Interviews


See here for part 1, part 2, and part 3 of the interview.

9) How do you see your work on non-violence fitting into your discussions of co-crucifixion and theosis?

I have a whole chapter on this in Inhabiting, but basically because I see the cross both as the definitive theophany and as the display of God’s nonviolent way of reconciling enemies, participation in the life of this God must take on God’s nonviolent character. I think that is Paul’s perspective, and for him it is part and parcel of justification by faith/co-crucifixion.

10) How do you think Paul`s understanding of participation in Christ relates to the Platonic and Aristotelian understandings of participation?

I am not an expert on either Plato or Aristotle, but I suspect that Paul is not indebted to either tradition for his experience and understanding of participation. Paul’s participation in Christ is fundamentally narrative, kinetic, and missional by virtue of being a sharing in the story and reality of God’s self-giving love displayed especially in Christ’s incarnation and death. Thus participation is neither an end in itself nor static, both of which may be more appropriately attributed to certain philosophical traditions.

11) Could you comment on the timing of justification? It seems that you describe justification as a process in distinction to those who make it more an ‘already’ kind of thing, which could make some Protestants a little uncomfortable.

I am not sure I would describe justification as a process as much as it is a mode of existence that has an initial point and an eschatological culminating point. That’s somewhat similar to Tom Wright’s idea of justification having two moments. I would also stress the time between the two as part of justification. The justified live a life of justice, not as some supplement to justification understood as a finished reality, but as the embodiment of justification itself.

Here’s a relevant quote from chapter two:

What justification by co-crucifixion will imply, however, and not surprisingly, is that a theological rift between justification and sanctification is impossible, because the same Spirit effects both initial and ongoing co-crucifixion with Christ among believers, a lifelong experience of cruciformity or, in light of chapter one, theoformity—theosis.

If that makes Protestants uncomfortable, so be it!—and blame Paul, not me. He’s the one who won’t limit “”just-“ (dik-) language to some past event. In Christ we become the justice of God. That’s justification! That’s theosis!

Thanks again, Ben!

Thanks to you, Mike.

See here for part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4 of the interview.

See here part 1 and part 2 of the interview.

6) You also brought out theosis as an aspect of Pauline theology at that conference. What sparked your interest in theosis?

My interest in theosis, as mentioned above, was sparked when I came to the realization that cruciformity was really participatory theoformity. I knew the tradition well enough to recognize that I was beginning to move in an Easterly direction, but I was pleasantly surprised to find both that some parts of the Western tradition had stressed theosis and that it was now gaining momentum across traditions and disciplines. As I say in the introduction to my book, there is much more to be done in connection with Paul and theosis—especially by scholars like you!

7) What about theosis adds to protestant theology that we have been missing?

Protestant theology is profoundly Christocentric and frequently rather juridical in its understanding of our relationship to God. Theosis does not lose Christocentrism but links it explicitly to a profound participation in God and the Spirit of God—hardly a juridical relation. (I realize that some embrace participation but reject theosis. My guess is that this is ultimately a semantic rather than a substantive difference, though those who reject theosis disagree.) Theosis also holds together things that Protestants tend to split apart and label something like stages: justification, sanctification, glorification. In theosis, these are all of a piece. Paul’s distinctive contribution, I think, is to insure that theosis is always understood cruciformly. Theosis is conformity to Christ crucified even in its final phase of eschatological glorification.

8. Could you tell us a handful of books or articles that that have been important for shaping your understanding of theosis?

Believe it or not, the conclusion of Bonhoeffer’s (Cost of) Discipleship might be at the top. Bonhoeffer convinced me that my putting theosis and the cross together was not a mistake—or an original idea. Stephen Finlan’s articles have been helpful in opening up the NT connections. The collections of essays on theosis that have appeared in the last few years have also been helpful (e.g. Christensen and Wittung, which has a lot of good essays, including a provocative one on Paul by Finlan). Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen gives a broad perspective in One with God: Salvation as Deification and Justification. An “older” (1990s) essay by Ann Jervis on Paul (“Becoming like God through Christ: Romans”) has not gotten sufficient attention, nor has the still older work of Morna Hooker—she wrote extensively about theosis in Paul without ever calling it that. And it would be inexcusable of me not to mention Richard Hays and his work on narrative and participation, who is himself favorably disposed toward theosis and reading Paul through the Eastern fathers, and you. Though your and my approaches differ, I think our work is complimentary, and it was very encouraging to me to learn of your dissertation topic when I was first working on theosis.

See here for part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4 of the interview.

See here for part 1 of the interview.

4) You got a bit of pushback at SBL in DC (2006) about co-crucifixion as being synergistic. What do you say to that response? Did you adjust your arguments based on that interchange?

The phrase that pushed people’s buttons was and is “justification by co-crucifixion.” My response, as I recall, was twofold. First, I argued that typical notions of faith, especially in Protestant circles, are impoverished vis-a-vis Paul’s; they are simply not “thick” enough, robust enough, demanding enough. I cited Bonhoeffer as the counterpoint to this impoverished understanding of faith in Paul. (I have many pages devoted to this in Cruciformity, by the way.) Second, I reminded the critics that I have repeatedly made the point that co-crucifixion, cruciformity, theosis, etc. is the work of the Spirit, a work of grace. To be sure, humans (or at least believers) must respond and even, yes, cooperate with the Spirit, but my theme verse on this subject is “Work out, or actualize, your communal salvation because it is God who is at work in your community.”

I have actually taken great pains to make it clear that grace and the Spirit—as expressed in those passive verbs—are the source of our co-crucifixion and transformation. After the pushback, I certainly checked my language and sharpened it a bit, but my basic position remained, and remains, unchanged.

5) Based on Richard Hays’ blurb of your book (Gorman deftly integrates the results of recent debates about Pauline theology into a powerful constructive account that overcomes unfruitful dichotomies and transcends recent controversies between the ‘New Perspective on Paul’ and its traditionalist critics.), how do you see your work transcending the Old/New perspective debates?

I think it transcends the dichotomy in several ways. First, I want to maintain both the “vertical” and the “horizontal” (social) dimensions and demands of justification, whereas the Old and New perspectives often (even despite cries to the contrary from the New folks) stress one or the other. I think they are not only both present, but inseparably so. Second, and this is related to the first point, I see participation as central to Paul, not as an alternative to justification, but as the very essence of justification. I think that both the Old and the New perspectives have generally missed this connection and actually have common (mis-)understandings of justification as a verdict, as a judicial metaphor. They simply disagree on what the verdict is. Third, I think that justification as participation means that both human effort/pride (Old) and cultural elitism, to use Matera’s phrase (New), are ruled out as the basis for justification—anything but the cross as the objective and subjective basis of justification. Finally (at least for now), I think that the Old and the New perspectives both treat the cross as a formal, but not a material, ground for justification. In my read of Paul, the cross embodies the covenant faithfulness and love of God and of Christ, which means that what it is, is intimately connected to what it effects (justification, salvation).

See here for part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4 of the interview.

Gorman, Inhabiting the Cruciform God

As promised, I am posting an interview with Mike Gorman about his provocative new book on Pauline soteriology called Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology (Eerdmans, 2009). In it he challenges traditional readings of Paul by exploring, among other things, co-crucifixion, theosis, and non-violence. For a three part summary over at his blog, see here: part 1, part 2, part 3.  He also has a helpful exchange about an aspect of the book here as well.  He’s graciously responded to a variety of questions, and I think we’re in for treat. I’ve broken the interview into four posts to make it a bit more manageable.

1) Could you tell us a little bit about yourself—place of employment, denominational background, etc.?

First, Ben, thanks very much for the opportunity to talk with you and your readers about Inhabiting the Cruciform God. I greatly appreciate it.

About me: I am a native of central Maryland in the States and very blessed to be teaching in the area where I grew up. After my M.Div. and Ph.D. from Princeton Seminary and a few short-term positions there and elsewhere, in 1991 I came to St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore. It is the oldest Catholic Seminary in the U.S. and the only one in the world with a graduate ecumenical division, of which I have been Dean since 1995. I am a Methodist with earlier connections to several other traditions. My conversion to Christ took place in the context of a Methodist church, so I feel at home there, but I am theologically Anabaptist. As my readers will know, I am greatly indebted to the Barth-Yoder-Hauerwas-Hays trajectory, and ecumenical relations and church unity are very important to me.

2) After your work on Cruciformity, what led you to do this book?

Cruciformity grew organically out of the central insights of my dissertation, which compared the role of the self in the theology and ethics of Paul and the Stoic Epictetus. But Cruciformity was not just a revision of the dissertation; rather, it built on one of the dissertation’s central insights about Christ and about us in Christ. Similarly, early in Cruciformity I made the case that the cross does not just tell us about Christ and, by extension, us, but also reveals God. To be Christlike is to be Godlike; cruciformity is really theoformity. (“Theoformity” was in fact the new book’s working title for a while.) But I did not develop that point in Cruciformity. The more I poked around, the more I realized that very few people (present company being part of the exception!) had made this connection or considered that “theosis” might be an appropriate way to characterize what Paul was up to. I put out the basic ideas in some SBL papers and other essays, all deliberately interrelated, as well as in Reading Paul, though less academically there. The book took final shape when I realized that my contribution to the justification debate was unique (and controversial!) and was the center of my arguments about theosis.

3) A central aspect of this book is co-crucifixion. Could you briefly explain it?

Co-crucifixion is of course simply the noun form in English of the Greek verb systauroō. I take it as both the initial act/experience and the ongoing act/experience/practice of complete identification with Christ crucified, by the Spirit (hence the passive voice of the verb), that first effects, and then embodies, a death of the old self and the birth or resurrection of a new self. For Paul, this is what he means by “justifying faith,” as a close reading of Gal 2 and Rom 6 reveals. It is inherently both participatory and transformative. Why?

In chapter two, I also refer to co-crucifixion as “participation in Christ’s act of covenant fulfillment,” by which I mean his act of self-giving, life-giving faithfulness and love. Once we see that Christ’s death is constituted by these two things, much of what is distinctive in my reading of Paul falls quite naturally into place, especially: the inseparability of the “vertical” and the “horizontal,” or justification and justice.

See here for part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4 of the interview.

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