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Becoming the Gospel – Paul, Participation & Mission

Author: Michael J Gorman
Published By: Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, Michigan)
Pages: 351
Price: £18.99
ISBN: 978 0 8028 6884 8

Reviewed by Peter Thomas.

This is a stimulating and inspiring book, bringing together journal articles and unpublished material in The Gospel and Our Culture Series. It is a heavyweight study in the relatively new field of Missional Hermeneutics, biblical interpretation done from the perspective of the church as a sent community. “Practitioners of a missional hermeneutic deliberately read the biblical texts as witness to God’s purposes in the world and as invitation – even as summons – to participate in that divine activity” (p.52). “Mission must become the governing framework within which all biblical interpretation takes place. … The goal of interpretation is to fulfil the equipping purpose of the biblical writings themselves” (p.54).

The focus of this book is Paul’s letters, Paul being not only the quintessential missionary, but also the creator of missional communities. So missional hermeneutics reads the letters as mission documents, first “as witnesses to Paul’s understanding of God’s mission, his role in it and the place of his congregations in it” and second, “as scriptural texts for our own missional identity, our contemporary vocational and ecclesial self-understanding and practices” (p.57).

Gorman’s central thesis is that Paul wanted his readers “not merely to believe the gospel, but to become the gospel and, in doing so, to participate in the very life and mission of God” (p.2). We must not only declare, but also embody the gospel. At the heart of this is theosis, “becoming like God by participating in the life of God” (p.3). Through our transformation, which anticipates the new creation, Christians must now become to the world what Christ is to us (2 Corinthians 5.14-21). So the spiritual life of the church is simultaneously the essence of their corporate witness in the world.

Gorman finds the concept of ‘participation’ central in Paul: through baptism; through justification; through being ‘in Christ’ and with ‘Christ in us’; by being clothed with Christ; in koinonia, and by being transformed into the image of Christ. He works in detail through different aspects of this: becoming the gospel of faith, hope and love (1 Thessalonians); becoming and telling the story of Christ (Philippians); becoming the gospel of peace (especially Ephesians); becoming the justice of God (1 and 2 Corinthians and Romans).

Each chapter of exegesis concludes with some implications for the life and mission of the church today. Gorman touches on topics such as new monasticism, the suffering church, peace-making and social justice. He makes clear that the book “is not a handbook for mission, but a foundation and a stimulus for it” (p.15). And there is my only slight disappointment – I wish the author had shared a bit more of his wisdom on the practical implications of participation in God for Christian mission today.

Peter Thomas

Minister of North Springfield Baptist Church, Chelmsford

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You are reading Issue 65 of Ministry Today, published in November 2015.

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