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.

1 comment:

Nick Coller said...

I'd never heard the term "Cruciformity" before reading it here just now, but I like it, a lot!