Some very quick (and undeveloped!) thoughts on Douglas' Campbell's Quest for Paul's Gospel. One thing I found very striking is his treatment of Paul's ethics. He argues that some aspects of Paul's ethics flow from his soteriology (basically the idea of union with Christ), while other aspects seem to be more 'static' and 'rooted in a particular conception of creation'. So, in Galatians 3:28 he affirms the unity of Jew and Greek; male and female etc. This, argues Campbell, is consistent with his view of salvation. However, in other places (e.g. 1 Cor 11:2-16; Romans 1) he affirms 'gender codes', and that homosexuality is 'unnatural'. These affirmations are tied to creation not salvation making his ethics inconsistent according to Campbell
What to do with this inconsistency? Campbell is clear:
'If Paul was inconsistent at this point, as seems likely, failing to prosecute his soteriology (and who of us can cast the first stone here?!), then I suggest that, having detected this, we should simply overrule those inconsistencies in the name of his central convictions. Paul’s soteriological centre, along with its consistent ethical corollaries, should trump his inconsistent ethical admonitions; his position on redemption should overrule his inconsistent statements about creation’ (p127).
I have to confess that I stopped reading the book at this point. Calling Paul inconsistent is just seems the easy way to write off the parts of his teaching you don’t like and shows that you have not understood how his theology fits together. Campbell does say (I did read on a bit!) that he doesn’t ‘suggest this lightly, but only after careful consideration. Neither do I do so because of some external agenda; it is Paul’s own position on redemption that forces us to call his creation-based ethics into question. (So here I act on in accordance with the important principle that scripture should interpret scripture.)[…] And this decision allows us to leave behind the series of theological and social problems associated with those commitments, which is surely a good thing.’
An interpreter of Scripture once made the observation that our tendency is to trust ourselves and to suspect Scripture (of being inconsistent etc.) whereas the Scripture suggests that we should trust it and suspect ourselves (of having sub-conscious agendas etc.). That position will not convince anyone in the guild who takes a fundamentally critical stance towards Scripture, but to honour it as God's Word it is surely the right way to approach it.
As I say there are other problems with The Quest for Paul’s Gospel (like how he sets justification and participation in polar opposition to each other) but this one is particularly striking and revealing.