Douglas Campbell on Paul’s Apocalyptic Politics

Douglas Campbell has a new article in Pro Ecclesia (12 [2013]: 129-52) on “Paul’s Apocalyptic Politics,” an illustrating piece which ends with the words:

The Christian colony is well aware that while Christ lives Adam lives on as well, in an ontologically parasitic but visibly dominant fashion. And he lives on in the members of the Christian colony, bar one. The solution that the colony offers to the cosmos then is only a solution as its activities correspond to the activity of God and resist correspondence to corrupt fleshly alternatives, a resistance that the colony confesses daily that it fails in. Hence the politics of the colony exists in a perilously fragile location—on the edge of the precipice that is its own ongoing deep-seated corruption. And this suggests some important disciplines might be necessary if it is not to tip over and fall irrevocably into that abyss. 

It must strive at all times to locate its perspectives in its constitutive reality, which is the Christ event, and to view the false reality that surrounds it in that principal light. Its view of “the problem” will be, in other words, rigorously retrospective, this being the correct analytic response to its apocalyptic starting point and then in turn to its own revealed depravity. And the view of the world’s evil that emerges from this epistemological dynamic is salutary. 

The light of the truth discloses a sinister and protean evil—one that takes many forms. Evil, it seems, can instantiate itself in massive structures and sweeping historical trajectories, but also insinuate itself into the subtlest of spaces—psychological and familial not to mention ecclesial and academic. And it follows from the recognition of this plethora of corruptions that the colony’s particular responses to evil should take many localized forms—responses I hasten to add that ought to correspond fundamentally to the divine activity that is still negating the evil in the cosmos in something of a mopping up operation. In short, we ought not to affirm or to instantiate a rigid critique or negation of the world’s politics. Engagement by the Christian polis should always proceed in fundamentally positive terms—i.e., in the light of its own gracious location—and consequently unfold in a suitably particularized manner. Indeed, critiques will probably proceed somewhat flexibly, as the new forms that evil has assumed are discerned and resisted. Moreover, one would expect any such engagement to be framed confessionally—an odd politics, to be sure, but the right one.  

It is hopefully apparent by now then, at the close of this essay, that when an account of Paul’s politics is generated, the principal interpretative approach ought not to be to list his few explicit statements about government and/or politics and endorse them, leading us to Rom 13:1-7, or, conversely, if the former procedure proves unpalatable, to find key political insights lurking in the interstices of his texts, while primarily subverting those found unpalatable, thereby generating either a tacit endorsement of Liberalism or a politics of sheer negation. Paul’s texts witness overtly and extensively to the primary positive dogmatics of the Christian situation, in the light of which the politics of the church, which is nothing other than a Christian colony, is also directly if implicitly discernable, any problem texts notwithstanding. Paul’s “apocalyptic” politics is, in short, rooted in his thoroughly orthodox account of God’s activity in Christ but, precisely because of this, is a radical and deceptively powerful transformational politics oriented toward the practices of peace.

Anyone have any thoughts on this image?

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  • Jerry

    Remind me of C. S.Lewis’s brief essay that anyone graduating with a degree in theology should be required to translate a difficult thological passage in to simple terms. I had to read this too many time to try to get the point. Frankly, I usually start tunning this stuff out becuase it is too much work for too little value. Reminds me of all those liberal scholars who have lost access to a more coherent theological vocabulary becuse they no longer belive.

    • Nate

      ….and all the people said, “Amen.”

    • AlanCK

      Let me encourage you to read it again because the value is quite significant–the church getting its identity from Jesus Christ and him crucified and raised, and then living the politics of that identity. Campbell is simply stating what has always been true. We in the church just often forget it.

  • It seems this understanding of church as colony has resonances with Hauerwas’ church “resident aliens”. Is that right?

  • Caio Peres

    It makes lots of sense to me. It’s normal to see people having some understanding of the “resident aliens” concept or the pilgrimage of christian life. But as common as this is the fact that people understand that as a “spiritual” or “heavenly” matter with no consequences to their political, economical and sociological behaviour and values whatsoever. To make the connectionn is necessary this apocalyptical understanding of those images and concepts. Something that I saw quite cleraly in this text.