Faith is potentially the entry point into meaning, a coherent and dynamic personal engagement with the reality of God and the world. Faith, rightly understood, is the answer to foundationalism and ontotheology and their collapse. Faith is not dependent upon sure and certain knowledge nor does it presume a singular, stable culture, but presumes (from its inception with Abraham) a plurality of cultures, a dynamism in apprehending reality, and an always unfolding personal dimension of growth in wisdom and understanding. Abraham as the prototype of faith leaves his home, family and culture, departing from the unified Babel-like world recorded in Genesis 11, to go into an unknown country. Babel’s foundations were singular, unified, and presuming to attain the heavens (absolute and certain), based on literal concrete foundations not subject to mortality and death. The survival of the culture, through the tower, is the enduring meaning pursued in Babel.
Abraham departs from Babel, and his personal journey (there are no distinguishable persons in Babel) is defined in regard to his encounter with God. There is nothing certain, nothing permanent, and nothing concrete, in his life’s journey. He has the promise from God, and on this basis, he negotiates life’s uncertainties, but most particularly the defining reality of death. The promise from God is his means (meaning) of triangulating between the reality of God, his own mortal reality, and the hope for an enduring life in a son. This triangulation concerns his own bodily self-understanding, counting in his being as good as dead and Sarah’s womb being dead (4:19). Abraham’s understanding of the world depends upon the interpretive lens of the promise and his faithfulness is the point of apprehension. His experience is made intelligible, when it would otherwise be chaotic and futile in the face of death, due to his faithfulness to the promise of life.
This intelligibility is at first laughable, for both Abraham and Sarah. They are not simply dismissive, but the coherence of their life through faith is not evident, especially in the twenty-five some years prior to the birth of Isaac. Faith is not reasonable, it does not accord with experience, and on the surface, it appears to contradict the way things are (though it is not internally contradictory). Abraham has resurrection faith, according to Paul (4:23-25), which means he has an intelligible vision (though it may not be rational in the normal sense, it is not contradictory).
The how of God’s capacity to deliver on his promise is beyond Abraham’s ability to explain, as is evidenced in his attempt to help God along by siring a child through Hagar, his slave. His dependence upon and abandonment of natural explanation is part of his growing faithfulness. Nature is not definitive, life’s circumstance is not definitive, as faith encompasses these realities in a larger understanding. The reality of God does not simply trump other realities, but it brings a coherence and intelligibility they intrinsically lack.
This understanding on the part of Abraham is more than assent to facts, or even trust in a promise, as his entire life’s journey of faithfulness constitutes his recognition and confirms – as Paul describes it, that just as God can create from nothing so too, he can give a son to Abraham: “in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist” (4:17). God is not known or determined on the basis of the world, but the world and its reality are known and understood through an integrated knowledge of God. God is not caused, but causes all things, and this is the determinate reality in which Abraham lives his life. It is the insight provided by faith.
Abraham spent his life seeking understanding on the basis of faith, and this understanding pertained to his life, his body, his marriage, and his world. His faith is no abstraction, nor a set of dogmas, nor a law, nor a particular doctrine, but his faith pertains directly to the person of God and himself. He can abstract from God’s ability to give him a son, and God’s creation of the world (and vice versa), but this abstraction is grounded in personal reality. His faith opens him to an understanding of the world, and this understanding changes the fabric of his experience, his self-consciousness, and refracts back on his understanding. In other words, faith launches understanding, coherence, intelligibility, and meaning, and these things cannot begin elsewhere, for either Abraham or those who have his faith.
What is at stake in chapter 4 of Romans, first of all in Paul’s battle with the Judaizing false Teacher and then in justification theory, is nothing less than the meaning of faith, the meaning of Christianity, or the meaning of meaning and understanding. Where faith is defined by law (and law here may be any imagined static structure) propositions, dogma, or an imagined stable tradition (positive theology) are determinative. Meaning, rather than being personal, dynamic, continually engaging an unfolding reality, is static, impersonal, and objective. Christianity is reduced to a system or belief in a static set of propositions. Meaning is reduced to grasping the system, and understanding is not concerned with personal reality or a dynamic engagement with the world’s reality. Rather than faith being an ever deepening engagement with God and the world – evinced in an ever-deepening wisdom and understanding – faith becomes belief in doctrines and propositions. The justification theory arising with the Protestant Reformation, is not only nominalist in its origins, but it gives rise to a faith (a meaning system) which must satisfy itself with an impersonal, static, nominalist faith.
It may be necessary to do a misreading of Romans 4, the reading of justification theory, in order to make clear the absolute alternative represented by Paul’s view of faith. In justification theory, Romans 4 illustrates how faith justifies in place of the law, so that Abraham is to be emulated by all believers so that they too, if they have faith in the manner of Abraham, will be saved. Abraham is the prime example that faith alone (sola fide) saves, apart from works of the law. In this way, both righteousness and faith are given a meaning they simply do not have in this passage.
Abraham, like all who turn to faith, has recognized that he is a sinner and that he cannot please God through the law, and therefore he has faith. His faith fills in the incapacity of the law, a fact Abraham has had to discover (as it is a necessity in justification theory). Abraham trusts in the one who “justifies the ungodly” (4:5), so, though there is no record of Abraham’s struggle with sin, verses 7-8 must apply to him and reference his struggle. We must presume Abraham had a struggle with works righteousness, and his faith is an answer to this struggle (though Paul in no way intimates this). Justification theory requires the encounter of failure in regard to works of the law, as this is the very definition of righteousness, faith and salvation.
Righteousness and salvation are determined through the law, though the law is no aid in meeting these requirements. What is meant by salvation in justification theory is that humanity is sinful (which is defined by inability to keep the law) and faith fills in where works did not cut it. Faith defined by its role in regard to the law is precisely the argument set forth by the false Teacher which Paul is refuting. The Teacher is arguing for the necessity of the law while justification theory argues for the necessity of realization of the inadequacy of the law to achieve good works, but both systems need the law.
There are several problems with justification theory’s account of faith. Though faith is centered on the work of Christ, in place of the law, how can Abraham believe in Jesus, when he does not yet exist. How can he be said to be the father of all who believe, when his own belief (in justification theory) is not Christ centered but God (the Father) centered. Abraham’s faith pertained directly to his life’s journey – he had no son, but justification theory is concerned with law and its requirements. Abraham gives no evidence of an abstract struggle with a universal law. Is Paul picturing Abraham as somehow imputed with righteousness, as defined by the law, before there was law? There is nowhere in the text the notion that legal righteousness is transferred to Abraham, this misses the focus of the promise and the fact that Paul is using the term righteousness, not in reference to the law, but in reference to the life given through Isaac. As Douglas Campbell translates verse 3: “Abraham trusted in God, and it [i.e., his trust] was credited to his advantage with δικαιοσύνη.” “These texts specifically disavow the notion of merit as the basis of God’s action—which would create a forensic-retributive relationship—correlating that act, rather, with ‘trust.’” Paul has stated his intended purpose in 3:21-22: “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe.” Justification theory reads this “apart from the law” not as a complete departure from the law, as Paul argues, but as filling in the weakness of the law. Paul is making the case that faith has nothing to do with the law.
Paul is not doing justification theory, and his use of Abraham as an example of faith, has nothing to do with Abraham’s imagined discovery of the inadequacy of the law. Paul is using Abraham as a type of Christ, and of course does not picture a Christless faith as saving. There is no resurrection faith, no defeat of death, no enduring faithfulness, apart from Christ. Abraham’s journey is a type of the journey of Christ, and is not merely one to be emulated. No one is up to the task of faith like that of Abraham, any more than mere mortals are up to taking up crosses, dying, and being raised, apart from the fact that Christ pioneered this course. This is not something merely to be emulated – which would amount to a greater work than any work of the law. Participation in the faithfulness of Christ is the point. Christ did this and Abraham, in his own life-long encounter with death and his resurrection faith, is a type of Christian faithfulness. In both instances, there is a direct trust in God. Christ is not the object of faith, but the means of faithfulness, so that the focus is on trusting God as he did, through him. The Christian does not conjure up this faith through intense effort, but he participates in the faithfulness of Christ, of which Abraham is the key Old Testament type.
Paul’s argument undercuts the necessity of law, by arguing that Abraham’s faith is prior to the giving of the law. Righteousness does not and cannot pertain to the law, but it first of all refers to God’s promise to give Abraham a son, where he had no means of having a son. “For what does the Scripture say? ‘ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS’” (Rom. 4:3). Abraham was declared righteous, and was given life where death reigned, due to his faith. The declaration of righteousness pertains directly to the giving of Isaac – life in place of death: “(as it is written, ‘A FATHER OF MANY NATIONS HAVE I MADE YOU’) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, ‘SO SHALL YOUR DESCENDANTS BE’” (Rom. 4:17–18). So, Abraham’s faith is organically connected with his predicament, of being childless (without life) in the face of death.
Where justification theory has no role for resurrection in salvation, Paul puts the weight of Abraham’s faith and vindication on resurrection. “Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (4:23–24). This definition of righteousness does not and cannot refer to the law, and so too this faith is apart from the law.
Justification theory has misconstrued faith, righteousness, salvation, and the work of Christ, but it has also relinquished the intelligibility fostered by the journey of Christian faithfulness. The immutable classicist concept of culture has crumbled, institutional Christianity has faltered, and postmodernism has presumably cleared away the foundations of the modern, but this homelessness is precisely the context in which faith takes on its fulness of meaning. There is no stable reality to be accessed through culture, science, or institutions, but the dynamism of faith apprehends an order of meaning which is not dependent upon these falsely reified forms of immutability. Through faith we can move forward into the unknown country and not be given over to a futile relativity; rather there is an intelligible, personal, meaning, to be continually garnered on the faith journey. Romans 4 in depicting the meaning of faith but pictures entry into an alternative world, a world of life and meaning, on the basis of the dynamic intelligibility of faith.
 Douglas A. Campbell, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul (pp. 731-732). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.
 Campbell, 731.