Professor William Campbell
2010-2011 Tuohy Chair Holder
University of Wales, Lampeter, UK

William S Campbell was born in Crumlin, N. Ireland and studied English and Theology at Belfast with further postgraduate studies at Princeton, Dublin, Edinburgh, and Tuebingen Universities.  His research has focussed on Paul and his roots in Judaism. He has taught at the universities of Sunderland, Westhill College Birmingham, Kings College London and at the University of Wales, Trinity St. David. His emphasis has always centred on reading Paul in his historical context and in light of contemporary issues in society. Throughout his career he has maintained strong links with the churches, as well as with Jews, Muslims and other religious communities, particularly in the city of Birmingham. He has published widely with two important books on Paul,  Paul’s Gospel in an Intercultural Society (1992) and Paul and the Creation of Christian Identity (2006). He has been editor of The Journal of Beliefs and Values: Studies in Religion and Education since 1977.


“The Challenge of Peace and Reconciliation for Contemporary Interreligious Relations”

February 8, 2011: “Christian Triumphalism and the Creator God of the Bible”

The clear message of Genesis is that in the beginning God created everything, and what he created he was pleased with, to him it appeared good.  In his call of Abraham we see God’s purpose to bless all the families of the earth, rather than to exclude the rest of humanity. Jewish traditions do not stress Abraham’s separation from the rest of humanity-time and time again, narratives emerge to connect Abraham with many groups of peoples in the world of his time. God’s choice of Abraham was not perceived to be because of some special quality such as a capacity for religion but is rather depicted as a divine mystery -“a wandering Aramaean was my father”. It was a call to service – to be God’s peculiar people and thus serve him in the diversity of the created world. It was not favouritism but challenge that Abraham was offered. Nor was it a purely functional contract – if Israel fails in its function to be a light from God to the gentiles, God will still not break his covenant or withdraw his promises. Just as Israel had nothing in which to boast except the glory of her God, so too Christians today ought not to boast over those without faith, or without Christian faith. We are not better than the rest of humanity or the Jews, but share a common nature and form of life with all. How Christianity perceives itself in relation to Judaism is key to how Christianity relates to other religions and the rest of humanity.

February 15, 2011: “The Significance of Paul and Judaism as a Paradigm for Contemporary Interreligious Relations in Society”

Paul led a successful mission among gentiles, but he had to struggle with the opposition of Jews who still did not share his conviction that in Christ the world to come was dawning and that gentiles could now also worship the God of Israel alongside Jews without becoming Jews themselves. Paul had come to see that the destinies of Jews and gentiles were intertwined-the blessing of one leads to the blessing of the other, and the one without the other will never reach the kingdom. But he also had to come to terms with the fact that the majority of his fellow Jews were not convinced by his gospel and to learn to respect their apparent immunity to his message. Rather than demonizing those who did not agree with him and from whom he suffered beatings etc, Paul rethought his understanding of God’s purpose and came to trust in its eventual fulfilment. Nor did he deny the heritage of his opponents, and separate from them but retained solidarity with them despite their differences. In this learning process over against other Jews who opposed him and remained unconvinced, Paul offers us a paradigm for our contemporary multicultural, multi-faith context.

February 22, 2011: “There Can Be Neither Jew nor Gentile (Gal.3.28) – Are Christians a New Race?”

Looked at from a Jewish perspective, the world comprised two groups-Israel and the nations (gentiles) – the latter is just a name for the whole of the rest of the world. But when the Christ- movement began, it seemed a third group emerged, comprising Christ-followers from both Jews and the nations, so that now there were three groups, some calling Christians a third entity, a new humanity, even a third ‘race’. Paul does not view Christians as replacing the Jews, as a ‘new Israel’. He retains the distinction between Israel and the nations- Israel is not rejected or displaced, but gentile Christ-followers in the churches of Jews and gentiles are viewed as associates to Israel, a satellite group affiliated most closely with Israel but not incorporated within Israel. The covenant(s) still continue to belong to Israel, but ‘in Christ’, gentile Christ-followers share with Jewish believers the ratification and affirmation of the covenant promises. The sharing of these blessings in Christ does not transform gentiles into Jews –all are one in Christ, but all are not the same. Although the hostility that arises from difference is overcome in Christ, the difference itself remains and the church’s task must therefore be to eliminate the hostility arising from difference. The church therefore cannot be called a third race-it is not a racially limited group, and race terminology with its problematic history is alien to corporate life in Christ. Nor is it a new humanity since it possesses nothing to which the rest of humanity does not have access. It is the old humanity in process of being transformed in Christ.

March 1, 2011: “Christian Self-Understanding in the Face of the Other and its Relevance for Social Harmony”

Paul asserts that Christians should retain their initial identity-“remain as you were when called” (1 Cor 7.20). This gives validity not only to Christian calling but also to the culture of both Jews and gentiles. Since gentiles really means all non-Jewish nations, this means a recognition in Christ of differing cultures ways of life. Though Paul did see all cultures as equally unimportant in comparison with Christ, he did not advocate leaving one’s point of origin. Wives were to remain wives, even with an unbelieving partner. So there is nothing wrong in defining oneself as an Irish or Chinese Christian – in Christ that is who we are.

This is in keeping with the image of God in all humans– so that all must be respected, however different. Yet Christian identity does not demand sameness. To witness to others means to live true to your own faith rather than attempting to make others Christians the same as us. This cannot be the goal but rather supporting each other to live lives true to our faiths under God. In Christ each person and group is defined as an ambassador for Christ, an agent of reconciliation. This is our commission, our task in the world. It is not to convert, our task is merely to give a faithful witness as far as possible to the faith we hold. Conversions or other outcomes can be left to God and the Holy Spirit.  Christians are God’s representatives on earth, but not his replacement. He still does His own work in His own way – this is evangelism without compulsion or aggression. As reconcilers Christians need to participate in public discourse to promote a society where everyone can flourish in peace and security.

March 8, 2011: ” ‘Let Us Maintain Peace’: The Challenge of Reconciliation in the Face of on-going Hostility”

In view of  a long tradition of militant Christianity is conflict endemic in the practice of religion?  Sectarian Christians seem always to be at war with those who differ. Such an aggressive attitude is basically out of keeping with a crucified Christ. Aggression and reconciliation are incompatible, since aggression can never promote the gospel of Christ. Moreover, there is a link between aggression and insecurity. Christian should be affirmative of their faith not just apologetic. In a confident faith, we can welcome and accept as they are, those who are different.   Here we speak communally, not merely of individuals but of a real reconciling community that is greater than the sum of its members. We need groups of like-minded people joining together in common cause to do Christ’s work socially as well as spiritually.  In order to move forward, past evils must be acknowledged, and dealt with by everyone. But such also have to be accepted as past so that society can move on. Disciplined and deliberate remembering is required as the Jewish museums in Washington and Berlin demonstrate so clearly. The function of remembering the past, and keeping memories alive should be for the sake of present and future community building. As reconcilers Christians should oppose suspicion concerning the other, foster trust and contribute to the creation of communities where all children can learn trust and feel secure.

March 15, 2011: “Building the Future: The Correlation of Commonality and Diversity”

Some things within Christianity are distinctively even uniquely Christian, but many are not. There are shared values within Christian tradition, and not least in Paul. In 1 Cor. 13.4-7  Paul stresses Christian love - agape. Now this is a specifically inner Christian virtue – but it goes beyond that because Paul relates agape to patience and other virtues:  “love is always patient and kind; love is never jealous; love is not boastful or conceited”.  In Phil. 4:8, he advises– “ let your minds be filled with everything that is true, everything that is honourable. Paul uses an accounting term here,logizesthai, to keep an account of these things There are many virtues and ideals that we share with our fellow citizens whatever their colour or creed and Paul advises that we stress such things. This also means positively remembering the good things and negatively refusing to keep an account of failures and faults, refusing to keep a log of malice. Christians should not become locked in a cycle of perpetrators and victims, a spiral of violence. This cycle has to be overcome without forgetting the horrors of the past, but in stressing such we cannot build for the future, we cannot build trust or hope. What should be remembered instead are the narratives of positive interaction, the redeeming narratives, thus recognising the equal needs and rights of all humans in their diversity. Reconciliation involves providing the opportunity for trust and hope to blossom. Instead of stressing theological or other differences, the focus should be on what we hold in common, such as the faithfulness of God and the faith of Abraham.

Note: Lectures have been taped and will be available on this website in February/March 2012.