Thursday, January 28, 2010

Reading Paul with Michael Gorman 7

Even Death on a Cross

The cross stands as the center of Christian existence; it is the source and shape of the life of the Christian. In the first century, however, it was a sign of Rome's power. It was an incredibly strange thing to claim that the Messiah was crucified.

The cross of Christ was the work of God to reconcile the world to himself. In his love he to the initiative to win the world back. The symbol that stood for the might of Caesar would now stand for the the love of God. The cross reveals the covenant faithfulness of God and his way of dealing with sin and human rebellion.

The cross is God's act of self-giving and reveals that God works through the weak and foolish things in the world. It is the power and wisdom of God that redeems the world; Christ crucified is at the heart of the gospel.

Christ was the sacrifice for sin. "Christ died for us/for our sins/for the ungodly/for all/for me." Love for God and love for others were the covenant obligations for the people of God. The cross was Christ's own self emptying act of faithfulness to God and love for us. Through faith and baptism we participate in the death of Christ by co-crucifixion and are justified.

The cross says something about our human condition. God expects all people to love him and others yet we are marked by idolatry, immorality and injustice. This is true of both Jew and Gentile. All people are enslaved to Sin (with a capital "S"). As a result, we cannot do what is right and do not have the ability to cure ourselves. The consequences of this condition are present spiritual death and future physical death. This present age is dominated by Sin and sins.

The solution we need involves liberation and forgiveness; the cross answers both of these problems. "Christ became poor so that we might become rich." We benefit from the death of Christ by participating in it.

N.T. Wright on 'Works of the Law'

One of the reasons people find N.T. Wright confusing at times is that in one paragraph he seems to be affirming one thing and then with a statement he seems to deny it. In his response to John Piper Wright denies that the Jews of Paul's day were performing works of the law in order to earn favor with God. In one sense I agree with this. The Jews believed that they were God's covenant people. God gave them the law so that they would be God's special people, unlike any one else. They did not have legalistic intentions. However, to deny any sort of legalism seems impossible in light of what Wright says here:

"[Many Jews] would have taken the law and sung it to a tune like this. God gave Israel the Torah, the holy, just and good law. Israel is required to keep the Torah; those who do so will be vindicated as God's people when he acts in history to judge the nations and rescue Israel from their clutches. The way to tell, in the present, who will be vindicated in the future, is that they are keeping 'the works of the law' right now. That is their badge in the present, the present sign that they will be vindicated in the future" (Romans for Everyone p. 60).

When I read this, and other things from Wright, I scratch my head (not because I don't understand what he says; I don't understand why he denies certain things); I get that Jews believed that they were God's special people and some believed that if you wanted to be marked out as God's people you had to take on Torah. We need to take seriously Paul's discussion of how the law separates Jew and Gentile (or is God the God of the Jews only?). But what Paul denies is that the Jews could put any claim on God because they possessed and performed the law. They took pride in the idea that they were the ones obeying the law. They were God's privileged people. What does Paul say? "Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness." Anytime, at least in my mind, people start saying things like, "we are A so we deserve B, we have A so we deserve B, or we have done A so we deserve B" there is, at least some sort, of legalism. We cannot expect vindication from God because of who we are, what we have, or what we have done. We are all under Sin's power. We all need to come to Christ in repentance and faith.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Reading Paul with Michael Gorman 6

The Gospel of God

The Christian faith finds it roots in Judaism. Paul saw himself as serving the one true God of Israel who was revealed most fully in the Messiah Jesus. This God is the living God who has revealed his name as "YHWH". "With other Jews, Paul believed that God has spoken the world into existence; called Abraham to be the father of a people, Israel, that would be a blessing to all nations; gave the Law to, and made covenant with, that people; expected the covenant people to obey the precepts of the Law, especially to live in loyalty toward God and in love toward neighbor and stranger, particularly the poor; promised a Messiah to save the people from their sins and oppressors; and spoke through prophets about a future day when God would establish a new, permanent covenant, when sin and injustice would cease, and when even the Gentiles would acknowledge the one true God in a new creation."

In Israel's scriptures there derives a set of beliefs about God's acts and character traits. Paul believed that God had acted in Christ and that the scriptures needed to be re-interpreted in light of this fact. He saw the Law as holy and good but also saw that it pointed to the gospel which he had now come to believe and proclaim. When Jews believed in this gospel they were participating in the reality to which the prophets pointed; when Gentiles believed they joined the family of Abraham. They experienced a "spiritual" heart surgery that made it possible for them to "fulfill the righteous requirement of the Law."

Because of the new thing God had done, when Paul used the word "God" there was continuity and discontinuity with how he understood the word. He saw a close relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit; this is what we know as the Trinity. Paul thought of the God of Israel in a different way because of his experience of the Son and the Spirit.

One of God's attributes that the Scriptures highlight is his faithfulness. Again, Paul saw this as taking on new meaning because of the triune nature and work of God. As a response to the problem of sin God established a covenant with Abraham. This has now been made a reality through the Messiah. God has fulfilled his promised to bless both Israel and the Gentiles. God's mercy is revealed in his work of reconciliation. "The focal point of this grace in Christ is, of course, the death of Christ, where God's faithfulness and mercy come into full view."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Reading Paul with Michael Gorman 5

In the Fullness of Time

Paul believed that the God of Israel has a plan for this world; he had the conviction that the climax of this great plan, a plan rooted in Israel’s prophets, was at hand. In light of the misery they were facing, the prophets saw that God was going to do something new. God was going to make a new creation, new exodus and new covenant. This great time of worship and justice would be for all people. The apocalyptic visionaries called Israel to align themselves with the purposes of God over and against Satan and his minions.

Jesus had an apocalyptic perspective. This is seen in his message that, “the reign of God is breaking into history now – that is, in and through Jesus’ own ministry of calling twelve to reconstitute Israel, preaching to the poor and to all, exorcising demons and defeating Satan, forgiving sins, liberating the oppressed, challenging the religious leaders, and eventually dying and rising.”

This apocalyptic event takes place in two parts. God has inaugurated the new age yet it overlaps with the present evil age; when Jesus appears for the second time he will end the present age and will bring the age-to-come to its fullness. Believers currently live in the overlap of the ages. This new life happens “in Christ”, a personal and corporate experience. It is a bifocal life that is characterized by looking back at what God has done in Christ and looking forward to what is to come.


If one wants to understand Paul it is essential to have a good grasp on his apocalyptic outlook. Gorman is extremely helpful in this area. He doesn't choose an apocolyptic message over a cross message. He sees God having a grand purpose for Israel, and the whole world, and the way this comes about is through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Another thing essential to grasp is how Paul is rooted in Israel's scriptures. In a lot of biblical theology people jump straight from the fall to the cross without giving any attention to God's workings with Israel. However, the very foundation for God's plan for dealing with sin is rooted in his plans for Israel. In Christ God's purposes have come to their climax.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Reading Paul with Michael Gorman 4

The Power of God for Salvation

Paul was a preacher of the good news of God’s salvation. This gospel was not a “personal message of salvation” but a theopolitical announcement (by political Gorman does not mean government structures and political parties but a public, common life together). Although Paul did not give us a comprehensive outline of the gospel and his theology, he did leave us some important summaries by which we can discern Paul’s “big ideas.”

In the first century when people heard the word euangelion (good news) they would think of the salvation promised by the prophets in the Jewish scriptures; another idea brought to mind by this word was the good news of the birth of an emperor, his accession to power, or the salvation that he would bring. Paul was preaching that the promises of the prophets were coming true and that Jesus was the true Lord and Savior of the world; salvation, including peace and justice, would come through Jesus not Caesar.

God’s great plan of salvation, his intervention in human history, to put a world gone wrong to rights has been executed. Therefore, Paul’s gospel isn’t merely about “personal salvation”; Paul does, however, call people into a right relationship with God. The gospel message brings those who believe into, “a new life in this world under the sway of a new lord and savior in the company of like-minded companions….[it is] good news from God, about his Son, for us…[that] centers on Jesus’ death, resurrection and exaltation as Lord.” Those who hear the message must respond with faith.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Salvation as the Revelation of God's Righteousness

In Rediscovering Paul authors David Capes, Rodney Reeves, and E. Randolph Richards give a good definition of Paul's view of salvation in Romans:

"Despite the scandal of the cross, Paul is not ashamed of the gospel. This is because God's power is revealed in the gospel and makes salvation a reality for everyone who believes, Jews first, then Greeks. In Paul's vernacular, salvation is a comprehensive term that incorporates all the benefits of the gospel. It includes (1) forgiveness of sins, (2) reconciliation and living at peace with God, (3) adoption into God's eternal family, (4) redemption from slavery to sin, death and other spiritual forces, (5) resurrection from the dead at the parousia, (6) acquittal at the final judgment and (7) glorification with him for eternity. So salvation is not merely going to heaven after death; it is a wide-ranging program of transformation for humanity and creation. Specifically, Paul unpacked the salvation found in the gospel as the revelation of 'the righteousness of God' (Rom 1:17)."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Paul in One Sentence

In Reading Paul Michael Gorman offers this excellent summary of Paul in one sentence:

"Paul preached, and then explained in various pastoral, community forming letters, a narrative, apocalyptic, theopolitical gospel (1) in continuity with the story of Israel and (2) in distinction to the imperial gospel of Rome (and analogous powers) that was centered on God's crucified and exalted Messiah Jesus, whose incarnation, life, and death by crucifixion were validated and vindicated by God in his resurrection and exaltation as Lord, which inaugurated the new age or new creation in which all members of this diverse but consistently covenantally dysfunctional human race who respond in self-abandoning and self-committing faith thereby participate in Christ's death and resurrection and are (1) justified, or restored to right covenant relations with God and with others; (2) incorporated into a particular manifestation of Christ the Lord's body on earth, the church, which is an alternative community to the status-quo human communities committed to and governed by Caesar (and analogous rulers) and by values contrary to the gospel; and (3) infused both individually and corporately by the Spirit of God's Son so that they may lead "bifocal" lives, focused both back on Christ's first coming and ahead to his second, consisting of Christlike, cruciform (cross-shaped) (1) faith and (2) hope toward God and (3) love toward both neighbors and enemies (a love marked by peaceablness and inclusion), in joyful anticipation of (1) the return of Christ, (2) the resurrection of the dead to eternal life, and (3) the renewal of the entire creation."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Reading Paul with Michael Gorman 3

To Spread the Gospel

As an apostle it was Paul’s mission to spread the good news of Jesus and to establish communities which were obedient to God through conformity to Jesus in the power of the Spirit; through his visits and letters these communities were strengthened. Paul greatly cared for these communities in a variety of ways during and after the time he founded them.

Paul was a traveling preacher and he did this with companions. He also worked as a tent-maker which helped to support his traveling and preaching ministry. Paul allowed a community to participate in the work of God through financial support, but only after the community was established.

Paul was a strategic evangelist; he brought the gospel to large urban centers and to the Jewish community in different cities. After his work in the Jewish community he moved on to gentiles which made up the majority of his converts.

The communities that Paul established were called “assemblies”. Those who gathered together constituted God’s new family. Paul saw himself as their spiritual father and exercised his parental authority over them. “Today we would call a person like Paul a ‘pastor’ (meaning ‘shepherd’), and his or her letters ‘pastoral letters’.

Paul’s ministry, however, wasn’t all success. He often suffered persecution in various forms; Paul, however, wore this as a badge of honor as it associated him with the crucified Messiah. He didn’t suffer because he enjoyed it; rather, he suffered because he was radically faithful to Jesus, the crucified Lord. Ironically, cross-shaped suffering could lead to the spread of the gospel. “…What confirmed an apostolic call for Paul was not merely the claim of a divine encounter and commission…but above all conformity to Christ in his faithfulness, love, and (consequently) suffering…It authenticated him and authorized him to speak with the authority of God, whether in person or by letter.”

Paul wrote letters that are directed to his original hearers and to us. They need to be read by us as “documents of spiritual formation.” We also need to keep in mind that these are first-century letters and we must read them as such. Paul writes in a fairly standard format: Salutation, thanksgiving, body, closing exhortations, and greetings/benedictions. Paul, however, “Christianizes” this standard way of writing.

Gorman goes on to give a concise summary and a helpful chart of the themes of each of Paul's letters. I will not summarize them here as the are already quite short. My suggestion would be to buy this book. It is a great tool to have on the bookshelf.


It's amazing to see the work that God did in Paul's life. He went from a persecutor to one who's life work was to travel and establish communities who were faithful to Lord Jesus; he suffered for the sake of Christ. Today we often think of great leaders as those who preach amazing sermons and have huge churches. Paul, however, didn't measure his greatest by his accomplishments but by his suffering with the Messiah. I love how Gorman says it, "he wore it as a badge of honor." I fear suffering for the sake of Christ yet I need to change my thinking to be like Paul. To suffer like Christ is to suffer with Christ.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Gospel Command

Although one might disagree with some of the things N.T. Wright says in the first sentence, the main point is something we can all learn from. The gospel is primarily an announcement, a command from the world's true Lord.

"The 'good news' is not, first and foremost, about something that can happen to us. What happens to us through the 'gospel' is indeed dramatic and exciting: God's good news will catch us up and transform our lives and our hopes like nothing else. But the 'good news' which Paul announces is primarily good news about something that has happened, events through which the world is now a different place. It is about what God has done in Jesus, the Messiah, Israel's true king, the world's true Lord...The gospel isn't like an advertisement for a product we might or might not want to buy, depending on how we felt at the time. It is more like a command from an authority we would be foolish to resist. Caesar's messengers didn't go round the world saying 'Caesar is lord, so if you feel you need to have a Roman-empire kind of experience, you might want to submit to him.' The challenge of Paul's gospel is that someone very different to Caesar, exercising a very different kind of power, is the world's true lord." (Paul for Everyone: Romans Part 1 pp.4-5)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Reading Paul with Michael Gorman 2

Grace and Apostleship

We do not know very much about the apostle Paul before his conversion; we do know that he was a Pharisee, "proud of his heritage and his zeal for the Law of God". This zeal caused him to seek the destruction of the church which he saw as a perversion of Judaism. It seemed that this movement did not seek to keep the law as was evident from its open welcome to Gentiles. There are two mains reasons why Paul sought the destruction of the church: 1) they were preaching a crucified Messiah, which means that he was cursed; and 2) their openness towards Gentiles.

Paul used violence to remedy the situation. He would have seen himself as descending from a line of holy heroes like Phinehas who went to great means to enforce purity among God's people. Paul saw his zeal as the basis for his righteousness before God.

This violent zeal was abandoned by Paul after the Lord Jesus revealed himself to him, the "defining moment of Paul's life". After, although he remained a Jew, he came to believe that the crucified and risen Jesus was the Messiah and, therefore, the Lord of the world. Paul "changed his convictions, conduct, and community.

When Paul encountered the risen Jesus he was called and commissioned as an apostle. He was going to preach the gospel to the Gentiles; formerly he violently persecuted the church for accepting them but he had a new mission now.

"The turn to nonviolence is at the very heart of Paul's conversion, and his gospel." Retaliation was no longer Paul's practice; rather, he "absorbed violence" himself and taught his churches to do the same, as is appropriate for those "converted by and to the love of God". He also critiqued imperial violence in the name of peace and security (see the pax et securitas in 1 Thess 5:3). "A politics of subversion, not intentional but as an inevitable consequence of the gospel, is central to Paul and to those who read his letters as Scripture."

After his conversion Paul saw that Gentiles could be included into God's community without being circumcised. God's great time of salvation, promises by the prophets, had arrived and this meant anyone could come to God through the Spirit. Paul's gospel does not mean inclusion for everyone, however. "All are welcome just as they are to be apprehended by, and fully converted to, Jesus Christ the Lord."


Sometimes when people speak of Paul's conversion they make it sound as if he was converted from an evil religion to a good one. Some say he abandoned legalism for grace. I appreciate Gorman's stress on the fact that it was his encounter with the Messiah that changed him. After this moment he realized that God's promised salvation had arrived bringing to fulfillment all the promises God has made to Israel. Paul stayed firmly planted within Judaism but he believed that, through Jesus, the covenant had reached it's climax and that inclusion into the people of God meant that one had to be in the Messiah. This radically changed Paul. He was, as is rightly said, converted.

I also find Gorman's stress on nonviolence helpful. Paul was a violent persecutor but after his conversion he refused to retaliate and he preached a message of reconciliation to God (first and foremost) and with others. God's community should be marked by meekness, gentleness and peace.

However, I do have some reservations about, what seems to be, Gorman's full blown pacifism. I'm not sure Paul always fits into that category and I don't think we can just write off Romans 13 as evidence for this fact. Although Paul never says in that passage that Christians should be a part of the "governing authorities" he has a very positive view of this authority. It is a necessary, though temporary, measure God has implemented to restrain the effects of the fall. I think it is possible for a Christian to be a part of these authorities because it does not necessarily entail retaliation and violence. Gorman does, however, give us a lot to think about on this important subject. One question that will be on my mind is, "can a Christian be a part of the governing authorities and still live a life of cruciformity?"

See an interesting discussion here at Jesus Creed.

Reading Paul with Michael Gorman 1

Michael J. Gorman is the professor of Sacred Scripture and Dean of the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore, Maryland. He has spent much of his career studying, writing about and teaching Paul. He has a unique 'perspective' on Paul and as you read him you will find that he is neither 'old' or 'new' perspective but takes from the best of both worlds. So far I have found his small introduction to Paul to be a very edifying read and here I will offer brief summaries and reflections of his book 'Reading Paul' published by Cascade.

Why Paul?

Why should we read Paul? Some suggest that a great part of the world's problems are bound up in religion. Is not Paul a religious figure? Does that not make him part of the problem? In Gorman's view Paul is not part of the problem and his writings need to be read as Scripture.

Too many people treat Paul as if he has no relevance for today. But if Paul's writings are Scripture then they are part of the Bible, the Christian's "primary authority of..knowledge of God and the primary instrument of God's ongoing address to the Christian community." There is only one people of God and, thus, Christians today are part of the same community to which Paul's writings were written. That isn't to say that there aren't difference between us and them that shouldn't be addressed. But if we stress the differences then we are not reading Paul as he is meant to be read.

There are two main reasons why people are wary to accept the idea that Paul's words are God's words. 1) Some think that if we want to know about Jesus then we should turn to the gospels, not Paul; and 2) Some people find Paul offensive. Paul, however, is not as different from Jesus as is often thought. The subject of preaching for both Jesus and Paul was the Kingdom of God. In some cases Paul may be less offensive and in other cases he might be more offensive than is often thought.


What excites me most about reading this book is that Gorman does not make us choose between Jesus and Paul. In recent debates, emergent and reformed, the two can sometimes, perhaps unknowingly, be pitted against one another. However both believed and were passionate about the fact that God's saving reign had become a reality. God was fulfilling all his saving promises that he has made to Israel and they were both calling people to become a part of the restored people of God. Also, both saw the cross and resurrection as central to God's saving promises. If we get to know Paul then we are getting to know Jesus. We ought to follow him as he followed Christ.