The Vocation of Letter Writing: Christopher Seitz’s Commentary on Colossians

colossiansIn his commentary on Colossians, Christopher Seitz, an Old Testament scholar by trade, makes use of a wide array of ancient and modern Christian interpreters to give an irenic, theologically rich, and textually sensitive reading of Paul’s letter. Seitz’s book is part of the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible series, which takes as its premise the idea that “the Nicene tradition, in all its diversity and controversy, provides the proper basis for the interpretation of the Bible as Christian scripture” and that “dogma clarifies rather than obscures” (p.11).

One of the more unique facets of Seitz’s commentary is his canonical approach. He seeks to interpret Colossians in light of both the larger Pauline corpus of which it is a part, as well as the rest of the Old and New Testaments. He acknowledges from the outset that “canonical readings” have come under fire in the past for being “either a genre mistake or a piety masking illegitimate (‘unhistorical’ in our present parlance) interpretation” (p.50). Consequently, Seitz takes time to respond to these criticisms by giving a more in-depth description of what he thinks the term entails: Continue reading

Studies in Galatians Episode I: N.T. Wright on Messiahship

galatians and christian theologyIn the summer of 2012, an assorted group of Pauline specialists and other scholars, including people like John Barclay, Richard Hays, and Beverly Roberts Gaventa, gathered at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland for a conference on Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Out of this gathering came Galatians and Christian Theology, an edited volume of the papers given at the meeting.

These essays are divided into three broad categories: Justification, Gospel, and Ethics (pp.x-xi). Over the next few months, we will be periodically exploring a few of the more interesting essays from each of these sections, even as we continue to dive into other books. For now, let’s turn to our first essay, N.T. Wright’s “Messiahship in Galatians?”

It may strike some as odd, but the importance of Jesus’ messiahship in Galatians has long been minimized by certain parts of Pauline studies. These scholars assume that when Paul uses the word Christos in regards to Jesus, it functions basically as a proper name, emptied of most, if not all, messianic content (p.3). Wright rhetorically takes the view of these writers and asks, “Why… would this letter, warning Paul’s gentile converts against the attractions of Judaism, make use of such an obviously Jewish notion as messiahship?” (p.3). As one might expect, Wright intends to show that Jesus’ messiahship actually occupies a central place in Galatians. 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)

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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