In this, the final post of our series looking at some of the essays in Galatians and Christian Theology, we are turning to Mariam Kamell’s, “Life in the Spirit and Life in Wisdom.” Kamell’s background is in the study of wisdom in the Epistle of James and in Jewish wisdom literature. She is currently a New Testament professor teaching out at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada.
The Apostles Paul and James were spiritual brothers in Christ. However, many get the impression that they must have been testy, quarrelsome siblings. Near the beginning of her piece, Kamell notes that, “There may be no two other epistles in the New Testament that have been so consistently contrasted to each other theologically as Galatians and James” (p.353). Martin Luther, in his typically blunt way, described James as someone who “wanted to guard against those who relied on faith without works, but was unequal to the task” (Word and Sacrament I).
Kamell thinks that many Christians have been too quick to pit Paul and James against each other, spending too much time focusing either on their contentious relationship suggested by Galatians 2 (“certain men came from James”) or “on their different views of the law and Abraham in Galatians 3 and James 2” (p.354). One common way of reading them in light of each other has been to interpret James’s insistence that “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (2:17 NRSV) as meaning that true faith in Christ leads to good works as a necessary consequence of being made a new creation in Christ. An example of this can be found in Reformed theologian Thomas Schreiner’s 2015 book, Faith Alone, where he asserts that “justification is by faith alone, but it is a faith that expresses itself in good works” (p.206).
Rather than strictly focusing directly on the faith vs. works issue in her essay, Kamell instead chooses to compare Paul’s treatment of life in the Spirit in Galatians 5-6 with James’s account of living according to wisdom.
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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)
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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 →