Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Book Review: "Reading Paul" by Michael Gorman

Gorman begins Reading Paul by asking the question why read Paul? Because, Paul speaks on behalf of God to humanity. For Gorman it is essential that Paul be read as scripture, contextually and contemporarily.

Chapters 2-4
Gorman examines Paul by looking at his apostleship, his letters, and his gospel. Gorman understands Paul pre-conversion, to be a product of Jewish zealous nationalism, and on the other hand Paul’s post-conversion life to be the antithesis of zealousness. Gorman views Paul’s apostleship as informing his letters, which are examples of his ministry built on his missionary work and continued through his pastoral letters. Gorman then makes an impressive argument that Paul’s gospel is theo-political in nature. He argues that Paul’s gospel conveys the story of salvation from Israel to the eschaton, that Jesus is sufficient and “if Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not,”[1] and that Christians are called to live a life of cruciformity.
            I will now examine the next eight chapters, by number, individually and briefly.
5 Gorman sees Paul as having an apocalyptic vision with an overlapping of the present age with the “age to come.” Gorman emphasizes that in the overlapping of ages Christians are to live their new life in Christ and are to look back at the incarnation, death, and resurrection, but also to look forward to the future return, resurrection, and renewal. 6 Gorman shows that Paul understood God in terms of Old Testament scripture. For Paul God is eternal, loving, holy, just, faithful, relational, etc. Gorman believes God’s work in Israel and Paul’s experience of Christ and the Spirit are what influence what Paul is proclaiming as God’s gospel. Gorman then argues that Paul presents a gospel enabling a three-in-one, (Trinitarian), experience of God and His gospel. 7He then argues that the cross is more than a symbol; it is the definitive revelation of God. He believes that we must see Christ crucified as a sacrifice and the fulfillment of covenant. This is essential to Gorman’s understanding of Paul because it supports his view of the cross as “horizontal” and “vertical.” Gorman sees Paul as presenting Christ’s sacrifice as having human implications in relation to Christ and neighbor.
8 Gorman expounds on the necessity of the resurrection as completion of the crucifixion. He interprets Paul as qualifying the acceptance of the Gentiles in light of Jesus, the “one” resurrected human. Gorman emphasizes the resurrection not as “resuscitation,” but as resurrection to life. Gorman once again presents Paul’s view of Jesus theo-politically as the replacement of the pax Romana. 9 Chapter 9 is the sequel to 8 where Gorman emphasizes the efficaciousness of the cross. Gorman compares the government as a means for order, but for Christians the cross is the means for order amongst human chaos, it is true justice. He argues that for Paul justification is by faith and allegiance to Christ, not to Caesar, and our justification is embodied in our crucifixion in and with Christ.
10 Here Gorman expands on the idea of being “saints”. Christians are called to be the Church, which for Gorman is in a multicultural and countercultural sense, the body of believer’s universal. Gorman understands Paul’s view of the Church to be formed by the cross and lead by the Spirit. 11 Gorman argues for the “Cruciform” Christian life. Although this is not language used by Paul, it is language created after the model of Paul’s theology. He believes that the cross is not only the means for salvation, but a model for being. Cruciformity is humanity’s existence in Christ, the formation of the individual and community in faith, hope, and love. Gorman argues that this is the model for Paul’s spirituality, which exists in life with God through the Son and by the Spirit.
12Gorman now presents the fullness of Paul’s eschatology. For Paul this is the anticipation of the future glory of God. Gorman notes misinterpretations of Paul’s eschatology in relation to politics, violence, and war. Rather this is the culmination of the “new age” and inauguration of judgment and salvation, the resurrection of believers, and renewal of creation. 13Lastly, Gorman revisits the question why Paul? Gorman’s answer is that Paul speaks about God, about the gospel, about the mission of the Church, and the living of the Church in faith, hope, and love. Paul calls his readers to employ his gospel and to live his message of cruciformity in God, through Christ, and by the Spirit.
In Reading Paul I appreciate Gorman’s ability to accomplish the intended task of the book. He gives a practical and applicable framework for reading and understanding Pauline literature and theology without using overly academic language, which welcomes the academy, the pastorate, and the laity. I greatly appreciate his views on justification and feel that he presents a middle ground between the “New Perspective” and the “traditional perspective.” He emphasizes the faith of the individual, but also the communal and horizontal aspects of faith, justification, and cruciformity. One area of Gorman’s work that I must criticize is his over emphasis on the theo-politcal message of Paul. Gorman presents sufficient evidence for his claims, but I am afraid that if Paul’s message is viewed as too theo-political in nature it creates a bias framework for interpreting Paul’s theology. Paul has much more to offer the Christian community than a theo-political message. Paul’s gospel may have theo-political overtones and implications, but the heart of his message is the cross. It is important that we understand Paul’s implications for public life and non-violence, but Paul’s readers must first understand the cross. Apart from this criticism I affirm Gorman’s representation of Paul and his gospel. Gorman gives sufficient evidence for his arguments and presents a well-informed robust view of Paul’s letters, apostleship, and theology. I would recommend Gorman’s book as a precursor to any person interested in the letters of Paul.

[1] Michael J. Gorman, Reading Paul. (Cascade: Eugene, 2008) 44