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Jonathon Neumann

Dr. Keith Johnson

BITH 374

5 May 2015

Who is The God of the Cross?

“We are called as heirs to inherit the sufferings of Jesus” – Canon Andrew White

If the eternal character and being of the Triune God was expressed and revealed through

the cruciform love of the Son’s incarnate life, death, and resurrection, then God must be a loving,

faithful, and self-giving Being of paradoxical wisdom and power, and if we as the Church are

called to imitate Christ and his sufferings, we collectively and individually live in love, faith and

hope in this revealed God and through what he has done for us.

This investigation is guided by the exegesis of the book Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative

Spirituality of the Cross written by Dr. Michael J. Gorman. In his exploration, Gorman supports

the possibility that Paul’s spirituality and ministry have a focal point on the crucifixion of Jesus:

“[Paul’s] conformity [to the crucified Christ] is a dynamic correspondence in daily life to the

strange story of Christ crucified as the primary way of experiencing the love and grace of God”

(Gorman 5). Through his study of Paul’s epistles, Gorman uses his word “cruciformity” to

describe the resurrected Son of God we believe in, and worship, and seek to mimic.

Cruciform God

Gorman encourages the reader to see that throughout the epistles and gospels (i.e. John

3:16, Galatians 4:4; Romans 5:8; 1 Corinthians 1:24, 2:2; and 2 Corinthians 5:19) the spiritual

focus and “hermeneutical lens” is on the “cruciform God” (Gorman 17) because we can know
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him no other way: “God’s love is known in Christ’s love, specifically in Christ’s act of love in

death” (Gorman 13).

Cruciform Love and Faith of God

Gorman believes that God’s love is ultimately displayed in the crucified Son, and he

concludes that love is “the dynamic, creative endeavor of finding ways to pursue the welfare of

others rather than one’s own interests” (Gorman 160). Though God is not contained by this

definition, it is clear that the Son obeys the will of the Father through active love for God and us,

who were once his enemies who he has now redeemed by his blood (Ephesians 2:12-14).

Referencing the hymn of Philippians 2:6-11, Gorman argues that Christ’s cruciform love came at

a cost; it was a voluntary, self-rejecting, and “self-humbling” act of faithful obedience to the will

of the Father (Gorman 167). He sees the miracle of Jesus’ incarnation as well as his resurrection

through the lens of this cruciform love.

In addition, Gorman explores a pattern in the epistles of cruciform love that the Father

and Spirit, though they were not crucified, have for us, and his investigation reveals things I have

not considered about the nature of the Trinity. The Father has cruciform love because he wills to

give his only begotten Son for us and accept us as his children at a great cost (Gorman 73), and

the Holy Spirit that lives within us is faithful to encourage Christians such as Paul to follow the

cruciform love of Christ: “…the past ‘work’ of God’s Son, embodied on the cross, has become

the present work of the Spirit of God’s Son, embodied in the believer and in the community”

(Gorman 58).

An intricate piece of this love is the mutual faithfulness of God. Christ faithfully and

obediently fulfilled the Father’s will to pour out himself for sinners (Galatians 1:4, Philippians

3:9). Jesus’ suffering life and death and powerful resurrection exemplify his faithfulness to the
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Father and Spirit as well as his self-denying faithfulness for us. Additionally throughout the

gospels the Holy Spirit is faithful to the Son in his birth (Matthew 1:18-20), baptism (Matthew

3:15-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-23, and John 1:31-33), temptation (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark

1:12-13, and Luke 4:1-13), ministry (Luke 4:14,18), joy (Luke 10:24), and power (Matthew

12:28). Through Christ’s death and resurrection, the Spirit is faithful to us as our “Advocate”

who lives in us (John 14:26 NRSV), and the Father is faithful to we who are his children

(Romans 8).

Paradoxical Power and Wisdom of God

The cross does not leave God powerless; in fact, though Jesus lived a cruciform life of

humiliation, self-denial, and suffering, Gorman believes God’s “power and wisdom are found in

the weakness and folly of the cross” (Gorman 16). He approaches Paul’s letters to the

Corinthians for support. Throughout these two letters Paul emphasizes the power and wisdom of

the cross even though it is “a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles” (1

Corinthians 1:23 NRSV). Such a paradox is exactly what is most powerful about Christ on the

cross: he turns the role and influence of power into a role of a willing servant. Gorman writes

that God is powerful enough to change the definition of what political power is: “power-in-

weakness” (Gorman 278). At the same time, Paul writes that the power of God is found in the

resurrection (1 Corinthians 6:14, 2 Corinthians 4:4a). Nevertheless Gorman regards the power of

the resurrection through what Christ did on the cross: “The life-giving power of God is most

fully experienced by Paul in the cross of Christ and in the life of cruciform power that shares in

that cross” (Gorman 280).

The Spirit also has power in weakness as he puts this power into believers such as Paul

who argues: “…whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10 NRSV). The Holy
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Spirit brings power to the powerless and transforms the powerful into humble, self-giving,

children of the Father who seek to imitate the victorious Christ. The Spirit kills the desires of the

flesh and brings us to life in the power of Christ (Romans 8:13).

Knowing the Cruciform God

Jesus of Nazareth lived a life different than any other human before or after him: he lived

a life of true cruciformity. Jesus lived a story about who the infinitely qualitatively distinct God

is, and his story brings love, faith, power, and wisdom to the world. Gorman believes that the

cross is how we should understand the character of the Trinity. Using Paul’s writings and

experiences he believes that the model of Christ’s life was the cross, and the transformation of

the Spirit enables believers to imitate Christ personally and communally in order to live a free

life of communion with and servitude to God.

Imitating the Cruciform God

If God revealed not only who he truly is in the divine man Jesus of Nazareth but also

what humanity is meant to be, than humanity is meant to follow this cruciform life of Jesus, and

this involves imitating him through the power of the Holy Spirit with the instruction of Scripture

and the support of the historical, global, and communal Church. This cruciform life is a

collective and individual life of love, faith, and hope.

Cruciform Human Love

As Gorman reads Paul’s writings, he believes that the Spirit transforms Christians into

living stories of Christ’s cruciform love. Examining the human side of Christ’s obedience as an

important piece of the story, Gorman exegetes Philippians 2 often where Christ does not seek his

own interests but embodies a life that seeks the good of others. Paul admonishes believers to

together follow Christ’s example: “…make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the
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same love, being in full accord and of one mind…Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ

Jesus…” (Philippians 2:2, 5 NRSV). Paul himself throughout the epistles in places such as

Philemon follows the pattern of Christ’s cruciformity: “Love does not ‘make use of’ rights…but

willingly forgoes their use for the welfare…of others” (Gorman 233). Gorman argues that Paul

with his apostolic authority could command Philemon to accept his runaway slave Onesimus as a

friend but instead Paul desires Philemon to welcome back Onesimus in love (Gorman 196-197).

The letter to Philemon follows the model of Philippians 2:6-8 as it includes both Paul’s imitation

of Christ as well as his belief that the Church should too because he hopes Philemon will freely

renounce his rights and seek the good of Onesimus. Additionally, Gorman believes that Paul’s

own life of “cruciform adaptability” (Gorman 188) consists of molding himself into his

community in 1 Corinthians 9 and is purposefully parallel to the message of Philippians 2:6-8 as

it requires embodiment of servitude in order to “win more of them” (1 Corinthians 9:19). This is

who we are called to imitate (1 Corinthians 11:1): a man who continually renounced his rights

and privileges and instead “chose the option of weakness (as his culture saw it) and love as the

embodiment of his gospel in himself” (Gorman 193).

We do not naturally embody cruciform love because of our fallen nature, and in order to

we must kill our sinful desires and be raised from the dead by the power of the Spirit in order to

truly live (Romans 8:13). Cruciform life is about rejecting our own interests and letting the Spirit

use us to love others with cruciform love. We must know God and commune with him daily and

ask him to help us in our journey for this transformation through the Spirit to really happen, and

Gorman reminds his readers that this involves discipline and “concrete practice” because it is

easy for this to simply be words without action (Gorman 391). This practice is not something

simple but can be explored in what it means in the context of, for example, the use of spiritual
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gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 or hospitality in Romans 12. This place of cruciform action is where the

community comes in because the individual Christian life is impossible and a lie.

Embodying Cruciform Love in Communal Hope and Faith

Gorman claims that the Church lives Spirit filled lives of “ongoing death” as people live

lives of joy in the midst of suffering; the Church lives in this communal faith and hope cemented

in what was done in the past on the cross, was is going on now through the cruciform Spirit, and

what will happen in the future when Christ returns. (Gorman 320). Gorman reasons that we

together live this life as we echo Paul‘s bold statement in Philippians 3:10 (NRSV): “I want to

know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings becoming like

him in his death.” Paul also deliberately instructs believers: “rejoice in hope, be patient in

suffering, persevere in prayer…Bless those who persecute you…Rejoice with those who rejoice,

weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:14a, 15 NRSV). Therefore, embodying cruciform love

involves joyful communal hope and faith in the midst of suffering. Gorman himself admits:

“Cruciform love…is difficult to embody alone” (Gorman 391), but this beautiful command to

weep with the sorrowful and to rejoice with the overjoyed is simple enough for me to remember

in my ministry.

Christ’s faith and hope are why we explore this dark world with the light of God as we

walk without despairing; we carry hope in God’s promises as we identify with the suffering

people and groaning creation around us, and our cruciform faith is a present daily “communal

experience” (Gorman 338). As we are called to live this life of pain, we are “more than

conquerors through him who love us” according to Paul (Romans 8:38 NRSV). Truly, I need to

have others support me if I am able to love even my enemies, and I find that something

Christians tend to forget as we work so hard to help others is that humility is also about letting
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others help us. Others can weep with us when we need to weep. I sometimes weep because I long

to be in heaven with my Father and I also weep because I long for others to see how good the

Lord is.

Cruciformity of God and Cruciformity of the Church

I trust in the Lord with cruciform faith and have cruciform hope that makes me a fool to

the world just as Christ’s powerful wisdom was foolishness to the world. It is communal

cruciform faith that we have because we believe in something unseen, something mysterious that

we cannot comprehend, yet when I examine the cruciform life of Jesus Christ I see that in the

midst of all this confusion and emptiness that God, who created us, actually identifies and meets

us where we are in powerful cruciform love. Life is not possible and suffering is pointless if God

is not the God who reveals himself on the cross, and we cannot live if we do not imitate him.

Gorman’s Exegesis

Gorman’s exegesis presents a compelling and true argument that cruciformity is the

center of the Christian life. It is a suffering and self-renouncing life that Paul about writes in 2

Corinthians 4:8-12 (NRSV): “We are…always carrying the body the death of Jesus, so that the

life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.” Gorman believes that Paul, who was

persecuted, publicly disgraced, imprisoned, fatigued, and tortured, “boasts in [suffering]”

because he believes this present time is fleeting and the resurrection and the life is his hope

(Gorman 343). At the same time, Christians must remember suffering is “[not] inherently good,

but…it can be a means of good to another” because imposing cruciformity on someone else is

like pointing out the speck in his or her eye when we have a log in ours (Gorman 378). Christians

must live by embodying the Gospel of life in death.
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Though Gorman does say that cruciformity is “fundamentally communal in character” I

did not read about allowing others to care for us or allowing us to care for ourselves (Gorman

349). Part of the freedom that Christ has given us is these two virtues, and Wheaton College

students easily burn themselves out doing the work they must do without letting others minister

to them. To be clearer, I think that cruciformity is not only about rejecting my own interests but

also allowing others to bear my burdens and help me. It is true that Gorman does address the

truth that we are freed from “violence that enslaves us” because God does not desire people “to

endure violence that they can escape” such as domestic violence (Gorman 378) but I am not sure

if this enough. Gorman does deny individualism but he does not dig deep enough into what

“mutual concern” means (Gorman 362). We need to be present and rest in the presence of God as

Jesus said: “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath…”

(Mark 2:27 NRSV).

Besides this small problem in Gorman’s exegesis I find his theological exploration of

“Christ crucified as the primary way of experiencing the love and grace of God” comforting

(Gorman 5). Gorman tells us to cast away our false images of God and to imagine the powerful

God who, though infinitely qualitatively distinct, decides to identify with us and gives us the

privilege of carrying out his narrative to the world. This is not an easy task but with the

faithfulness and love of God that we see in his work on the cross we need not fear his lack of

presence or support (Matthew 28:19-20).

Word Count: 2,506
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Works Cited

Gorman, Michael J. Cruciformity: Paul's Narrative Spirituality of the Cross. Grand Rapids, MI:

W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2001. Print.