November 01, 2009

Michael Gorman, Inhabiting the Cruciform God

In this study of Pauline soteriology, Gorman focuses on Paul's "grand narrative" of kenosis, justification, and theosis as key themes for understanding Paul's view of salvation in Christ. The key text for explicating the narrative is Phil 2:5-11, where the kenosis and exaltation of Christ form the key movements in the description of Christ's incarnation. For Gorman, this narrative is key to understanding Christ, and salvation, and even more, it is key to understanding God. He sets as one of the book's key agendas the claim that "cruciformity is theoformity, or theosis," built on the foundational claim that "kenosis (self-emptying) reveals the character of God" (2). This key element of the thesis is worked out in the first chapter of the book, with a careful study of Philippians 2 and it's implications for Paul's master story. He then turns to an extended study of justification as co-crucifixion, a participation in the life and death of Christ, and specifically in Christ's covenant fulfillment. (Thus, the pistis christou debate features prominently in the chapter, as the subjective genitive reading there is an important element in the argument, though it doesn't stand or fall solely on that point.) He then turns to holiness as the actualization of justification (not some subsequent and separate movement) and closes with an argument for nonviolence as an essential part of Paul's entire viewpoint.

I greatly enjoyed Gorman's important work. It is well written and clearly argued throughout, and he demonstrates a thorough familiarity with Paul and his letters. I am extremely sympathetic to the core theological argument of the book, that kenosis not only pertains to Christ but also reveals something of the character and manner of working of God the Father as well. His chapter on justification is likewise illuminating, and I think he is convincing that theosis (as he carefully defines it) is an element in Paul's soteriology, one that is often neglected in the Western tradition. Whether "justification by co-crucifixion leading to theosis" is the one soteriological model for Paul is most certainly a more difficult argument to pull off, but at the least Gorman has demonstrated how the "crucified with Christ" language and thought patter in an important one for Paul. His chapters on holiness and nonviolence are similarly thought-provoking and challenging, and I have no doubt that this work overall provides an argument to be reckoned with. Gorman constantly brought me back to the text of Paul's letters to notice details I had previously missed while at the same time making a synthetic argument for an overarching framework that is helpful in thinking like Paul thought. So while I may not agree with him in all particulars, this is clearly a great work, and I am glad to recommend it.

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