In order to fully appreciate Michael Gorman's project, which he describes under the title, Cruciformity: Paul's Narrative Spirituality of the Cross, one must begin with an understanding of the terminology he employs. As Gorman notes in the introduction, his focus is Paul's spirituality, which he presents as an alternative to other scholars' focus on Paul's theology. By spirituality he means life in the Spirit or the experience of the Triune God, which is the life of faith, hope, and charity (p. 3). Further he describes this spirituality as narrative spirituality, because it tells a story of "dynamic life with God that corresponds in some way to the divine `story'" (p. 4). In Paul's case, this narrative spirituality is best described, Gorman says, as cruciformity—conformity to the cross of Christ, a conformity that allows Paul to encounter God in the correspondence between his daily life and the story of the crucified Christ.
Gorman is clear from the start that he does not intend to provide the reader with a comprehensive study of Paul's theology of the cross or produce an analysis of Paul's religious experiences, broadly understood. Rather, his primary objective is to uncover the intersection of Paul's experience of the Triune God and his experience of the crucified Christ. In service of this goal, the first four chapters of the book treat his understanding of Paul's experience of the Trinity, first individually as Father, Son, and Spirit and then the Trinity as a unity. In the fifth chapter, Gorman collects a number of Pauline texts that make reference to Christ's death and extracts from them thirteen themes, which he calls "narrative patterns." These, he says, describe Paul's understanding of the significance of the crucifixion for the believer's life in Christ. At the conclusion of this chapter, Gorman distills these thirteen themes into four categories: faith, love, power, and hope.
These four categories, in turn, become the subject of the next seven chapters of the book: chapters 6 and 7 are devoted to cruciform faith, which Gorman describes in terms of obedience or compliance; chapters 8, 9, and 10 focus on cruciform love, understood in terms of voluntary self-emptying and self-giving; chapter 11 focuses on cruciform power, which is seen in the paradox of the cross manifested in suffering service; chapter 12 deals with cruciform hope, focusing on the pattern of reversal of fortune brought about in Christ's resurrection and exaltation. Gorman treats these categories in this order because he sees cruciform faith (compliance) as the first step in the spiritual life. Cruciform faith necessarily gives way to cruciform love (self-emptying), the second stage in the spiritual life. Having treated these two categories in depth, Gorman turns to a discussion of the power that Paul exerts over the communities he founded (and the power the communities themselves have), arguing that it is the manifestation of cruciform faith and love. Moreover, this power gives life and hope to cruciform communities of faith. This accounts for Gorman's sequencing of chapters 6 through 12. Chapter 13 addresses the communal character of Paul's cruciform spirituality. Gorman describes Paul's churches as exclusivist-inclusivist. The church's members distinguish themselves from those outside the community—on account of a cruciform spirituality of faith, love, power, and hope-but within the community they are one-on account of this same spirituality. In the concluding chapter, Gorman responds to contemporary challenges to the notion of cruciform spirituality, returning to his four categories-faith, love, power, and hope-to articulate how Paul's spirituality might be manifest today.
Gorman's footnotes and bibliography indicate that he is well informed of the exegetical literature on Paul's letters. However, in his own work, Gorman rejects contemporary historical and literary critical methods, because they tend to discount or exclude the religious experience of the biblical writer. Instead, he favors a synthetic approach, which he describes as having kinship with the Late Antique and medieval methods of biblical interpretation. The result is a less-than-satisfying survey of Pauline excerpts, in which certain key terms are found, without regard for the historical and literary contexts in which they appear. Gorman draws upon terminology from systematic theology (e.g., narrative themes) and moral theology (e.g., fundamental option) with little explanation of the appropriateness of applying them to the exegesis of Pauline texts. He acknowledges that the doctrine of the Trinity was not yet developed in Paul's time, but goes on to argue that Paul's experience of the Triune God is central to his spirituality. Thus, readers who have been trained in biblical critical methods may find his book quite frustrating. Having said this, Gorman's thesis certainly has relevance for understanding how Christians ought to live their faith today.