A few years ago I began a chapter by chapter review of Michael Gorman’s highly influential book, “Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross.” Unfortunately due to life transitions at the time I had to set the review aside. I never finished the review but I did finish the book. Recently I found myself turning back to Gorman’s insights on Paul and spirituality. This is as good a time as any to attempt to complete my chapter by chapter review. Each chapter review includes a summary of the chapter’s content as well as some afterthoughts on how it might translate practically into ministry.
Here are the previous five chapter reviews:
Summary: Chapter 06
The title of this chapter is “Cruciform Faith (1).” In this chapter Gorman explores Paul’s experience and understanding of faith. It is the first part of a two-chapter long exploration of faith in Paul. “It is clear that for Paul faith is certainly not mere intellectual assent to a set of creedal affirmation, though that is part of faith…So what then is faith for Paul?…[faith is] an initial and ongoing cruciformity, grounded in the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah.” (pg. 95) Gorman spends the rest of the chapter unpacking Paul’s experience and understanding of faith as an initial and ongoing cruciformity.
The initial experience of faith for Paul (and for all of us) is covered by Gormon under the phrase the “Fundamental Option.” He borrows this phrase from Roman Catholic Ethicists (chiefly Joseph Fuchs). The “Fundamental Option” for everyone is to either to surrender to their self-interests or to surrender to God’s-interests. If they choose God’s interests the power to make that choice intially and in an ongoing fashion in their lives is beyond them, God must enter into their life and liberate them. To illustrate this truth Gorman turns to the narrative’s of Israel in the Old Testament. These narratives illustrate how dangerous real faith is. In Paul’s writings Gorman goes on to connect faith with the narrative of Christ’s death on the cross (You’ll have to purchase the book to find out how he does this: click here).
Having explored Paul’s experience of faith and how that experience was shaped by Israel’s story and Christ’s, Gorman now moves onto Paul’s understanding of faith. A few terms stand out in this part of Gorman’s analysis: Apocalyptic and Obedience. Paul, according to Gorman, believes that “human beings are under the power of an interlocking directorate of anti-human and anti-God realities and forces….[the human race needs] a solution that will deal not only with “sins” (plural) but with sin, and that will reconcile not only people to God but also people to one another.” (pg. 102, 104) Faith needs an apocalyptic object. For Paul the Cross is the answer, it is both an apocalyptic act that happens exactly in God’s time, decisively dealing with sin and death, and the Cross is Christ’s human, suffering-servant act that models for humanity how break free of the interlocking directorate of sin in their daily lives.
As such the Cross is the supreme example of Christ’s obedience. Gorman explores Paul’s understanding of Christ’s obedience in Romans, Galatians, and Philippians. He does this by translating Paul’s phrase that is most commonly translated as “faith in Christ” as “faith of Christ.” Gorman is not alone in doing this, in fact the Greek allows for both translations. Here are the reasons why Gorman believes translating this phrase as “faith of Christ” makes more sense:
- It expresses the most natural translation of the Greek phrase;
- It makes God (rather than God and Christ) the consistent object of faith for Paul;
- It is parallel in form and content to “the faith of Abraham” in Romans 4:12, 16;
- It can be given coherent sense, as a reference to Christ’s faith or faithfulness (the Greek word pistis can mean either) expressed in death, in the overall structure of Paul’s experience and theology, making the most fundamental basis of salvation not anthropocentric (our faith) but theo- and Christo-centric (Christ’s faith); and
- It grounds Paul’s emphasis on the inseparability of faith and love in the one faithful and loving act of Christ on the cross. (pgs. 110-111)
This is no small matter, Richard Hays, Duke NT Scholar, has spilled a great deal of ink on the faith in/faith of debate (although I feel that “faith in” translators can also bring in aspects of “faith of” in other passages they exegete). Some readers at this point may rightfully be concerned that perhaps Gorman is leaning too far to the “faith of” side of things so he qualifies his views by rightly acknowledging that “Paul in no way diminishes the significance of the faith of believers by stressing the faith of Jesus. In fact, through the preaching of the gospel, “Christs faith elicits our faith.”” (pg. 113)
Gorman wraps up this chapter with a terrific summary of Paul’s understanding of faith in Romans, Galatians, and Philippians:
“Jesus embodied the faith to which Israel was called. Depending on the context, Paul can use the term to stress Christ’s faith also as God’s (Romans), the self-giving and loving narrative pattern of the crucifixion (Galatians), or, most fully, the self-denying, self-humbling, self-emptying narrative pattern of both “incarnation” and cross (Philippians).”
According to Paul Jesus’s faith shapes our spirituality!
Not everything I learned in seminary has been of lasting value. Some of the academic exercises felt exactly like that – exercises. But the faith in/faith of debate is one of those areas of Pauline theology that are deeply important to me as a Christian and as a Pastor. If we believe in the end of the day that our spiritual growth is a matter of our “faith in” Christ more than a matter of his faithfulness on our behalf then our spirituality will become self-focused, and self-glorifying. Gorman frees us from this in this chapter and I’m grateful for that.
Some questions I’m living with after reading the chapter;
- How long has it been since I’ve revisited “the fundamental option” in my daily life? Do I realize the standing conflict between the kingdom of self and the Kingdom of God?
- Do I agonize more over my lack of faith in Christ, rather than purposefully rejoicing over Christ’s faithfulness for humanities sake?
- Is my life of obedience being shaped by the narratives of obedience in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament?
- How can all of Christ’s life become the narrative that shapes my life?