As a pastor you read all kinds of books: some to keep you connected with the cultural horizon of your people, some to keep those days of academic labors in seminary fresh, some to develop you and your team, and some for your own spiritual growth. Occasionally though you find yourself reading a book that seems to actually be reading you…reading your heart, your weaknesses, and your hopes. Michael J Gorman’s book “Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross” is just that kind of book. It is a book that repays a careful, slow reading.
Because I’m finding Cruciformity to be reading me far more than I’m reading it I wanted to share a chapter by chapter review of the book where I’ll summarize the contents and then share in an afterthoughts section some of the probing questions the chapter left me with.
Summary: Intro & 01
INTRODUCTION: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ – that is, Jesus Christ crucified.” (1 Cor. 2.2) Gorman opens his intro with this retranslation which sets the tone for the central argument of his work. At the heart of Paul and the Christian faith is the symbol of Christ crucified. The heart of which Gorman’s book is aimed to explore. As a way of clarifying himself Gorman defines some terms from his title: the first is spirituality. Spirituality is a difficult word to define, for Gorman spirituality is about experiencing God’s love and grace in life daily, and not just experiencing it but extending it outward. Gorman says Paul was not just a theologian, but a spiritual theologian, someone who processed out loud his experience of God’s grace and love. Next Gorman defines narrative. He isn’t interested in just exploring Paul’s experience of God but rather wants to explore the narrative structure behind it – the story of Christ. The last word Gorman defines is “Cruciformity,” i.e. having our lives conformed to the crucified Christ. “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.” (pg. 7)
THE CRUCIFORM GOD 01: Gorman takes his readers in this brief chapter through the conversion of Paul’s conscience as he moved from an orthodox Jewish confession of the Shema in Deuteronomy 6.4 to the fuller revelation that God is not only the creator of all things, Father of Israel, and Lord of the covenant but God is now chiefly known in the person of Jesus. Which by extension means God is chiefly known through the cross of Christ. This shift involved Paul coming to terms with God as our Father which means that God is now for us all (Jew & Gentile alike). For Paul, Christ’s act upon the cross was an expression of “family resemblance” between him and his Father.
Just as God in Israel’s imagination was known through the symbol of creation, exodus, and exile; now God would be known through the symbol of the cross. A cross that God the Father allowed his Son to bear for us. God’s Fatherly character can be summarized in the words of Galatians 5.6, “faithfulness working through love.” Building upon this, Gorman says, “The cross is the interpretive, or hermeneutical, lens through which God is seen; it is the means of grace by which God is known.” (pg. 17) In this way its appropriate to say that to know God means to know the cross.
- Does my life embody the story of Christ on the cross? Can people see in me someone marked by God’s radical generosity?
- Do I see God the Father through the cross or do I see Him as an other-worldly gum ball machine who dispenses gifts at no cost to Himself?
- When I read Paul do I treat the story of Christ as one of many topics he covers or do I see it as the underlying narrative structure of his life, the way he made since of all things? How would such a reading change the way I understand him and God’s word through him in scripture?