Friday, June 19, 2009

Imitating our extraordinary God

The great thing about the NAM's conference is hearing the stories of ministers finding their feet in the wacky world of the pastorate. There was a good mix of ages this year plus more women than I remember from three years ago when I was last involved and more black ministers too.

The stories are pretty diverse, as you can imagine, with some new ministers being pitched into chronically unhealthy churches and having to try to sort things out, while others are parts of well-functioning teams and are able to put what they've learned into practice in a supportive environment. I have to say that the latter is less common than the former, sadly.

I've been reading Michael Gorman's new book that luxuriates in the title Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification and Theosis in Paul's Narrative Soteriology. However, it's a lot more readable than that mouthful would suggest!

So far, I've read the first of the four chunky chapters that form the the kernel of the book. It's on what Gorman describes as Paul's master story, Philippians 2:6-11. And it's wonderful. He argues that this story tells us as much about God as it does about Christ, suggesting that God has always been kenotic and cruciform and that Jesus is just the most perfect and accessible image of that.

He argues that the narrative arc of Philippians 2:6-11 follows the pattern 'although 'x', not 'y' but 'z' where 'x' is Jesus as the form of God; 'y' is the human expectation of what that will mean, how it will play out; and 'z' is how it actually works. So, although Jesus is God he doesn't consider this as something to exploit for his own advantage, but empties himself (using 'empties' in the sense of emptying a liquid from a bottle to a glass).

So, here's a flavour:

'God, we must now say, is essentially kenotic, and indeed essentially cruciform. Kenosis, therefore, does not mean Christ's emptying himself of his divinity (or of anything else), but rather Christ's exercising his divinity, his equality with God.' (p28). In a lengthy footnote, Gorman points out that saying God is cruciform does not mean that God is constrained in his being by a particular form of Roman execution but that because the perfect revelation of the divine kenosis for Paul was in the cross and especially 'in the voluntary rejection of power/ privilege and humble self-giving' (p28 fn 67).

This leads to Paul's understanding of the shape of discipleship and leadership. 'We see, then, that Paul believes that in his decisions not to use or exploit his apostolic power and rights, he does not renounce his apostleship or divest himself of his apostleship but in fact exercises true apostleship because he thereby acts in ways that are in conformity to Christ. That is to say, as an apostle - an ambassador (2 Cor 5:20) of the self-emptying, crucified Lord - Paul acts kenotically and cruciformly.' (p24).

As ministers we are called similarly to lives of kenotic and cruciform discipleship so that, like Paul, we can be models and examples, calling others to follow our lead (Phil 3:12-17). That's a tough call but it's what it means to have the same mind that Jesus had (Phil 2:5). It is only leadership modelling such a lifestyle that will lead to the creation of missional disciples which is essential if we are to embody and communicate the good news of this kenotic and cruciform God to our neighbours and colleagues, families and friends.


jim Gordon said...

Simon, this is an extraordinary book. Kenosis is the focus of much of my current theological and pastoral explorations. Gorman's Cruciformity is also a book of signal importance for those uneasy, even suspicious, of any theology of leadership too closely linked by subterranean assumptions to power and self-assertion disguised as 'authority'.
Keep blogging away Simon - much good stuff much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Good job it makes sense to you.

As someone who occasionally reads your blog, it comes across as obscure and tangential to real life.

Without wishing to be rude, I thought Christ came for the ordinary person, not just the intellectuals.

As much as I resist the dumbing down of christianity by those over-emotional happy-clappy sorts, this isn't exactly going to help us mere mortals struggling to find a glimpse of heaven.

Any chance you could post on a subject us thickies could make head or tail of?