In recent years, a growing number of Pauline scholars have sought to push beyond the bitter debates that have taken place over the last few decades between proponents of the so-called old and new perspectives on Paul. In Paul’s New Perspective, Garwood P. Anderson makes a substantial contribution to this quest for a more nuanced via media by introducing a relatively unexplored proposal to the conversation: an ambitious developmental approach to Paul’s soteriology.
In Anderson’s eyes, “Paul’s letters show evidence of both a contextually determined diversity and also a coherent development through time” (p.7). This conviction enables him to say that “both ‘camps’ are right, but not all the time” (p.5). He begins Paul’s New Perspective with a survey of the sprawling landscape of recent books on Paul. Anderson’s impressive familiarity with the relevant works of well-known “new perspective on Paul” (NPP) luminaries like Sanders, Dunn, and Wright is evident. He also introduces readers to the more recent contributions of other scholars like Bird, Gorman, and Barclay. To call Anderson “well-read” seems like a real understatement, and his nuanced engagement with an intimidatingly large pile of Pauline literature is both helpful and at times illuminating. Continue reading →
An Anomalous Jew, Michael F. Bird’s newly published addition to the field of Pauline scholarship, begins with the obvious: the Apostle Paul was a Jew. Paul was born into a Jewish family and spent his early years studying the Torah. As he grew older, he became a Pharisee, and according to both Luke’s description in Acts and Paul’s own words in Galatians, he worked actively to eradicate the young Christian movement before himself becoming a follower of Jesus.
In the introduction, Bird draws attention to the fact that, even as a Christ-believer working among the Gentiles, Paul expressed concern for his “kindred according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:3, NRSV) and affirmed the value of Israel’s election and covenants (p.2). In sum, the man was deeply Jewish. What makes the issue complicated, though, is that Paul also said some things that, as Bird puts it, “no Torah-affirming Jew could seemingly say” (p.3). Continue reading →
*Note: we previously looked at Cruciformityhere, and Inhabiting the Cruciform Godhere.
Michael Gorman’s 2015 book, Becoming the Gospel, takes an illuminating look at Paul’s perspective on the Church’s participation in the mission of God (missio Dei). It forms the final entry in what Gorman calls a “partly accidental” trilogy—the first book being Cruciformity (2001) and the second Inhabiting the Cruciform God (2009) (pp.2-3). In Cruciformity, Gorman argued that the cruciform, self-giving love of Christ found in Paul’s writings, and especially expressed in the Philippian Christ Hymn (Phil. 2:6-11), formed the center of both Paul’s theology and spirituality.
Inhabiting the Cruciform God extended the main argument of Cruciformity by seeking to show that, “For Paul, to be one with Christ is to be one with God; to be like Christ is to be like God,” meaning that “for Paul cruciformity… is really theoformity, or theosis” (Inhabiting the Cruciform God, p.4). Starting from this premise, he developed a reading of Paul’s letters that weaved together the (sometimes) seemingly opposed frameworks of legal/forensic and participatory understandings of justification and salvation, arguing that far from being opposed to one another, these forensic and participatory categories are more like two sides of the same coin. Therefore, one can say that justification in Paul can also be understood as the beginning of “an experience of participating in Christ’s resurrection life that is effected by co-crucifixion with him” (Inhabiting the Cruciform God, p.40). Continue reading →
In our last review, we looked at Michael Gorman’s book Cruciformity and saw that for him the defining characteristic of Paul’s experience of God was Spirit-enabled conformity to the crucified and resurrected Christ, a concept he termed “cruciformity.” He also showed that Paul used the the Christ Hymn in Philippians 2:6-11 to help flesh out the shape of this cruciform spirituality.
This time, we’re going to look at Gorman’s 2009 book Inhabiting the Cruciform God, which is basically an extension of what he started in Cruciformity. One of the foundational claims of his 2001 book was that, for Paul, God is cruciform. Gorman launches into Inhabiting the Cruciform God by verbalizing the consequence of this claim, writing that “an experience of the cross, a spirituality of the cross, is also an experience and a spirituality of God—and vice versa” (p.1). This leads us to the central proposal of this book, which we will spend the rest of our time unpacking: If God is cruciform, then cruciformity can also be understood as theoformity. He explains:
For Paul, to be one with Christ is to be one with God; to be like Christ is to be like God; to be in Christ is to be in God. At the very least, this means that for Paul cruciformity—conformity to the crucified Christ—is really theoformity, or theosis. (p.4)
Spirituality is a slippery word. In the introduction to his 2001 book Cruciformity, Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross, Michael Gorman notes that for many, it is a term “associated with vague feelings of purposefulness or serenity and disassociated from religion, especially religious community” (p.2). He defines Christian spirituality as “the experience of God’s love and grace in daily life” and endeavors throughout the book to show that the defining characteristic of Paul’s spirituality was “cruciformity,” a term he uses to describe the concept of being conformed to Christ (p.3). Indeed, the basic aim of the book is really to unpack “what Paul means by conformity to the crucified Christ” (pp.4-5).
So what makes the cross so central to Paul’s experience of God? A good place to begin is in 1 Corinthians, where Paul wrote, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (2:2 NRSV). According to Gorman, “know” in this context means “something like ‘to experience and to announce in word and deed’” (p.1). Additionally, the “and” in this verse can be better translated to mean “even” or “that is,” resulting in the following translation: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ—that is Jesus Christ crucified” (p.1). He delves into the striking nature of this claim, writing that, “For Paul, ‘to know nothing except Jesus Christ—that is, Jesus Christ crucified,’ is to narrate, in life and words, the story of God’s self-revelation in Christ’” (p.7). Continue reading →