My family and I moved to Durham, England in August 2006 for me to do PhD studies at University of Durham. I’m studying under John Barclay (primary) and Loren Stuckenbruck (secondary) as my supervisors. Lord willing, we’ll be here for 3 years.
A little background about me…
I most recently studied at Dallas Theological Seminary. I originally wanted to go to DTS for its biblical language programs, but my first semester I got hooked by a couple of classes in historical and systematic theology (thanks to Jeff Bingham and Kent Berghuis). I got a ThM and primarily focused on historical theology. With the help of Bingham and Scott Horrell, I wrote my thesis on “The Two Natures in Christ and Deification in Maximus the Confessor,” a cozy night-time read I’m sure. While at DTS, I also worked at Watson Wyatt as an actuarial consultant, working with pension and retiree medical plans (from a corporate perspective). I ended up working there 3 more years after I graduated while we had our second son and tried to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. You can see a little more on the end stages of that process here. In Dallas we spent quite a bit of time at Fellowship Church, where I helped coordinate local missions.
Before DTS, I lived in Arkadelphia, AR. I’m sure most of you know where that is, but just in case you don’t, it’s about an hour southwest of Little Rock towards Texas. I did my undergrad work at Ouachita Baptist University (pronounced Wa-shi-taw), where I double-majored in Accounting and Biblical Studies. I married my lovely wife Heather when I graduated, but she still had a semester or two left. So, with not much else to do in Arkadelphia (I’m sure you are surprised), I did an MBA at Henderson State University, which happens to be nicely situated (practically) across the street from Ouachita. I had a great time at both schools. Key things that I took away from OBU: that I should probably pursue an academic career (particularly thanks to the Pew Scholars program there), a great introduction to Greek and Hebrew exegesis (thanks to Scott Duvall and Danny Hays), and a desire to never divorce academics from the church (thanks to Scott Duvall). I spent 4 years working with the Monticello Children’s Home and also got to help with drafting the way the national welfare reform would be applied to Arkadelphia (Clark County, AR). At Henderson, I got the opportunity to present my first academic paper (“Earnings Managemen and Institutional Ownership”) and also got to teach several undergrad business classes.
Here’s a bit about my thesis here at Durham…
Protestants tend to primarily focus upon Paul’s view of justification by faith, which has been interpreted as a judicial or forensic concept. However, others have commented upon his use of the concept of being “in Christ” as an important key to his understanding of salvation. In this way believers have a union with Christ, experiencing in a real way his death and resurrection. Several other themes in his theology can fit underneath this rubric, such as suffering as dying with Christ and sharing in the Spirit as rising with him. The problem is that it is not clear how the forensic and participation categories fit together in Paul’s thought.
Several authors have noted this tension. Albert Schweitzer devoted his Mysticism of the Paul the Apostle explaining this mystical union with Christ, but on the whole Protestants have remained attached to justification by faith. More recently, E.P. Sanders and others have also raised the issue of the importance of participation in Paul’s theology, but Sanders also humbly mentions that he and others really don’t know what that means. It is the deeper meaning of Paul’s participation statements that is our interest and not that of thinly veiled restatements of Paul’s language. As such, I agree with Sanders’ argument that Paul’s letters speak of a reality that is not fully captured in categories or explanations given by scholars to date.
However, we are not without a place to look for help in understanding this area. The Orthodox church has had the doctrine of theosis, or union with God, as its primary soteriological understanding since the early fathers. In their view, there is a union with God without confusion. Believers share in the divine life and through their union with God take on the divine attributes. This union with God was effected by Christ’s incarnation and death-resurrection. A common phrase to describe this is that “In Christ God became man so that we can become gods.” This obviously takes one far beyond the forensic categories of justification by faith, and is foreign to many western believers. However, theosis as the “missing” category for Protestants seems to provide a philosophical, historical, and (potentially) exegetical solution to our problem of how to understand Paul’s participation statements.
As such, theosis would provide a unifying soteriological model that incorporates several aspects of Paul’s letters. In particular, our union with God would include participation in both Christ and the Spirit. Also theosis could unify the already/not yet aspects of Paul’s soteriology as believers begin to share in God’s life now and are later fully transformed as they find greater union in his life at the resurrection. Scholars have also noted the direct connection between Paul’s participation language and his ethical imperatives. When making this affirmation, two issues should be remembered—one regarding other soteriological models and one regarding the extent of the participationist language in Paul.
In prior discussions related to the role of participation in Paul’s theology, two routes are followed. On one side, justification is often downplayed or argued away as only polemical. On the other side, participation is neglected or only flatly treated. My estimation is that one soteriological metaphor should probably not take center stage with Paul with the neglect of others. The emphasis on participation cannot be denied with its broad distribution and frequent mention. However, the role of justification also cannot be denied in Paul’s writings. As a result, one model or the other need not be denied when affirming the other. However, when analyzing Paul’s letters, it behooves scholars to make decisions about relative importance. So with these affirmations, a measure of balance must be incorporated.
Regarding the extent of the explicit language in Paul, we should probably not expect to find a summary of theosis such as that of a systematic theology. Paul’s letters were occasional and centered around his personal experience and the experience of the church. As such, Paul often assumes theological premises from which he argues for more location specific applications. As a result, finding support for theosis, if it exists, will be like that of finding the doctrine of the Trinity in the NT. That doctrine is evident in the NT primarily through the experience of the church but was not explicitly defined and categorized until later debates using Greek philosophical categories. As a result, a (potential) lack of direct evidence should not induce systematic theologians to discount theosis as a soteriological model.
With the emphasis on participation in Christ, Paul’s soteriology may more rightly be termed “Christosis.” As a result, to be understood as theosis, a high Christology would be required. Accordingly, as a development in the early church’s understanding of the Trinity is recorded in the NT, we would have to qualify the extent of theosis that could be found in Paul. For instance, Dunn posits a slow development in christological thought in Paul’s letters, whereas Hengel and Hurtado note an early development evidenced in Paul’s letters. The level of development will require a nuanced understanding of Paul’s soteriology as theosis. Like that of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity, this nuanced understanding of theosis in Paul would be foundational and not the fully developed theology clarified centuries later.
Paul’s use of participation language is prevalent in his letters but still remains to be fully investigated and understood. Theosis may be the missing key to understand Paul’s participation language. My aim is to determine what extent Paul’s language supports the concept of theosis and explore the ramifications of that. I believe this study will not only provide a fruitful study of Paul’s soteriology but also provide a better understanding of Orthodox theology by Protestants.
To see better see how theosis may be understood in Paul, I am not only looking at Paul but also Irenaeus and Cyril of Alexandria. These later writers that develop the idea of theosis will provide heuristic device to understand Paul. By comparing and contrasting their interpretation of Paul and their development of apostolic teaching, we will better see what within Paul was agreeable to a later more fully developed view of theosis but what was also discarded in that development. So in the end, I am doing a history of interpretation analysis of Paul rather than a history of religions approach.