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As I mentioned in my first review I’m taking my time with Gorman’s book. Moving chapter by chapter through it. At the end of each chapter summary I’m also adding my own afterthoughts, and some probing questions the chapter has left me with. Questions my own spirituality is being stretched by. Here’s the summary and afterthoughts of chapter 02, “The Exalted Crucified Messiah.”

Summary: Chapter 02

What happened at Paul’s Damascus road experience and the subsequent apocalyptic visions he had of Jesus? What was Paul’s Christology like? How did his Christology shape his pastoral theologizing for his churches? These questions and more are tackled by Gorman in this chapter. Gorman’s chapter can be divided into two sections: the first discusses Paul’s Christology; the second describes how that view shaped all that Paul did.

For Paul Jesus now is, and can now be known and experienced as, the living Lord. As such, however, the living Messiah remains continuous with the crucified Jesus…Aftward, however, Paul came to believe that the crucified Jesus was not only the revelation of true divinity but also the paradigm of true humanity.” (pg.19) It is the pairing of these two pieces according to Gorman that made up Paul’s understanding of who Jesus was. He is at one and the same time the living Lord of heaven and earth, as well as the crucified Jesus. 

Paul’s narrative theology of Jesus, says Gorman, is “Jesus is…the crucified Jesus whom God his Father had sent into the world as Messiah and has now exalted to the position of Lord.” It was through the Damascus road experience and Paul’s subsequent experiences that this vision of Jesus was established and reaffirmed. In the Damscus road experience we see: 1) Paul being taken by surprise; 2) Paul experiencing a conversion, “not a change of religion (he remained a Jew) but a complete reorientation, what the Hebrew prophets themselves had called shuv” (pg. 26); 3) Paul experienced this as well as a call and a commission; and finally 4) Paul experienced his initial encounter with Jesus as a revelation of the gospel of God’s Son and thus of Jesus’ true identity. “Or, more precisely, Paul found in the revelation of the crucified Jesus the glory of the God of Israel that was now claiming and embracing him for the sake of the world, especially the Gentile world.” (pg. 28)

It was from the Damascus road experience and the subsequent revelations Paul had of Jesus that his whole life became reoriented around the cross of Christ. And Paul makes it plan that every believers life must be reoriented in light of Christ’s death for them. As Gorman so adequately puts it, “Paul conceives of identification with and participation in the death of Jesus as the believer’s fundamental experience of Christ.” (pg.32) And this experience says Gorman isn’t just individualized in believers lives but is to be had communally, as the church sees herself “in Christ.”

Anyone who’s study Paul’s thought knows well that the phrase “in Christ” is of huge importance to him, but what does it mean? Gorman takes a shot at it;

The language is not so much mystical as it is spatial: to live within a “sphere” of influence. The precise meaning of the phrase varies from context to context, but to be “in Christ” principally means to be under the influence of Christ’s power, especially the power to be conformed to him and his cross, by participation in the life of a community that acknowledges his lordship. (pg.36; see Gal. 2.20 & Phil. 2.5)

How does this way of understanding Paul’s phrase “in Christ” change the way we think about Christian growth and maturity? 

Paul’s being an imitator of Christ is not so much something he does but something that has happened to him. It is the result of being in Christ and of Christ being in him; it is the result of an influence, a power, that operates in and on Paul. “Imitation,” especially if understood as a process of human effort, is not the best word to describe this experience…The process of “imitation” is therefore better called Christ’s formation in believers (Gal. 4.19), and the result, believer’s conformity to Christ, especially to his cross (Phil. 3.10). (pg.48)

For Paul, cruciformity cannot be attributed to human effort. There is a power at work within him and within his communities that somehow, he claims, produces Christ-like qualities. This power enables the exalted crucified Christ to take shape in and among those who belong to him and live in him. It enables the narrative of the cross to be retold and relived. This power is, for Paul, the Spirit of God, the Sprit of Christ. (pg. 49)

Afterthoughts: 

This was a very content heavy chapter for me. I spent time in the footnotes as well as the excursus, and read and reread several sections within it and I loved it. I would personally like to see Gorman take this chapter and popularize it by unpacking it and putting the content in a small booklet formate because if he did I know I would use it in my small group conversations about what discipleship looks like. This is what pastors need, a clear and ardent plea to see Christian growth in light of the cross, in light of being in Christ as a community. Its great!!!

Here’s some questions I’ve been living with since reading it:

  • Does my life show forth the transcendent glory of Christ as Lord while at the same time exhibiting his broken, crucified immanence? Simply put, can people see in me glory and humiliation, strength and weakness, held together? Or is my life lived in a way where I only embrace strength, competency, success, etc..  
  • Do I really believe that being “in Christ” means sharing the sphere of his influence and transformational power with other believers whose lives seem as broken as mine, and who may have injured me and not sought out forgiveness? Or do I think Christianity is only about “my personal relationship with God”; have I privatized my faith journey somehow and how can God help me see his grace more each day in the friends I share this journey with “in Christ,” in community with his people?
  • How does suffering feature in my life right now, can I see my own personal suffering that at times seems so disconnected to the gospel in relation to Christ’s own death? I find myself often compartmentalizing God’s involvement in my sufferings to the point where there are certain things I think he has no stake in, things I have to grin and bear on my own apart from him. How can the cross of Christ break down all my faulty compartmentalizations?