Perhaps you might know this but Forrest Gump is a modern take on Voltaire’s Candide, which was a critique of Leibniz’s monergistic perspective. While the movie Forrest Gump does not directly address monergism and synergism, the key theme is a debate between destiny and chance.

I had a student pull together key clips to pull this out several years ago. YouTube must be recommending it because it’s gotten a lot of recent comments, so I figured I’d pass along the clip as well:

If you are interested in further ideas about monergism and synergism in the Christian tradition, check out my forthcoming book where we compare and contrast how this works in regard to various perspectives on sin and salvation: Engaging Theology: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Introduction.

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Christosis CoverGot word that the Paul within Antiquity group at the upcoming Catholic Biblical Association will be discussing my book Christosis. I have learned to have much more tempered expectations about any doctoral thesis/dissertation having wider attention and longevity, so I can’t complain that it is getting wider attention. I am biased but I do think it’s the best book on Paul and theosis out there.

Michael Barber and Brant Pitre are heading up the Paul within Antiquity group at CBA. They along with John Kincaid have a really nice book on Paul that will hit the bookshelves any day now: Paul, a New Covenant Jew: Rethinking Pauline Theology. It has so many virtues, but let me highlight one in particular. I think it has one of the clearest explanations of the major approaches to Paul that I’ve read. That clarity and substance is then applied to their own reading of Paul.

Today is Irenaeus of Lyon’s feast day in the western calendar–June 28–so I thought it would be nice to highlight a few of my (Ben’s) essays and articles on Irenaeus’ theology, particularly through the lens of the reception of Paul’s letters, that I have written over the last decade or so.

“Paul and Irenaeus” in Paul and the Second Century: The Legacy of Paul’s Life, Letters, and Teaching, ed. Michael F. Bird and Joseph R. Dodson (London: T&T Clark, 2011), 190-206. This is an overview article about the general reception of Paul in Irenaeus’ works where I explore key historical issues and key themes.

“Deification in Irenaeus” in Christosis: Engaging Paul’s Soteriology with His Patristic Interpreters (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016). This is a chapter-length treatment of Irenaeus’ soteriology in general and theology of deification in particular. In detailing his theology, I also show his strong dependence upon Paul for generating these deification themes (immortality, adoption, etc.).

“Two Early Perspectives on Participation in Paul: Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria” in ‘In Christ’ in Paul: Explorations in Paul’s Theological Vision of Union and Participation, eds. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Constantine R. Campbell and Michael J. Thate (WUNT II/384; Mohr Siebeck, 2015), 331-55. By using a comparison of Irenaeus and Clement, I further clarified my taxonomy of participation in patristic theology. I then explored key passages and themes related to Irenaeus (and Clement) on the topic of participation and Paul.

“Partakers of Adoption: Irenaeus and His Use of Paul,” Letter and Spirit 11 (2016): 35–64. Sonship and adoption are key themes in Irenaeus’ theology, and I provide a critical analysis that traces out the nature of Adamic and Abrahamic sonship that shapes the direction of Ireneaus’ argument.

“The Covenant of Promise: Abraham in Irenaeus” in Irenaeus and Paul (Pauline and Patristic Scholars in Debate); eds., Todd D. Still and David E. Wilhite (Bloomsbury, forthcoming 2020). In the context of Irenaeus’ wider covenant theology, I specifically explore the nature of Abraham and the Abrahamic covenant in Irenaeus’ theology. Much attention has been given to Irenaeus’ use of Adam to ground his theology of creation to new creation, but he also uses Abraham to ground his theology of promise and fulfillment.

A friend texted me a screen shot of a review of my Christosis book in a recent journal, and I realized that I hadn’t seen others come through like with it’s first printing. So, a quick journal search turned up several reviews in the last few months of the Eerdmans version:

  • Gorman in Interpretation
  • Jervis in Catholic Biblical Quarterly
  • Smith in Chriswell Theological Review
  • Kennard in Affirmation & Critique (this is long)
  • Bucey in Westminster Theological Journal
  • Stephan in Theological Studies
  • in addition to several for the Mohr Siebeck version.

I confess that with the first printing (with Mohr Siebeck) when a review came in, I would have to let it sit for a day before I steeled myself. I think I have a little thicker skin now, but there’s not much new feedback that will come out with a revised edition. There are definitely areas to sharpen, and the reviews all helpfully point to those. I still agree with myself, but if I had to do it over again, I’d shoot to be at least 10% shorter. My favorite thing about the new edition is the much improved taxonomy of ancient views of (ontological) deification.

Among all the reviews, this had to be my favorite quote in Gorman’s review:

In a recent straw poll of scholars, a prominent publisher asked about the three most significant books on Paul published in the last five years. After widespread agreement on tomes by John Barclay (Paul and the Gift [Eerdmans, 2015]) and N. T. Wright (Paul and the Faithfulness of God [Fortress, 2013]), the field was divided on the third position. Among those mentioned more than once was Blackwell’s Christosis. “Let those who have ears . . . .”

This work, of course, pales in comparison to my two mentors, but it’s surely the best book on theosis and Paul, written in Durham, by comparing patristic views, in the last five years. I at least win the prize for publishing the first monograph length treatment of Paul and deification!

Someone recently asked on Facebook for what the best works on theosis were. It raised many resources I knew and a couple I wasn’t aware of. I’m not really staying up on the forefront of things now that I’m writing about justification in Paul. As to the question, I gave my to go-to volumes which are good primers: Daniel Keating’s Deification and Grace (mostly focused on patristic views), and Norman Russell’s Fellow Workers with God (patristic views in light of wider contemporary Orthodox perspectives). Of course, Russell’s The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition is the gold standard for patristics, and I’m partial to this Christosis volume which brings together Paul and theosis.

In the thread this was posted:

Question by an ignorant person for all: I get God’s communicable attributes, sanctification, and in this way taking on the divine nature, being conformed to Christ, etc. I get believers’ mystical union to Christ, Christ living in us, etc. Does Theosis go beyond this, and if so, how so? And how is that not a bad thing? And if it does not go beyond this, then why are people lusting over the peculiar terminology?

Is theosis a fad? If not, what’s it got going for it? These are good questions. Here’s the answer I gave:

I’m sure there is a fad element to this, but there is a coherence it provides that some of our current theological dichotomies miss. In the patristic tradition, the terminology of theosis served a catch-word for the whole salvation-historical work of God–uniting creation and new creation. As such, it is not primarily anthropological (merely regarding salvation) but theo-logical and salvation-historical. In that way, it served to speak to the whole story of the Bible. (In case you are interested, I spell this out further in a recent essay: “You Become What You Worship: Theosis and the Story of Bible,” Ex Auditu (2017): 1–20.) For patristic theologians, it also incorporated their cosmological framework, in that participation was what explained the way of all reality. God is the only true self-existent being, and all life inheres to him, so to the extent we have life, we are participating in God’s life, which is again a reaffirmation of a theo-logical perspective. Finally, it provides a coherence in the narration of anthropological salvation: it is not just “sanctification” but participating in the life of God, so it unites life now and life in the future, moral incorruption (sanctification) and somatic incorruption (resurrection). So, one term that captures all that is handy.

If you are looking for a little on this topic, here’s something as a primer on theosis and theosis for dummies.

From the earliest days of the Christian faith, Christians have struggled with the question of how the newness of Christ relates to the Old Testament. In fact, it is almost accepted as a truism today among most Christians that the God of the Old Testament is mad, angry, and vengeful, but the God of the New Testament is forgiving and gracious. And yet, Christianity is the fulfillment of OT promises and expectations. Should we leave behind the Old Testament? Should we only be “New Testament Christians”? In our 2019 Houston Theological Seminary Theology Conference, we address these very questions and explore the relevance of the Old Testament for Christian faith and practice. Our keynote speaker, Dr. Daniel Block, will address this under the rubric “All Scripture is My Scripture: Rehitching the First Testament to Christian Faith.” In addition, we will have a variety of other speakers from HBU and Second Baptist Church, representing academic and pastoral perspectives.

All are welcome! Come join us, and share this link with your friends:
hbu.edu/theologyconference

Conference at a Glance:

Dates: March 1-2, 2019 (Friday: 7p-9p; Saturday: 9a-12p)
Location: Second Baptist Church at their Woodway campus
Registration: General $20; Students $10; HBU Affiliated Free
Questions: theology@hbu.edu; 281-649-3383

EventBrite photo logo4

Continuing my series on Theophilus of Antioch and his work To Autolycus (Ad Autolycum), I am addressing theosis or deification in his work. (Previous posts address Christianity in antiquitythe parting of the waysTrinity without Christology, and Theosis in Theophilus.) If you are lost by my terminology of theosis, see my primer on theosis and theosis for dummies.

As part of his apologetic for Christianity, Theophilus establishes Christianity as deriving from the most ancient part of antiquity–creation itself. In this discussion of creation, he described the telos of humanity arising from their original creation, that they should become immortal like God. Indeed, they would be called “gods” because they share in this immortal attribute, though they clearly remain distinct in nature and identity from God. This shares the basic framework that almost all later writers about theosis or deification share.

Placing this discussion of becoming gods in terms of creation fits his rhetorical purpose, but it also frames the nature of continuity in almost all discussions of theosis, that is, the creator of the world is also its savior. Thus, others often place their discussion of deification in terms of creation. Theophilus is unique among other patristic writers because he does not use Psalm 82:6 to ground his reading. However, the outcome is exactly the same since when Irenaeus and others discuss Psalm 82:6, they always narrate it according to mortality at the fall and the hope of immortality. However, Irenaeus also places this within his larger salvation-historical narrative in which Christ is the one through the Spirit who restores immortality to humanity. I explore the importance of theosis for helping capture the “story of the Bible” in an essay that came out earlier this year.

Thus, what is unique about Theophilus is not that he speaks of human identity and salvation in terms of becoming gods, nor that he places this deification discussion in terms of creation and new creation. No, what is unique is that he describes resurrection and immortality in terms of God alone and not through Christ’s death and resurrection. In my work on Paul and theosis, I titled the book Christosis because I argued that Paul’s discussion of soteriology could be described as theosis, but it was explicitly framed in terms of embodying the death and life of Christ.

Note: By Christosis, I expressly do not mean: 1) this is a Christological-only soteriology because being transformed into the image of Christ is almost always in the context of the Spirit’s work (and being a “christ” entails being anointed by the Spirit). 2) Christosis should be distinct from theosis, especially not in parallel to the Christotokos-Theotokos distinction. Christosis is intended to point to a Pauline emphasis within the wider framework of theosis.

In distinction to Paul, Irenaeus, and the many other patristic writers who wrestle so distinctly with the Christ-event and its relation to theology, Theophilus has a “Christianity without Christ” as I have explored in an earlier post. He has a Logos-theology and indeed an distinctly Trinitarian discussion of God, but at least here when he describes the telos of humanity in terms of divine immortality, he does it in a generically God way, thus my phrase theosis without christosis.