John 15 and Mission: Preview 1 of my New Book on Missional Hermeneutics

October 8th, 2015

During my sabbatical in 2015-2016, I am working on a new book in missional hermeneutics, this time (unlike Becoming the Gospel) focusing on the non-Pauline NT literature. I will be posting occasional excerpts of that work, in draft form, on these pages from time to time. Since I am beginning “in the beginning,” to so speak (that is, with the Gospel of John), the first posts will be about that gospel. Here is something on John 15:

In John 15 we find a creative and significant paradoxical tension within the text between the main verb, “abide” (menein; eleven times), on the one hand, and the verbs “do” (poiein; v. 4) and especially “go” (hypag?te; v. 16), on the other. Semantically, the former has to do with resting, staying put; it connotes, or could connote, spiritual ease or even apathy. The latter, however, has to do with moving, acting. This tension is expressed in, but not fully resolved by, the image of an abiding, fruit-bearing branch, for although healthy vines and branches naturally grow and bear fruit, they do not naturally move from place to place. The disciples, however, have been appointed to go. They constitute, in other words, a mobile vine, a community of centripetally oriented love that shares that love centrifugally as they move out from themselves, all the while abiding in the vine, the very source of their life and love, the source of their power to do.

Here is perhaps the most powerful symbiosis of spirituality and mission in the New Testament. This chapter, rooted in John 13-14 and further developed in John 16-17, is the quintessence of a participatory missiology. But it is even more than that; it expresses a profound theology of missional perichoresis and theosis (mutual indwelling of Christ and the disciples leading to transformation into Christlike Godlikeness). Fruit bearing is participating in the missio Dei embodied in Christ—to bring God’s light, love, and life to the world—and truly is the way we become more fully what we already are: Jesus’ disciples (15:8).

Becoming the Gospel: Quotations Etc for My Clergy Presentation

September 8th, 2015

Sharing in God’s Life, Becoming the Gospel: Paul and the Missional Church
Michael J. Gorman

A few thoughts to get us started . . .

  • “The Church exists by mission, just as a fire exists by burning. Where there is no mission, there is no Church. . . .” Emil Brunner
  •  “The first-order business of the church is to be a people who under the guidance of the Spirit point the world to Jesus Christ. . . . I take it to be crucial that Christians must live in a manner that their lives are unintelligible if the God we worship in Jesus Christ does not exist. . . . I believe we are living in a time when Christendom is actually coming to an end. That is an extraordinary transition whose significance for Christian and non-Christian has yet to be understood. But in the very least, it means the church is finally free to be a politic [a distinctive public culture].” Stanley Hauerwas
  •  “A primary role of Scripture in the church is to bring about the conversion of the imagination.” Richard Hays
  •  “How is it possible that the gospel should be credible, that people should come to believe that the power which has the last word in human affairs is represented by a man hanging on a cross? I am suggesting that the only answer, the only hermeneutic [means of interpretation] of the gospel, is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it.” Lesslie Newbigin
  •  “The church is a community of Christ’s crucified presence and of Christ’s risen presence.” Ross Hastings
  •   Paul “saw the church as a microcosmos, a little world, not simply as an alternative to the present one, an escapist’s country cottage for those tired of city life, but as the prototype of what was to come . . . [when] the whole earth [would be filled] with his knowledge and glory, with his justice, peace and joy. Paul sees each ekkl?sia as a sign of that future reality.” (N.T. Wright)

And a few more:
• “He became what we are so that we could become what He is.” Irenaeus and Athanasius
• “Like an iron sword plunged into the fire that becomes hot and luminous while remaining iron and not becoming fire, so are we when plunged into Christ the image of God.” Maximus the Confessor
• “What Christ is to us — righteousness, wisdom, sanctification, redemption — Christians must now be to the world.” (Morna Hooker)
• The church’s mission is not to be palatable but to be credible: speaking clearly, acting faithfully. (MJG)
• Paul wanted the church not merely to believe the gospel but to become the gospel and thereby to advance the gospel, thus participating in the very life and mission of God (the missio Dei). (MJG)
• The church is to be a living exegesis of the gospel. (MJG)

Paul on the cross
• The cross is God’s benign invasion into the world to set it right, which includes your forgiveness and eternal life, but much more.
• The cross is not only a Christophany; it is also a theophany, revealing the power and wisdom of God.
• The cross challenges every status quo: religious, political, social, etc.
• The cross has two beams, vertical and horizontal, meaning reconciliation with God and with one another.
• The cross is not only the source, but also the shape, of our salvation. Salvation means renewal by participation in Christ.
• The mission of the church is simply, in the power of the resurrection and the Spirit, to live the story of the cross in its internal and its public life. This is what it means to be godly, Christlike, Spirit-filled—to take part in God’s life and story.
• Ironically and paradoxically, the cross and cross-shaped ministry bring about resurrection; death leads to life.

Participation in the fellowship of the cross

5Let the same mind be in you [plural] that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.

Although [x] not [y] but [z]
Although [status] not [selfish exploitation] but [z] missional self-giving

NRSV, alt. (MJG)
5Let this mind [see 2:1-4] be in you [plural], which means in Christ Jesus, 6who, because he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.

Because [x] not [y] but [z]
Because [status] not [selfish exploitation] but [z] missional self-giving

A Friend’s Summary of My Work for the Academy and the Church

May 30th, 2015

Byron Borger of Hearts and Minds Bookstore in Dallastown, Pennsylvania (the best bookstore anywhere) has written a very insightful, if overly praise-full, summary of my work, highlighting most of my published books. I learned something about myself, and others might too!

Some Thoughts for Christians on (U.S.) Memorial Day Weekend 2015

May 22nd, 2015

1. A modest claim: Whatever we think about the rightness or wrongness of war in general, or of specific wars, and whatever we think about the valor of dying in war, let us not make war holy. War is hell; it is full of sin. People (even war heroes) do horrible things in war and have horrible things done to them. People who have died in war, whether combatants or civilians, whether enemies or friends, should not have had to die. They had a future. They had dreams. They may have been at war against their own better judgment. They had spouses and children and parents who wanted to keep loving them and whom the dead would have wanted to keep loving.

2. A modest suggestion: In my book Reading Revelation Responsibly, I suggest that the church in the U.S. has two liturgical seasons, (1) the Holy Season, from Advent to Easter or Pentecost, and (2) the Civil Season, the time of civil religion, which runs from Memorial Day to Thanksgiving. This is not a good situation. Since this coming Sunday is both Memorial Day in the U.S. and Pentecost in the church around the world, what a church in the U.S. chooses to do and emphasize this Sunday (and between now and Thanksgiving) says a lot about that church. What are its priorities? Is it seeking to be a Spirit-filled church, a Pentecost church, a part of the global church with people from every tribe and ethnicity and nation? Or an American church?—which is actually an oxymoron.

3. A modest proposal: Since U.S. churches seem inevitably to want to remember those who died for a noble cause, can we—especially we Protestants—not pay a little more attention to those who have died for the most noble cause of all, the gospel? Why are we so ignorant of the great Christian saints, the martyrs, who have died down through the ages and are still dying today in various parts of the world? Are “we” (here I mean most Protestants and many post-Protestants) afraid of being too “Catholic”? Perhaps we should rather be afraid of being too “American” and not catholic enough. If American Christians can take American memorializing so seriously, can we not take Christian memorializing even more seriously? Can we not start naming and learning about the church’s martyrs on a regular basis?

Whatever we do or remember this weekend, let us recall that All Saints Day is less than six months away. And in the meantime, there are plenty of days and plenty of saints associated with those days for us to do a lot of remembering.

Interview with Eerdmans about “Becoming the Gospel”

May 13th, 2015

Eerdmans has posted an interview with me about my new book, Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission.

Cover-Becoming the Gospel

“Becoming the Gospel” is Out

April 29th, 2015

For all who may be interested, you may now order my newest book, Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission, from Eerdmans (the publisher), Amazon, or your good theological bookstore, such as Hearts and Minds Books in Dallastown, PA.

The “thesis” of the book is pretty straightforward:

The central claim, found in the title — Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission — is that already in the first Christian century the apostle Paul wanted the communities he addressed not merely to believe the gospel but to become the gospel and thereby to advance the gospel.

I will let Chris Tilling of St. Mellitus College and author of Paul’s Divine Christology say something about the book:

Combining exegesis of Paul’s letters with hermeneutics and missiology, Gorman throws new light on old debates such as those involving the language of God’s righteousness and various participatory themes. . . . Gorman writes in ways that resonate with the missional concerns of the gospel itself.

Cover-Becoming the Gospel

When asked who should read this book, I have responded “Everyone!” :-) Everyone!
First of all pastors, seminary students, and lay leaders in the churches. This is challenging but readable material. I want to spark conversations in the church. Secondly, biblical scholars, missiologists, theologians, and others who teach in and influence the various fields of study that come together in this book.

Today’s Event

February 15th, 2015

OK–we are definitely on. Be careful on side streets and any places that have not completely melted. Pls arrive by 4 or after 4:30 and don’t park in front of the house or adjacent if possible.

Did Jesus ever Exist?

December 24th, 2014

The latest so-called scholarship arguing against the existence of Jesus has appeared from a University of Sydney graduate student and part-time lecturer. It started on the University web site and was picked up by the Washington Post, at least it’s online edition. (I’ve not yet seen it in the print version.)

I sent a letter to the editor despite the fact that the Post does not print letters responding to online articles. So here is the text of my letter:

Ralph Lataster’s “Did historical Jesus really exist? The evidence just doesn’t add up” (Dec. 20) is so full of factual error and sloppy argumentation that it is not worthy of publication by a scholar—or by a newspaper—no matter what one thinks about the issue.

First of all, Lataster misrepresents the debate. Discussions about the existence of Jesus are debates among historians, not disagreements among atheists. Furthermore, even if Christians believe in “the Christ of faith” (though this is a problematic term in many ways) and also affirm the existence of the historical Jesus, that does not disqualify academically trained Christians from rightfully participating in the debate about Jesus’ existence. Many historians who are Christians are able to believe, in part, because they are convinced that historical study supports the existence of Jesus.

Second, Lataster misrepresents the text of the New Testament. There are plenty of passages in the gospels that narrate a teaching, healing, law-abiding, and law-breaking first-century Jewish teacher that do not even begin to fit the description of a “fictional Christ of faith”—though there are certainly texts that do portray Jesus as more than such a teacher. Moreover, in considering Paul’s letters, Lataster ignores Paul’s allusions to Jesus’ teaching, as well as Paul’s reliance on oral tradition like that found in the gospels when he describes Jesus’ Last Supper. Furthermore, Lataster mischaracterizes Paul’s apocalyptic language as indicating belief in a “celestial” rather than a human” Jesus. He also conveniently fails to mention Paul’s statement that Jesus was born of a woman (Galatians 4:4).

Third, Lataster misrepresents the nature of oral tradition and of the sources for our gospels, and either he is ignorant of current debate about each of these or else he fails to mention them. Yet he draws conclusions about the existence of Jesus based on such misrepresentation and ignorance (or suppression) of contemporary gospel scholarship.

The word “atrocious” that he applies to biblical scholarship does indeed characterize certain forms of published work. (Let the reader understand.) Another word comes to mind, too—“insulting”—both to people’s intelligence and, this week, to their spiritual and historical sensibilities.

Michael J. Gorman
Raymond Brown Professor of Biblical Studies and Theology
St. Mary’s Seminary & University
Baltimore, MD

An Advent Text and Some Reflections on It

December 20th, 2014

Advent text for the day:

“From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the saving justice of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:16-21; NRSV altered).

Four reflections on this passage:

1. There is a unity of purpose from Christ’s incarnation to his ministry to his death and resurrection. These aspects of his work are inseparable from one another.

2. That purpose can be summarized in the words reconciliation, participation, and transformation. These aspects of salvation are inseparable from each other.

3. The reconciled are to be instruments of reconciliation, bringing people to peace with God and with one another. Salvation and mission are inseparable from each other.

4. Every Christian person, community, theology, and ethic needs to make reconciliation a central part of its identity.

The last point is the implicit claim of my latest book (The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant: A [Not So] New Model of the Atonement [Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2014]) and my forthcoming book (Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015]), each of which devotes two chapters to peace and peacemaking.

Free Excerpt of “Death of the Messiah and Birth of the New Covenant”

August 11th, 2014

If anyone is interested, I have a free excerpt of my new book (Introduction and first chapter) to send out. (I would like to post it here but have failed in my attempts.) Send an email to mjg [at]