Archive for the ‘Theosis’ Category

Good Friday Reflections 2013

Friday, March 29th, 2013

Following is my annual set of brief statements about Good Friday, with some additions for this year:

What makes Good Friday “good”? Or, what is the meaning of Good Friday?

The first thing to say is that it is good only in light of Easter. Given the reality of Easter, it is good because it reveals the depth of God’s love and communicates that love to us in order to liberate us from Sin and Death and to give us life in abundance and life eternal.

Volumes have been written on this, including some by yours truly. Here are just a few reflections summarizing some of what I have written elsewhere at greater length:

1. The main purpose of Jesus’ death was to create the people of the new covenant, who would be empowered by the Spirit of God to resemble Jesus himself: faithful to God and loving toward their neighbors and enemies.

2. The cross is not only the source but also the shape of our salvation. This is the essential meaning of “cruciformity”–daily likeness to the self-giving, life-giving divine love manifested on the cross.

3. The cross reveals the love, power, wisdom, and justice of God, and it does so, paradoxically but powerfully, in weakness.

4. The cross is not only the signature of the Risen One (so Kaesemann), but also of the Holy One of Israel; that is, the cross is not only a christophany but ultimately a theophany–the ultimate divine self-revelation.

5. Thus cruciformity is ultimately theoformity; Christlikeness is Godlikeness; through participation in the cross of Christ, we are transformed most fully into the image of God. This is sometimes called theosis or deification.

6. The fact that Jesus died as the Jewish Messiah on a Roman cross means that his death contains within it a political theology and spirituality.

7. When the cross is used for anything that contradicts its character as divine love, power, wisdom, and justice displayed in weakness, it is being used blasphemously.

Finally: When I survey the wondrous cross, love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.

Recent Publications

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

For those who might be interested:

  • The kindle version of Reading Revelation Responsibly is now available.
  • My article “Romans: The First Christian Treatise on Theosis” is out in the Spring 2011 issue of Journal of Theological Interpretation.
  • Another article, “Effecting the New Covenant: A (Not so) New, New Testament Model for the Atonement,” has just appeared in the 2011 issue of Ex Auditu. (For earlier discussion of it, see here and here.)

Justification Lectures tomorrow and Saturday

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

I will be the G. Arthur Keough Lecturer in the Department of Religion at Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park, MD, on Friday and Saturday, March 18-19. The topic is “Reimagining Justification According to St. Paul”:

7 p.m. Friday: “The End of Justification as We Know It”
respondent: Fr. Frank Matera, Catholic University

10 a.m. Saturday: “Justification as Resurrection from the Dead”

3:30. p.m. Saturday: “Justification and Justice”
respondent: Dr. Stephen Fowl, Loyola University

If you are in or near D.C., come on out!

N.T. Wright’s Pauline Respondents: Conference Report (5)

Monday, April 26th, 2010

This final post on the N.T. Wright Wheaton Conference will consider the papers given on Saturday, the day devoted primarily to NTW and Paul. The papers were as follows:

“Wrighting the Wrongs of the Reformation? The State of the Union with Christ in St. Paul and in Protestant Soteriology,” by Kevin J. Vanhoozer (Wheaton)

“The Shape of Things to Come? Wright Amidst Emerging Ecclesiologies,” by Jeremy Begbie (Cambridge/Duke)

“Did St. Paul Go to Heaven When He Died?”, by Markus Bockmuehl (Oxford)

“Glimpsing the Glory—Paul’s Gospel, Righteousness and the Beautiful Feet of N.T. Wright,” by Edith Humphrey (Pittsburgh)

1. Kevin Vanhoozer’s paper was a theological and rhetorical masterpiece. If I were an evangelical reformed theologian (I’m an Anabaptist Methodist with Orthodox and Catholic interests), I would have said what he said, and I would have said a good deal of what he said even without being reformed. (But remind me that if I ever give a lecture at Wheaton to design a first-rate PowerPoint presentation—and to bring extra batteries for the remote.) Besides being a fine response to Wright, it was a noble attempt to build a bridge between the Bishop and his conservative reformed detractors.

Vanhoozer drew on his well-known adaptation of speech-act theory to argue that justification as declaration is not a legal fiction but a performative utterance, calling on Eberhard Juengel’s idea that justification effects an ontological change, and arguing that NTW’s understanding of declaration sometimes neglects this effective dimension of declaration. He suggested that NTW’s emphasis on God declaring people part of the covenant should include the effective dimension—it makes people members of the covenant community. I am with KV 100% on these points.

Vanhoozer also raised the question of whether the juridical declaration that justification is should be seen as something like a civil case or a criminal case, that is, is one declared “in” (settling a civil matter) or declared “innocent” (settling a criminal matter). (My hunch is that if one follows the juridical model, the answer should be “both,” which is where KV landed, though many, especially those who oppose NTW, stress the latter.)

Vanhoozer then offered an interpretation of imputation and union with Christ that he dubbed “incorporative righteousness,” which means that human beings declared to be justified are both “in the clear and in the covenant.” He went on to build on Calvin’s understanding of the double grace of justification and sanctification (distinct but inseparable) by speaking of the triple grace of becoming sons [sic] of God, heirs of heaven, and partakers of righteousness. Incorporative righteousness/union with Christ is forensic, ontological, and covenantal, a Trinitarian communication of righteousness that the Father declares, the Son enables, and the Spirit effects.

Finally, returning to the question of what kind of court the metaphor of declaration refers to, Vanhoozer raised the provocative question, “Is the law court an adoption court?”

This was an exciting paper in many ways. Not only did it challenge NTW on justification precisely where I think he needs to be pressed—on the question of effective declaration, ontology, transformation, union with Christ, participation—it really did open the possibility of conversation between NTW and some of his severest critics—if they (the critics) are willing to talk, that is. My own work on justification resonates with Vanhoozer’s at some very significant points, though he did not (and likely would not) use the term theosis.

I will need to be briefer in treating the others.

2. Jeremy Begbie (my office-next-door-neighbor at Duke last year) is a fine theologian and musician, and we were treated to both aspects of his brilliance at this event. He gave an analysis of NTW’s ecclesiology, explaining its appeal to the emergent-church folks. According to Jeremy, NTW’s ecclesiology has five characteristics, all of which appeal to emergent: it is (a) intrinsic to his theology and his understanding of what God is up to, not an add-on; (b) eschatological, meaning that NTW does ecclesiology backwards and that eschatology is the context for mission; (c) cosmically situated, indebted to Colossians 1 and Romans 8; (d) material; and (e) improvisatory, as in the work of Sam Wells, Dean of Duke’s chapel.

Jeremy added that there are three additional themes in NTW’s ecclesiology that are easily forgotten: the ascension, its Jewish roots, and its catholicity.

At the end of his paper, Jeremy thrilled the crowd with an original, creative musical tribute to Bishop Tom at the piano. At the end of the day, he was called back for an encore.

In the panel later that day, Bishop Tom made a funny comment in response: “Until this paper, I didn’t know I had an ecclesiology, but this is it.”

3. Markus Bockmuehl, who knows the primary sources like almost no one else, pressed NTW on what we might call his “personal eschatology.” Markus finds inconsistencies, and perhaps exegetical problems, in NTW’s presentation of what happens to people at death.

Unfortunately, I took very few notes on this lecture and have not had time to review it. I will just add that I too find NTW’s language (such as what he means by “life after life after death”) less than clear at times.

4. The title of and introduction to Edith Humphrey’s paper had some people a bit anxious about how critical, or even serious, it would be, but it turned into a tour de force. Once again, I took few notes (by Saturday afternoon the energy to do so had all but dissipated), but the gist of her argument was close to my own interpretation of righteousness in Paul: the key is 2 Cor 5:21, which (contra NTW) is not merely about apostles embodying God’s righteousness, but about all believers being transformed into the divine character. She noted that this text and its theology form an important part of the scriptural basis of the doctrine of theosis. (She is a recent convert to Orthodoxy.) I agree, and I make the same argument about 2 Cor 5:21, against NTW, in Inhabiting the Cruciform God.

Depending on one’s interest, all of these lectures would repay careful viewing and/or hearing. The presentations of Vanhoozer and Humphrey are especially important for anyone interested in the topic of justification/righteousness.

The IVP book that comes out of this conference will be a must-have for anyone interested in Jesus studies, Pauline studies, or NTW studies. (Yes, I met with a young scholar preparing to do a PhD dissertation on NTW as theological interpreter.) Congratulations and thanks are due to Wheaton, to all involved, and especially to Bishop Tom. As Richard Hays said at the outset, adulation is for rock stars; critical engagement is what honors scholars.

Dialoguing about Inhabiting

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

A few bloggers are now interacting seriously with Inhabiting the Cruciform God. Most recently, Fuller New Testament professor Daniel Kirk has a series of three appreciative posts (here, here, and here) that also raise some good questions. I have a response to only one (so far) of his posts, the third, in the form of a comment.

Eastern University NT professor Carl Mosser, who knows the topic of theosis very well, has some long and very perceptive comments in response to my recent post called “Fear of Theosis.”

Another blogger, a theologian, may post a long review with my (short) response soon.

There are also some other reviews on the web. (See mjg ONLINE to the right.) Thanks to all for the interest and feedback!

Fear of Theosis

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

Why are so many Protestants afraid of theosis? This is the term, used primarily in the Eastern Christian tradition but now enjoying a revival more widely, for becoming “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter): becoming like God, a process that begins now and culminates in eschatological glory. Other terms for theosis are deification, divinization, and christification. We come to share in God’s life especially God’s holiness, and immortality. Some of us even argue that there is a spirituality of theosis in Paul.

I have heard or inferred the following objections to theosis:

1a. OBJECTION: Theosis blurs the distinction between humanity and God, implying that humans become God/gods. (Subtext: theosis sounds like Mormonism.)
1b. RESPONSE: The Eastern tradition has always denied this claim and reminded us that creatures always remain creatures and never become God. Theosis does not negate the ontological difference between humans and God.

2a. OBJECTION: Theosis misrepresents the appropriate relationship between humans and God, which is to be primarily one of recognizing the difference and distance between us as sinful humans and God as the Holy One.
2b. RESPONSE: Theosis does not negate the moral difference between humans and God or deny the importance of worshiping God as the Holy One in this life or the next.

3a. OBJECTION: The idea of theosis—even the term—is especially dangerous for people who live in contexts of great political power because they will be tempted to adopt a kind of spiritual and political megalomania.
3b. RESPONSE: When an important theological term or concept poses problems, the solution is not to jettison the term or concept but to define and articulate it carefully and, if necessary, polemically in order to prevent misunderstanding and misuse.

4a. OBJECTION: Theosis is not the language or theology of the Reformation. (Subtext: if we give on this, we’ll soon be either Orthodox or Catholic.)
4b. RESPONSE: Yes and No. No, because recent interpretations of the Reformers and their theology suggest something more like theosis, or at least participation and union, was at the heart of Reformation theology. Yes, because the Reformation did not get everything right–or even get everything. There are aspects of salvation that have been overlooked by the Reformation and especially its heirs. Yes again, because the pre-occupation of some with a juridical approach to justification and salvation has made them blind to the inadequacies of that approach and to the strengths of other dimensions of salvation.

5a. OBJECTION: Theosis is not the language or theology of the New Testament.
5b. RESPONSE: Again, Yes and No. Like many other important theological terms, such as Trinity, eschatological, Christus victor, participation, etc., the word “theosis” does not appear in the NT. That does not mean, however, that the reality to which the term points is absent. If people of antiquity, Gentiles and Jews alike, were preoccupied with becoming like God/the gods, as many people have observed, it would be odd indeed if the early Christians did not share this concern and goal for human existence. If one looks carefully at the NT documents, one finds again and again language about sharing in God’s life, holiness, and immortality—which is the essence of theosis. Or, as I have argued in my book Inhabiting the Cruciform God, in Paul (and throughout the NT, I would add) becoming like Christ, cruciformity, is really becoming like God. That is, cruciformity is really theoformity, or theosis.

A Blessing for Christmas Eve and Day

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Christ, who by his incarnation gathered into one things earthly and heavenly, grant you the fullness of inward peace and goodwill, and make you partakers of the divine nature; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be upon you and remain with you always.

—Concluding blessing from the Christmas Eve Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, Kings College, Cambridge

Joyous Christmas to All!

(Faithful readers: note the theme of theosis!)

Already Glorified? (part 2)

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

Here’s my own position (at least as of today!):

If (1) Paul can say that “in hope we were saved,” when “save” (sozo) language is always, even there, future in orientation for him, and if (2) future salvation includes glorification, then he could quite plausibly mean in saying “those whom [God] justified [God] also glorified” that believers were glorified in hope, that is, they were and are partially and proleptically saved/glorified in the initial and daily reality of justification, that is, of dying with Christ and rising to new life in Christ. Of course that new life is always in the shape of the cross!

If this correct, then the term “theosis” to describe what Paul is describing is quite appropriate—a process of being formed into the likeness of the Son of God, though in this life the “glory” is partial, proleptic, and cruciform.

One possible problem with this interpretation is connecting it to the liberation of creation. Is there any sense of proleptic salvation for the creation in Romans 8? Or could there be, implicitly?

(This post is expanded from a comment I made on my previous post on this topic.)

Already Glorified? (Rom 8:30)

Monday, October 19th, 2009

In Romans 8:30 Paul asserts that those who were predestined, called, and justified were also glorified. What could it mean? Many (though not all—see, e.g., Cranfield and Jewett) commentators argue that it does not refer literally to a past (or ongoing) event or experience. They stand on a rather firm foundation of texts such as 5:2 (“our hope of sharing the glory of God”) and 8:17-18 (“…so that we may also be glorified with him… the glory about to be revealed to us”)—plus a healthy fear of any “theology of glory.” They offer several different interpretations of the aorist:

• the proleptic, futuristic, or prophetic aorist: a future action is so certain that it may be narrated in the past tense (many)
• the properly theological use of the aorist (my term): a future action is already complete from the timeless, eternal perspective of God (Keck)
• the a-historical use of the aorist (my-term): like “predestined,” “glorified” expresses a view of salvation events that occur outside of time as we know it, unlike “called” and “justified,” which refer to events within time (Dunn)
• the punctiliar/non-temporal aorist: an action is perceived and described with respect to its aspect (one-time or completed character), not its temporality

While each of these interpretations could make sense of the text in isolation, or in connection only with other texts that clearly refer to the believing community’s future experience of glory, I wonder if these explanations sufficiently recognize the present reality of glory that Paul describes in 2 Cor 3:18 or, more importantly, whether they connect “glory” to the totality of that theme in Romans. Here is the question: Has the glorification of humanity already begun? Can it be said, in some sense, to be a past/present reality as well as a future reality? If so, what does that mean, especially in Romans?

What do people think about this?

More Online Reviews of “Inhabiting”

Saturday, October 17th, 2009

Professor Craig Blomberg of Denver Seminary has a generous review of Inhabiting the Cruciform God at the Denver Seminary site .  I’m grateful to Craig.

And here’s another, by a former student named Lyle Brecht, from a political angle. He told me a version of it will be published in Political Theology, too.