. God does not need to reconcile love and justice within himself. He does not need to mete out punishment before he can be merciful. And so I put my copy of Knowing God aside. I would have to know God without Dr Packer.
If one does not believe that the Apostle Paul held a penal substitutionary view of the atonement, as I and many others do not, then the justification by faith model becomes less compelling as an expression of the Apostle’s deepest concerns. One can continue to employ the language of justification in one’s preaching and teaching as a way to bespeak the unconditionality of God’s grace, as do Lutherans like Robert Jenson and Gerhard Forde; but when reading the Apostle, we need a different and more illuminating model through which to interpret his letters.
The New Creation Model
Of the three models discussed in The Quest for Paul’s Gospel, Douglas Campbell advances one in particular as the most helpful lens through which to read the Pauline epistles. He titles it the “pneumatological-participatory-martyrological-eschatological” model (PPME). Yeah, right. The title is accurately descriptive (and indeed Campbell might well indeed have added a couple more adjectives, e.g., “trinitarian,” “transformative,” “personalist,” and “apocalyptic”—PPMETTPA). Yet even PPME is too unwieldy. Elsewhere in the book Campbell momentarily entertains “participatory-eschatological,” but in the end he goes for the longer title. Well … the longer title simply will not do, and since this is my blog article, I hereby exercise my blogger authority and dub the third model as the new creation model (NC). (I’m confident that Campbell will recognize the advantages of my title and will immediately contact his publisher and ask them to re-issue his book, with appropriate changes. Credit need not be given, Doug [wink].)
Campbell proposes the Pauline phrases “in Christ,” “in Christ Jesus,” “in the Lord,” and “in the Spirit” as the key to entering into the Apostle’s thought. These phrases, unlike “justification by faith,” are found throughout Paul’s letters. Though sometimes trivial or conventional, they are often deployed by Paul at critical points in his arguments (esp., Rom 5-8 but also several other places). “In these sections,” Campbell writes, “it is difficult to escape the idea that Paul is speaking of a profound transformation of the person through a partial identification with Christ”:
The very being of the sinful believer is taken up into Christ’s on the Cross, crucified, buried, then resurrected in a transformed state, and here free from sin, according to Paul. In a sense, then, a person is absorbed into the Easter events, and transformed through them and by them. Hence Paul can speak of a new creation, or of a new Adam, that is a new humanity, refashioned and remade “in Christ” as anyone experiences his resurrection—and here the connection with broader eschatological categories becomes apparent. And this is not just an idea, or a mental identification. Paul clearly believes that something quite real has happened; it is irreducibly concrete. The process also takes place in some relation to the Spirit. Indeed, for Paul the presence of the Spirit in the lives of Christians is the main testimony to the reality of the event. When the transformation is complete the Christian exists in a radically new way, in a relationship of filial intimacy with God through the Spirit (cp. Rom. 8.14-17; Gal. 4.1-7). (pp. 39-40)
I can imagine my Orthodox and Catholic readers nodding their heads and saying to themselves, “Yes, yes, yes. That is how I understand St Paul. This is what we experience in the Holy Eucharist.”
At one point in the exposition of NC, Campbell even strikes a Zizioulian note:
I would suggest that Paul’s locative or spatial imagery about the Christian in relation to Christ (“into” and “in” Christ) is a metaphor for being or ontology, and its radical transformation. Hence the important thing for Paul is the new set of relationships created in Christ, as well as the new relational capacity humans possess “in” him. Through Christians’ relationships with the Spirit, they now relate, in Christ, to the Father. In short, Christ makes Christians into fully relational beings, that is, into real full persons. “In him” they can relate to God and to each other as they ought to. Outside of him, humanity is enslaved to hostile and evil forces that curve people in on themselves, away from God and from others, corrupting and distorting all their relationships. (p. 41)
At the heart of the new creation model, proposes Campbell, is the narrative of the Son who has descended to earth to assume humanity’s fallen condition and to bear it unto death. This narrative, in turn, directs us back to the book of Genesis:
The story that describes “the problem” is, I would suggest, a modified version of Genesis 2-3. However, in Paul’s account, Eve is not deceived by the serpent, going on to beguile her dull-witted husband, but a generic figure, Adam, is deceived by the evil intelligence of Sin itself. As a result of humanity’s first transgression, Sin enters creation permanently, taking up residence within the very constitution of humanity, that is, in the Flesh. And the entry of Sin facilitates the arrival of the still more powerful and oppressive Death, creating a fundamental human condition of slavery within a kingdom ruled by evil forces. Indeed, the whole of creation has been joined to humanity’s enslavement and shares in its screams and groans. … Paul’s solution to this plight centres on the story of a protagonist, God’s “Son,” Christ Jesus, who enters the oppressed state of humanity in obedience to his Father’s wishes, assumes its enslaved nature, and then dies. However, he is raised to new life by the divine, life-giving Spirit, and exalted to the Father’s right hand, where he now reigns, judges and intercedes. (pp. 57-58)
The story as stated, though, is incomplete. It describes the divine mission of Jesus; but it does not tell us how humanity is saved by this mission. At this point Paul introduces the salvific work of the Holy Spirit:
Again apparently drawing on the first chapters of Genesis, Paul seems to view the present activity of the Holy Spirit as a repetition of his initial activity in the creation of humanity. Where the breath of God brought the figure of dust to life in Genesis 2, creating a “living being” (Gen. 2.7; cp. 1 Cor. 15.45), so too Paul seems to view the present activity of the Spirit in fundamentally creative terms. But whereas the template of the original humanity was a creature modelled from the earth, the template of the new humanity is the second Adam, Christ, a figure who has undergone a starling termination and reconstitution. Hence as the Spirit “maps” or “moulds” people onto Christ’s prototypical trajectory, salvation is realized as the old state of bondage to Sin and Death in the Flesh is terminated, and a new resurrected eschatological state is effected (so also 1 Cor. 15.22, 42-49). (p. 59)
By the Spirit believers participate in the Son’s obedience, sufferings, death, and resurrection. The divine work of transfiguration has begun. Hence Paul exhorts his brethren to live their lives on the basis of what they are becoming rather than what they once were. Campbell writes: “as the Spirit configures people to the template of Christ—specifically to his descent into death and ascent into glory—they too are thereby delivered from their present oppressed and corrupted condition by means of its termination in Christ’s execution and their recreation in a new liberated and transformed condition that is grafted onto his resurrected existence and is now no longer inhabited by the powers of Sin and Death” (p. 59).
The Apostle’s theology is pneumatological, for by the Spirit the believer is made a new creation in Jesus Christ. It is participatory, for by the Spirit the believer is united to Christ and thus participates in his Sonship and work of redemption. It is martyrological, for by the Spirit the believer is conformed to the story of Christ’s suffering and death. It is eschatological, for by the Spirit the believer now lives the life of the coming Kingdom.
And at the heart of the salvation bestowed upon the Church is the unconditional and infinite love of God. “The PPME model does not understand salvation to be motivated by anything other than the limitless love of God for humanity,” explains Campbell. “So there is no implacable divine commitment to justice that must be bloodily assuaged, whether on the cross, or on the Last Day. The cross—and the resurrection!—are moments of divine identification and transformation, not punishment” (p. 144). The individual cannot by an act of will bring himself into new life nor raise himself from the dead. He cannot incorporate himself into Christ and make himself a son of God. He cannot create for himself an eschatological mode of existence. “This rebirth into a new way of being and relating is, from start to finish” Campbell elaborates, “a gift of God. It comes to people purely out of God’s freedom and grace, so, as I understand Paul, it is completely unconditional. No one can, strictly speaking, do anything to receive it or to make it happen—we cannot transform ourselves! It is therefore something of an extraordinary miracle, given to Christians purely because of the goodness of God. It is an act of sheer grace, although Paul does seem to allow for the possibility of this event’s repudiation—a position that links up with negative Arminianism. One can still it seems be a prodigal, but one cannot by dint of one’s own efforts be a son” (p. 41).
One would expect at this point for Campbell to talk about baptism as the sacramental location for God’s gifting of salvation, but curiously he avoids the topic. I have to wonder to what extent his own ecclesial commitments are guiding his exegesis, but this is a problem for everyone who reads the Bible, of course. Perhaps at some time in the future he will interact with the work of Rudolph Schnackenburg, George Montague, and Edmund Schlink, to mention just a couple of scholars who immediately come to mind. The kind of divine unconditionality that Campbell wants to assert cannot be maintained without a sacramental moment in which the convert is graciously identified with the crucified and rising Christ and reborn in the Spirit.
The JF and SH models may both be described as prospective: they begin with a pre-understanding of the pre-salvation state and then define the soteriological solution. The NC model, on the other hand, is retrospective: it begins with the gift of salvation encountered in Christ and from this revelation begins to reflect on everything that came before it; it begins with the solution, and from the solution learns of humanity’s soteriological plight. JF and SH work forward; NC works backwards.
If I were a young, well-trained Orthodox theologian, with a reading knowledge of both New Testament and patristic Greek, I would adopt the project of exploring the Pauline new creation model and would attempt to connect it with subsequent Eastern reflection on theosis. St Paul has important things to say to the Orthodox Church.