Eerdmans recently sent me an uncorrected advanced copy of Douglas Campbell’s Paul: An Apostle’s Journey. The book will not be released until January 2018, so consider this a sneak peek at what I think will be a popular textbook for a Pauline Literature or Pauline Theology class at the undergraduate or graduate levels.

Campbell, Paul, an apostle's journeyAt slightly less than 200 pages book is brief and it is written with the layperson in mind. There are no long, drawn out discussions of the New Perspective on Paul or highly technical theological language in the book, nor does Campbell engage the Greek text except on rare occasions. The book uses endnotes, which I do not like, but they do make the book read much more smoothly. The book has a number of personal insights which draw the ancient text forward to contemporary issues. Chapters conclude with a series of questions designed for group discussions or perhaps even short writing prompts for papers.

As he does in detail in Framing Paul (Eerdmans, 2014), Campbell tells the story of Paul’s life based on the Epistles first, and then uses the book of Acts. Since there are so many questions surrounding the authorship and genre of Acts, many scholars consider the story of Paul in Acts to be a hagiography written to support the unity of the early church and highlight the successes of the Pauline mission. For example, Campbell suggests Paul’s visit to Athens is intentionally modeled after Socrates, a wise man who was unjustly arrested and executed. Although Campbell things Acts is “99 percent accurate” (p. 5), he still argues a sound historical methodology should use the authentic letters of Paul to “frame” the contours of Paul’s life before turning to the book of Acts.

Framing Paul’s story with the Epistles rather than Acts results in two detailed periods in Paul’s life. First, the events around the time of his conversion are clear from the epistles, especially Galatians, from A.D. 31-41. Second, the events of A.D. 49-52 are very detailed based on the Corinthian letters and Paul’s anxious comments at the end of Romans concerning his plans to return to Jerusalem with the collection. Acts is the only source for Paul’s life after this time (his arrest in Jerusalem, house arrest in Caesarea, journey to Rome and house arrest in Rome). For the most part, this “last journey” (Acts 20-28) is the subject of the final chapter of the book.

This book is more than the story of Paul’s missionary journeys. Campbell suggests Paul makes a theological journey as well. Clearly his encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus changed his thinking considerably, but as he encountered new challenges as the apostle to the Gentiles Paul was forced to think and rethink how the Gospel challenges the culture of the first century. For example, Campbell has two chapters on the Corinthian church: “Culture Wars at Corinth” and “Navigating Sex and Gender.” Both of these chapters concern how the Gospel ought to change the way Corinthian Gentiles think about common cultural practices.

The second part of the book covers several theological topics. Campbell deals with “enemies” of Paul, the covenant vs. contract, the status of Israel, and eschatology. The title of the chapter on Paul’s view of the future for Israel is entitled “God wins” and deals in part with the difficult text in Romans 11 that “all Israel will be saved.” He points out Paul’s argument is based on the Old Testament motif of the remnant, God never lets go of Israel. What is more, God is a covenantal God who always faithful to his promises. Therefore, “all Israel will be saved” means just that. It is a kind of “Pauline universalism” based on the character of God. Campbell says “the covenant is unbreakable, and ultimately enwraps us all in the gracious purpose of God that was established with us through his son before the foundation of the world” (169). The following few paragraphs unpack tentatively a sort of universalism, “I expect everyone to be raised in glory, although some more shamefacedly than others.” In an endnote, Campbell points out his view here is not far from C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce. Intriguing, but I suspect this controversial conclusion will draw attention away from the rest of the book.

I am looking forward to seeing the final form of this introduction to the life of Paul.