Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Schreiner on Righteousness and Justification

I found this great quote from Thomas Schreiner on Justification and Righteousness in Romans (HT: Mike Bird).

"The term 'righteousness of God' in Rom 1:17 ... is clearly fundamental for all of Romans, and it is unlikely that it can be confined solely to forensic or transformative categories. Those whom God has vindicated he also changes. In my opinion, it is doubtful that the term Paul features in presenting his gospel would contain only a forensic dimension. This transformation does not involve eperfection, and it is also crucial to see that God's transforming righteousness is still an alien righteousness - given by God as a gift to sinners. Nor is there any suggest that sinners somehow prepare themselves by good deeds to receive this righteousness. The saving righteousness of God is a gift received by faith alone, and God declares sinners to be in the right before him on the basis of Christ's atoning death. Yet God's declaration of righteousness - which is a gift of the age to come invading the present evil age - is an effective declaration, so that those who are pronounced righteous are also transformed by God's grace. Such a transformation is due solely to God's grace and does not involve a perfect righteousness, nor is there any suggestion that the good works that follow this transformation merit eternal life. Nonetheless, as Rom. 6 shows, believers are changed by the grace of God, and this transformation is an essential ingredient in God's saving work. The use of the verb dikaioun in Rom. 6:7 demonstrates that God's declaration of righteousness really frees people from sin. Similarly, in Rom. 5:19 Paul teaches that those who are incorporated into Christ Jesus are actually made righteous, just as those in Adam are truly made sinners. The forensic is the basis for the transformative, but the one cannot be sundered from the other. Those who are the recipients of the ministry of the Spirit have also been transformed by the ministry of righteousness (2 Cor. 3:8-9). Just as those who are condemned are actually guilty, so too those who are vindicated on the basis of the cross of Christ and his atonement for sinners (Rom. 3:21-26) have also been made righteous by God's gracious work (cf. Rom. 14:17). God's forensic declaration is effective because the Lord who was crucified on behalf of sinners was also raised from the dead (Rom. 4:25), and thus sinners live in a new way (Rom. 6:4)."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Reading Paul with Michael Gorman 11

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. Today we are looking at chapter 11.

Conformed to the Image of God's Son

In this chapter Gorman covers the topic of holiness in terms of cruciformity. By this he is referring to "conformity to the crucified Christ" (p.146).

Gorman offers us a fuller explanation: "Cruciformity is cross-shaped existence in Christ. It is letting the cross be the shape, as well as the source, of life in Christ. It is participating in and embodying the cross. It may also be described, more technically, as non-identical repetition, by the power of the Spirit, of the narrative of Christ's self-giving faith and love that was quintessentially expressed in his incarnation and death on the cross" (pp.146-7). The new life that we are raised to takes the form of the cross.

This life looks back at the work of Christ and ahead when Christ will return to fully establish his kingdom. "This means that the experience of dying and rising carries forward from baptism into daily life; each day, each moment becomes an occasion for expressing the resurrection power of God through cross-shaped decisions and actions" (p. 148). Christians should not be power seekers like the world but should have the mind of Christ, seeing power in weakness. Gorman makes the important point that cruciformity is not primarily about suffering, however, but loyalty; this loyalty often results in suffering. They can face this suffering with joy knowing that "shame gives way to honor in the economy of God" (p. 151).

Gorman goes on to discuss three aspects of of this cruciform existence: Faith, hope and love. He includes the ideas of trust and intellectual assent in his definition of faith but goes beyond them as well. Faith can also be seen as something like a pledge of allegiance and is an ongoing reality in the life of the believer. Jesus himself displayed this sort of faith. "Jesus is thus the ultimate paradigm of Christian faith, exemplifying its covenantal significance as trusting obedience, even to the point of death" (p. 155). He even goes beyond these ideas by showing that to have faith is to share in the faithfulness of Jesus (his death and resurrection).

Like faith, Gorman sees "love" as a verb. "Love acts patiently, love does kindness...Like faith, then, for Paul love is an action-word, a covenantal term that describes the fundamental relationship that should exist among God's people and from God's people toward others" (p. 156). Believers are to love just as Christ loved by not acting for selfish gain but for the good of others.

Hope, for Paul, is a "future oriented word". "We might therefore say that hope is the future tense of faith" (p. 160). The gospel itself has a future dimension and hope is the confidence that God will do what he said based on his actions in the past. We can, therefore, count on God's promises, be patient in the present and boast in our sufferings. Hope is grounded in the resurrection of Christ.

"Paul's triad of faith, hope, and love challenges us to the core, calling us to align our loyalties, our dreams, and our affections with the gospel of God, the lordship of Jesus, and the countercultural activity of the Spirit" (p. 163).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

God's Grand Plan and the Atonement

I have been reading Graham Cole's excellent book on the atonement. What I like about this book is that atonement doesn't become simply about "me and my salvation" but takes place within God's grand plan to bring shalom to his ruptured creation. He does this without minimizing the cross at all but places it in its proper context. Here is a quote from his introduction that shows what he is trying to get at:

"This broader perspective reckons with God's grand plan to restore the created order, and places the story of Jesus, his cross, and empty tomb within it. Thus this work takes the broad approach but hopefully not in a way that masks 'the cruciality of the cross'...The grand goal of the divine comedy is nothing less than to secure God's people in God's place under God's reign living God's way enjoying God's shalom in God's loving and holy presence as both family and worshipers, to God's glory" (p. 25)

In other words, the cross only makes sense when it is place in the context of God's saving reign. By the way, this book was edited and endorsed by D.A. Carson.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Reading Paul with Michael Gorman 10

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. Today we are looking at chapter 10.

Called to be Saints

In this chapter Gorman tackles the topic of the church. Paul often refers to the various communities he writes to as 'saints' or 'holy ones'. "What Paul has in mind is a group of diverse people who have been apprehended by the resurrection crucified Messiah - justified, crucified, occupied - and who live together as a distinctive, even counter-cultural, community in him" (p. 132). He then discusses the background to Paul's understanding of the church (ekklesia): "The first is the assembly...of Israel...The second the assembly...of the Greco-Roman city...On the one hand, it designates the assembly of believers who affirm Jesus as Lord and constitute the renewed 'Israel of God' (Gal 6:16). On the other hand, this assembly exists as an alternative [church] and even an alternative [city]..." (p. 133). The church is God's holy people who reflect his character through the Son.

Gorman then discusses some of the images that are used of the church: body of Christ, temple, and the family of God. These various images give an idea of the purpose of the church in meeting together: "First of all, the assembly meets to worship God...Secondly, the assembly also meets to speak to one another" (p. 138). What is the content of this worship and speech? "Both in speech from and speech to God, and in speech to one another, the assembly especially recites its foundational stories and considers how they can best embody those stories in their life together in the world" (p. 138). These stories focus on the incarnated, crucified and exalted Messiah and were also enacted in events like baptism, the Lord's Supper and cruciform justice within the assembly and the wider world.

The church is marked by holiness which is a fruit of the Spirit. "All Christian existence is charismatic existence" (p. 140). The Spirit bring life and holiness to God's people and makes it possible to live in covenant with God. "The Spirit is thus the personal, animating power and presence of God - the One who guides and molds the the power of the resurrection...[which] manifests itself in the shape of the cross of Jesus the Lord" (p. 141). The Spirit creates unity among God's people by equipping them with diverse gifts. This unification also takes place alongside sanctification. If there are people in the assembly "who persist in practices that violate the gospel" they must be "dismissed from the assembly for the good of the community as well as the individual..." (p. 142). "Nonetheless, the church must learn to deal with controversial issues" (p. 143).

"Walking in the Spirit, then, is another way of saying that we participate already, between the first and second coming, in the new creation God has begun in Christ" (p. 143).

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Interview with Michael Gorman

Michael Gorman is professor of Sacred Scripture and Dean of the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary's Seminary & University in Baltimore, Maryland; he as authored numerous books including Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul and His Letters (Eerdmans, 2004), Reading Paul (Cascade, 2008), and Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology (Eerdmans, 2009). Dr. Gorman graciously answered some questions regarding Paul and his views on justification.

1. Can you tell us, briefly, about when and how you became a Christian?

I became a Christian through a United Methodist youth group in my town when I was 15. It was the verbal and life-witness of friends who brought me to faith, though the initial moment of conversion was at what we used to call a “youth rally.” The experience almost made me a lifelong Calvinist, however (I’m a Methodist, but I was a Presbyterian for 10 years), since I feel like I was called and transformed without much if any conscious volitional act on my part. This is jumping ahead, but I think Tom Wright would appreciate that understanding of call/conversion very much. I do, too, obviously, yet I don’t think it conflicts with the interpretation of justification in Paul that I have offered.

2. Paul can sometimes seem very intimidating to Christians. Where is a good place to start reading Paul (i.e. his own letters, other resources, etc.)?

A great place to start reading Paul is with a very brief letter like Philippians and/or a very practical and relevant one like 1 Corinthians. Ephesians is also a good starting place, in spite of some people’s reservations about authorship. As for secondary sources, I tend to recommend my own Reading Paul and Tom Wright’s What St. Paul Really Said. Mike Bird’s little book (Paul: A Bird’s Eye View) is also good.

3. When did you first develop an interest in studying Paul?

My interest in Paul developed in seminary at Princeton in the early 1980s, when there were a number of fine Pauline scholars teaching, including the late J. Christiaan Beker, Paul Meyer, and Martin De Boer. They all influenced me profoundly, but it was a course in NT Ethics with the late Cullen Story that got me interested in Pauline ethics, which led to my PhD. dissertation, also at Princeton, under Meyer and then De Boer. The thesis of that work became the basis of everything I’ve done on Paul ever since.

4. For many Christians when they think of Jesus they think of things like "love, mercy, compassion, etc" and when they think of Paul "doctrine, justification, and sometimes division." Is that a fair representation of Paul (and Jesus for that matter)?

Interesting question! I think that both Jesus and Paul were agents of God’s inauguration of the new age (in very different ways, of course—only Jesus died and was raised to make it happen), which Jesus usually called the Reign of God and Paul understood as the Lordship of Jesus. Both were about the business of creating a new community of people who embodied the covenant loyalty and love expected in the Scriptures but made possible only by the advent of the Spirit. “Love, mercy, compassion” are traits of God that both Jesus and Paul understood, taught, and practiced, but they also each knew that God calls and forms a holy covenant people. Paul’s “doctrines” are all very practical and pastoral, not just ideas to be thought about. Justification is about resurrection from the dead, sort of like the parable of the prodigal son. Division? Jesus said, “I came not to bring peace but a sword.” Sounds pretty divisive! In other words, while I see differences between Jesus and Paul (one is Lord, one is not), they are not the ones people often point to. Bonhoeffer is helpful here: (The Cost of) Discipleship is in many respects a book about the similarities between Jesus and Paul.

5. In your book "Reading Paul" you offer an amazing one sentence summary of Paul. Let's see if you can go even shorter. How would you summarize Paul in a twitter (140 characters)?

Jesus is God’s crucified and resurrected Messiah and Lord whose Spirit creates communities of cruciform faith, hope, and love in anticipation of final salvation.

(That’s 138.)

6. There is a lot of discussion today about what the gospel actually is. Some people focus on the kingdom, some on justification, some on both. Can you tell us what the gospel is according to Paul in a nutshell (something that is easy to memorize)?

That’s a tough one. Why not memorize 1 Cor 15:3ff? But the previous answer would not be a bad paraphrase.

7. Why is it so important that we see the writings of Paul rooted in his Jewish heritage?

Paul simply cannot be understood apart from his self-understanding as the agent of the God revealed in the Jewish Scriptures and the Jewish Messiah.

8. Paul seems to talk a lot about "righteousness". What does it mean that God is righteous and how does it relate to Christians today?

Righteousness, or justice, is a fairly all-encompassing term about the unique character of God as morally different from humanity (“holy”), good, faithful to covenant, and both willing and able to save. Throughout the Scriptures, the righteous God calls a people to share in the divine righteousness. Participation in Christ’s death and resurrection makes that possible. For us today, that means lots of things, but above all that by the power of the Spirit we begin to share in God’s loyal and loving character revealed in Christ. Or, as I have said with respect to holiness in Paul, “You shall be cruciform for I am cruciform” (God speaking).

9. There is a lot of talk today about the doctrine of justification. When most people think about this doctrine they think of a forensic declaration. Can you comment on what justification is and what is good/not so good about the traditional understanding?

Let me quote from Reading Paul: “Justification is the establishment of right covenantal relations—fidelity to God and love for neighbor—by means of God’s grace in Christ’s death and our co-crucifixion with him. Justification therefore means co-resurrection with Christ to new life within the people of God now and the certain hope of acquittal, and thus resurrection to eternal life, on the day of judgment.” Somewhere else in the book I write, “Whatever else justification means, it means participation in the life of this one God of the covenant who reigns supreme and deserves our loyalty.” In Inhabiting the Cruciform God, therefore, I argue that justification is theosis (defined below).

There is more than one “traditional understanding” of justification, but my biggest objection to most of them is that they privilege the law court metaphor and make it into a narrowly defined doctrine of individual declaration and acquittal. How one can read Gal 2:15-20 and limit justification to that idea is rather mind-boggling. There, justification is about membership in the community (new perspective) and also about participation in Christ as a death-to-life reality. And even Abraham, the proof-text paradigm of justification, is presented in Romans 4 as one whose justification meant resurrection from the dead. Fortunately, most theologians and even many traditional interpreters of justification in Paul are seeing a close connection between justification and participation than in the past. (See, for example, my quote from Tom below.)

10. How are justification and resurrection related?

Well, the previous answer gives some of my perspective, but I would also add that justification is connected to life, and life for Paul comes, paradoxically, only through death—Christ’s and ours. Justification is new life—resurrection from death to life by sharing in the death and resurrection of Christ.

11. In a recent interview N.T. Wright stated that your work has been very influential on his as he is writing his new book on Paul. In what ways do you hope to see Wright "change/tweak" his views on justification in light of your work?

First, I am flattered that Tom would say that. We have talked and corresponded and listened to each other’s papers and read each other’s work quite a bit over the last decade. In his book Justification, he rightly says that “the notion of ‘being in Christ’ which Paul develops in these chapters [Romans 6-8] is rooted in, and fully dovetails with, the doctrine of justification. It is not the case, in other words, that one has to choose between ‘justification by faith’ and ‘being in Christ’ as the ‘centre’ of Paul’s thought. This is so close to my interpretation of Paul that I would be very happy if Tom consistently said and unpacked this. But sometimes he reverts to more traditional language, over-emphasizing the law court metaphor (though less individualistically than most) of “declaration” (in the covenant community”) and even using the language of imputation (as in his IVP lecture when the book came out). Somewhere in Justification he speaks of Christ’s death and resurrection being “reckoned” to us, based on Romans 6. I find this deeply problematic. Christ’s death and resurrection is the reality in which we participate; it is not something reckoned to us.

So… I guess I hope Tom will begin using participationist categories and language to describe justification, or do so more consistently.

12. You frequently use the term theosis and I know that sometimes people can have a hard time with it. What do you mean by it?

Here’s my definition, which is what I mean by it with reference to Paul, from Inhabiting the Cruciform God:

Theosis is transformative participation in the kenotic, cruciform character of God through Spirit-enabled conformity to the incarnate, crucified, and resurrected/glorified Christ.

Theosis means becoming like God. I know that some people object to the language of theosis. I am less concerned about that specific word than I am the content of the definition. The patristic theological claim was that “He became what we were so that we might become what he is.” This is much more central to Paul than most interpreters have recognized. It’s a good summary of some key Pauline texts. Bonhoeffer is again helpful here. The conclusion of Discipleship is such an interpretation of Paul, and I refer to it at some length in the end of Inhabiting.

13. Do you have any other "Paul projects" in the works?

I will be giving the Lund Lectures at North Park Seminary in September on the theme of “Re-Imagining Justification,” and that is, God willing, part of a larger project with (probably) the same name. I also have a book on Pauline spirituality for ministry somewhere in production. But first I need to finish my book on Revelation—in less than two months!

Thank you Dr. Gorman for taking the time to answer all these questions!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Reading Paul with Michael Gorman 9

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. Today we are looking at chapter 9.

Justified by Faith...Crucified with Christ

Gorman believes that we need to have a 'thick' doctrine of justification; he believes that too often the church has settled for cheap grace: justification without transformation.

According to Gorman, the streams of thought that Paul's doctrine of justification stem from are (see pgs. 114-15):

- the conviction that the God of the covenant is just/righteous;

- the corollary expectation that God's covenant people will be just/righteous;

- the conviction that God's righteousness expresses itself in salvific, transformative action for the covenant people and for all creation;

- the image of the just/righteous God judging the people, like a judge in a courtroom, both now and on the future day of judgment; and

- the vindication of the just/righteous on that day

Gorman notes that the most popular stream of thought places almost all the emphasis on the law-court imagery. The rise of the new perspective has pointed out that justification has to do with covenant membership in the people of God. Gorman offers a definition of justification that takes from the best of both worlds and more (see pgs. 116-17):

"Justification is the establishment of right covenant relations - fidelity to God and love for neighbor - by means of God's grace in Christ's death and our co-crucifixion with him. Justification therefore means co-resurrection with Christ to new life within the people of God now and the certain hope of acquittal, and thus resurrection to eternal life, on the day of judgment."

"Justification, then, is about reconciliation, covenant, community, resurrection, and life."

Gorman shows that justification and reconciliation belong together through Rom. 5.1-11. He says that the two are actually one and, therefore, views that limit justification to a divine declaration are inadequate. Justification is a sort of resurrection from the dead and are related to covenant and life. Gorman also comments that God's way of setting people right is different that the violent form of justice found in Rome and Phineas ways of justification (which is also justification by self). Those whom God justifies, however, cannot help but be transformed by God's alternative way of justice.

Gorman also offers a robust definition of "faith". While not denying the fact that faith means "trust" he also points out that faith needs to be seen as "loyalty". It is like a "pledge of allegiance." It also has to do with our participation in Christ: "Paul sees faith as sharing in the death of Jesus that is so real, so vivid, that it can be described as being crucified with Christ, or co-crucified" (p. 124). This co-crucifixion is not "a matter of human effort". Not only do we die with Christ but we are raised with him. Christ was "raised for our justification" and we are enabled to live in right covenant relations with God in the present. We are made alive to God. At the same time, the resurrected Christ lives in the believer through his Spirit. This is a corporate reality and not just an individual one. The purpose of the indwelling is to enable God's people to live in right covenant relationship with him and with others (i.e. new life). This new life takes a cruciform shape.