Better Learning Paul Through the Book of Romans
A Feature Review of
Romans: A Theological and Pastoral Commentary
Hardback: Eerdmans, 2022
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Reviewed by Aaron Klink
Michael Gorman is one of the most insightful contemporary interpreters of the Pauline corpus. Gorman’s previous books: Crucformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross, Inhabiting the Cruciform God, and Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission argue that Paul’s corpus is centered around a specific set of themes that Gorman labels “cruciformity” and “ressurectional cruciformity”. For Gorman, Paul believed that the Christian faith leads to discipleship that is empowered by the Holy Spirit in community, which focuses believers on the tasks of reconciliation, service, and peaceful witness. This commentary draws explicitly on Gorman’s belief in these key themes in Paul’s thought, but does not fully explain their exegetical basis in this book, which is perhaps somewhat natural given that it is a commentary on a single Pauline letter.
As a United Methodist professor at Saint Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, a Roman Catholic institution, Gorman draws from both “Protestant” and “Roman Catholic” readings of Paul. At the same time, Gorman states that he reads Romans, Paul’s longest and arguably most systematic letter as “above all, a letter about Spirit-enabled participation and transformation in Christ and his story, and thus in the life and mission of God in the world” (xix).
This book is explicitly directed at several audiences simultaneously and is organized accordingly. Each chapter carefully exegetes a pericope of Romans, trying to elucidate its arguments in relation to other parts of the Pauline corpus. In addition, it also explores Paul’s use of the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament which is prevalent in Romans. Two sets of questions follow each section: one entitled “Spiritual, Pastoral, and Theological Questions” which focuses readers on questions of individual spirituality or are useful for Bible study. The second set of questions is entitled “Questions for Those Who Preach and Teach,” and focuses more on the technical issues of the theology of Romans, and various interpretations of that theology. Pastors who preach on Romans, leaders of congregational Bible studies, and those interested in serious individual study on Romans will find the book useful.
While showing awareness of debates about the interpretation of Romans in the scholarly literature, Gorman argues that he aims to “comment on the text, not on other commentators” (xvii). As a result the chapters focus on Paul’s writings, not about academic debates about Pauline interpretation. However, for readers who wish to explore these debates Gorman provides bibliographies of relevant books at the end of each chapter, alerting readers to the various recommended resources. I wish Gorman had provided a bit more annotation to these bibliographies but that might be expecting too much from one book.
Gorman’s introduction begins with a broad overview of how he understands Pauline theology and spirituality. He argues that Paul believed that God’s call through the gospel was not simply “forensic” justification as some Protestants claim. He argues that Paul believes that we participate with God in faith that transforms how we live both as individuals and in community. In the second chapter, Gorman gives an overview of the letter to Romans which gives a broader framework for reading the whole letter.
After these general introductions, Gorman begins his detailed exegesis of the book. This is a commentary designed for Christians of faith, who want to explore the spiritual implications of Romans and what it means for those who seek to follow Christ in the present day. Gorman does not explain a “theory” of justification or atonement, he only argues that the Spirit transforms believers in the current time, allowing them to practice “cruciformity” in ways that both imitate Christ’s love, and imitate Paul’s example in ministering to others and proclaiming the Gospel.
Gorman’s commentary is substantive, sophisticated, and accessible. Additionally, it employs Gorman’s key concepts of participation, mission, cruciformity and resurrectional cruciformity which are more fully defended and elucidated than in his other books. Those familiar with Gorman’s corpus will have an easier time following this commentary. However, this is a minor issue. Because of Gorman’s knowledge of Paul, and his ability to have an ecumenical vision that’s deeper than that which comes from simply parroting “Protestant” or “Roman Catholic” readings of Romans, Gorman manages to exegete the text seemingly free of pre-set denominational commitments. This book deserves a place on the shelves of pastors who preach on Romans, and in church libraries that assist readers in understanding Paul’s account of God’s work, so that believers can respond to that same grace, as Christ in the world.
Aaron Klink is Chaplain and Bereavement Coordintor at Pruitt Health Hospice in Durham, North Carolina. As a writer and speaker his work focuses on how churches can faithfully minister to the ill and suffering and on Lutheran theology. An ordained pastor in the Church of the Brethren he received his M.Div. from Yale and a Th.M. from Duke Divinity School where he was the Westbrook Fellow in the Program in Theology and Medicine.