Michael Gorman’s Participationist Theology

Four or five major models dominate the landscape of interpreting Paul: the old / Reformational Paul, the New Perspective on Paul, the Apocalyptic Paul, the Beyond the New Perspective Model, and the Participationist Paul. In a book I co-edited with my friend Joe Modica, called Preaching Romansall but the Beyond the New Perspective Model were essayed and then illustrated with sermons. In my reading that book can be a textbook introducing students to Pauline studies.

At times, and more often than that, the various approaches to Paul state and overstate the radical differences between the perspectives, and there are real differences, but there are also major continuities between the views.

No one combines the views better than Michael Gorman, and his new book, Participating in Christ: Explorations in Paul’s Theology and Spirituality, both maps the discussion about “participation in Christ” and illustrates its importance for both theology and spirituality.

Gorman takes crucial insights from the old perspective, like the centrality of soteriology, builds on E.P. Sanders’ view of Judaism as covenantal nomism as well as his crucial category of “participationist eschatology,” agrees at times with the apocalyptic folks and the beyond folks — and yet forms his own synthesis shaped on the relationality of our union with Christ.

Gorman is a bridge builder, not a polemicist. He makes peace where others have found a place to do battle. The result is a model for reading Paul that may be the most enduring framework of Pauline theology for the next generation. Because he’s not an either-or but a peacemaker, Gorman has a special synthesis everyone can appreciate.

Pastors, buy this book. Read this book. Make this your academic project for the next month or so.

Join me as I begin a series on this wonderful new book.

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