Michael Gorman’s Narrative Spiritual Theology and C.S. Lewis’ Logic of Cruciformity: A Conversation Across Generations and Disciplines (Congress2021 Paper)

This week is Canada’s annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, Congress2021–what scholarly Canadians used to call “the Learneds,” I believe, a short form of “the Learned Societies” that make up the conference. I am presenting twice, at two different societies–and in the same morning! this is a reality for this huge conference–and I am showing some restraint in only haunting two of the four Congress societies in which I am active. Last spring, I had intended to trip across Western University’s campus from event to event on my way to the C.S. Lewis and Friends Colloquium at Taylor University in Indiana. With all things delayed, this year’s Congress is digital–making navigating the distance fairly easy, though somewhat less scenic.

At the Canadian-American Theological Association, I am presenting material from my forthcoming book, The Shape of the Cross in C.S. Lewis’ Spiritual Theology. As I hunt for a publisher, this presentation allows me to return to one of my early discoveries for C.S. Lewis. Then I am able to throw the discussion forward, suggesting that there are implications of my work both for Lewis studies and theological method. Here is my paper abstract. Beneath it, those who are interested in the topic can find some links and resources.

“Michael Gorman’s Narrative Spiritual Theology and C.S. Lewis’ Logic of Cruciformity: A Conversation Across Generations and Disciplines” by Brenton D.G. Dickiesons

In 2001, Michael J. Gorman produced a ground-breaking study in biblical theology. Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross was unique in its focus on Pauline spirituality as revealed in the story patterns within the text. For Paul, the cross is not merely the redemptive hinge of history but also the normative pattern for Christian spirituality. Discipleship is cross-shaped, so the believer’s life echoes the death and resurrection of Christ. Paul captures this cruciform principle of spirituality in narrative patterns of the cross embedded in his letters, speaking less in terms of theological systematization and, more commonly, in terms of pastoral, spiritual theology. The cross event, then, invites believers into narrative unity with Christ in spiritual life.

Though writing as a popular theologian lacking Gorman’s systematic treatment, and writing in an older generation, C.S. Lewis anticipates Gorman’s approach to Pauline narrative spiritual in intriguing ways. There is, I argue, a “Logic of Cruciformity” evident in Lewis’ apologetics trilogy and throughout his corpus. The Pauline cruciform spirituality that Gorman describes is the all-encompassing, integrating narrative reality that informs all of Lewis’s life and works. This proto-theological instinct in Lewis makes Gorman useful for framing Lewis’ ideas into a coherent whole. Moreover, the fact that Lewis’ nonsystematic understanding of Cruciformity is revealed not only in his theological works but also in his popular fiction and literary theory confirms Gorman’s interest in the embedded, storied nature of spirituality and the power of these patterns for creating narrative unity between the cross event and spiritual life.

Resources for More

Here is a PDF of the slides that I will use for my paper: Dickieson-CSL-Gorman Cruciformity CATA 2021.

Checking out my biography will give you a sense of the kinds of things I’m am doing as a theologian of literature and literary theologian. This work will be part of what will appear (hopefully) as The Shape of the Cross in C.S. Lewis’ Spiritual Theology, and came out of my PhD research (which you can read about here). I first discerned the heart of this particular work in the autumn of 2013, preparing for a conference at the Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax, NS (you can see the details here). I wrote my initial findings in a chapter entitled “‘Die Before You Die’: St. Paul’s Cruciformity in C.S. Lewis’s Narrative Spirituality” in Both Sides of the Wardrobe: C.S. Lewis, Theological Imagination, and Everyday Discipleship, edited by Rob Fennell (Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2015), pp 32-45. For a popular, brief vision of these findings, see my guest blog post at “Theological Miscellany” of the Westminster Theological Centre.

If you are interested in publishing The Shape of the Cross in C.S. Lewis’ Spiritual Theology, of if you are a researcher looking for the larger, detailed chapter in my embargoed thesis, “The Great Story on Which the Plot Turns”: Cruciformity in C.S. Lewis’ Narrative Spiritual Theology, email me: junkola [at] gmail [dot] com.

Finally, I do recommend Michael Gorman’s biblical-theological works as smart, excellently conceived and executed, and practically oriented.

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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6 Responses to Michael Gorman’s Narrative Spiritual Theology and C.S. Lewis’ Logic of Cruciformity: A Conversation Across Generations and Disciplines (Congress2021 Paper)

  1. Clive Shergold says:

    The links to Theological Miscellany are out of date. Try https://wtctheology.org.uk/theomisc/c-s-lewis-and-cruciformity/

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  3. cgruenler says:

    This sounds like a great project. I would think that a crucial (sorry for the pun) aspect of Lewis’s thinking about narrative theology and its shape would be medieval allegorical interpretation of the Bible, above all as turned into allegorical narrative by Dante and other poets (such as Langland). The classic text for this is Erich Auerbach’s long essay “Figura,” which develops in its fullest form one of the key ideas of his book Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, where he centers Dante in the context of larger literary developments. Lewis, I think, would tell a different story about Western literature, one more oriented to representations that include spiritual reality (rather than exclude it, as Auerbach sees happening as early as Dante). Indeed, I think his pact with Tolkien to write space and time travel stories could be seen as a matter of reviving stories that have more of a capacity to do this, as medieval allegory did, and to do it from a Christian perspective using the patterns that medieval biblical interpretation was interested in.

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    • Hi, I actually have Mimesis open as I am rereading “Odysseus’ Scar” and “Fortunata” for teaching. I have always found the readings of texts in Auerbach easier (for me) to understand and appreciate than some of his underlying principles.
      Lewis does, indeed, tell a different story than Auerbach in “The Allegory of Love.” Auerbach’s genius of seeing “mimesis” born in Peter’s denial, the awakening of morning in the cock’s crow, is so important. But his reading disintergrates: his move to mimesis is a move from a world alive with supernatural possibilities to one that is inhabited by psychological journeys. Your instinct is precisely right. Lewis is not writing against Auerbach (though may have read him later). Lewis, I would argue, sees a similar move of “from” to “to” that Auerbach captures, but reads it differently, so that the death of religious imagery is the birth of myth, and then, later, the birth of metaphor. I presume he is shaped by Owen Barfield’s “Poetic Diction” on this one.

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