Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Exalted Crucified Messiah: Conversion or Call?

In the third chapter of Gorman’s work on cruciformity he deals with many contentious issues of Pauline theology in an effort to explain how Paul could contend that the crucified Christ was synonymous with the living Lord.

Gorman does this by first examining Paul’s encounter with Jesus, taking up the debate in Pauline Theology of whether or not Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus constitutes a conversion experience or whether it is more appropriate to speak of it as a call to a new vocation (namely to be the apostle to the nations).

I have always tended to play up the call aspect of Paul’s Damascus experience, namely because he is still firmly embedded in Judaism, albeit a different sect so to speak. What I dislike most about calling Paul’s encounter with Jesus a conversion, is the modern introspective claims that are usually applied to such an encounter. In such a retelling Paul is made to look like a modern guilt ridden man, stuck in a legalistic religion trying to work his way to God, feeling empty and desperately trying to fill that God shaped hole in his heart, bam, he encounters the living Lord, and experiences true religion… Now this picture rarely comes up in scholarly discussions, but it does tend to find its way in to far too many pulpits.

Gorman does a good job navigating through this discussion, seeing Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus as both a conversion and a call (also seeing in it a commission). Following Alan Segal’s penetrating work he sees enough evidence to call Paul’s apocalyptic encounter with Jesus a true conversion (in the context of antiquity of course). He explains that this conversion is not from one religion to another, but rather from one sect to another. This helps to contextualize the term conversion to help correct those who see Paul finally converting to the ‘true’ God. For Paul his encounter with Jesus was not information to learn, but rather a claim to be embraced.

Gorman goes on to explain how this encounter continued to shape Paul’s theology and ministry. Elucidating another big controversy in Pauline theology, namely Schweitzer’s “in-Christ mysticism”...


Mike Gorman said...

I am honored and humbled that you would spend your blog time on my book. It is helpful to re-read it (vicariously) in this format.

metalepsis said...

Well I do think it is an absolutely brilliant book. I know that I am not doing it justice, but having read it myself years ago, it helps me keep these themes in my mind as I write up my thesis.

Well thanks for the comment, hopefully I don't butcher your argument anywhere!