Seeking to Recover an Overlooked Metaphor: Thomas Andrew Bennett’s “Labor of God”

Thomas Andrew Bennett is convinced that something has gone awry when it comes to how many Christians speak about the cross. Near the beginning of his new book, Labor of God, he suggests that most of the traditional atonement metaphors have become stale, or as he puts it, “toothless through long repetition” (p.1). Consequently, the Christian confession of a crucified messiah—which Paul called “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:23, NRSV)—no longer carries with it the sense of shock, mystery, or absurdity that he thinks it originally did (pp.1-2).

Given Bennett’s perspective, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him push for the development of fresh, alternative atonement metaphors, ones free from the weight of past use in the Christian tradition. However, he thinks the route forward actually consists in retrieval rather than innovation (p.2). Inspired by passages from the Old Testament and the Johannine literature, as well as the works of Medieval figures like St. Anselm and Julian of Norwich, Bennett advocates for retrieving an oft-neglected metaphor: “The image of the cross of Christ as God’s labor to bring about spiritual birth” (p.5). By embracing this image, he is convinced we can revitalize atonement theology and recover a fresh appreciation for the “radically gracious self-giving love” embodied by Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection (p.5).  Continue reading

Advertisements

Taking a Developmental Approach to Paul: A Review of Garwood P. Anderson’s “Paul’s New Perspective”

pauls-new-perspectiveIn 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 PerspectiveGarwood 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

Reading Paul Missionally: A Review of Michael Gorman’s “Becoming the Gospel”

Gorman_ecoming the Gospel_wrk02.indd*Note: we previously looked at Cruciformity here, and Inhabiting the Cruciform God here.

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

Theosis in the West? A Review of Michael Gorman’s Inhabiting the Cruciform God

inhabiting the cruciform GodIn 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)

Continue reading

The Cruciform Life: Michael Gorman on Paul’s Narrative Spirituality

cruciformitySpirituality 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