Orthodoxy


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.

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I recently posted a link to my co-authored essay on “Theosis and Theological Anthropology.”  In that essay, I extended my work on theosis and Paul to focus on the later theological appropriations of theosis in Maximus the Confessor (with regard to Christology) and T.F. Torrance (with regard to the Trinity).  Being that that essay is still rather academic, I got a request to put the cookies on the lower shelf.

As a follow-up to that essay, I wrote a short piece for a blog that summarized the key biblical points: “‘Man as a God in Ruins’: Theosis in the Christian Tradition.” Using Psalm 82 as a lens on deification, I walk through the key ideas that undergird patristic views on theosis. The Bible is itself a witness to humans/believers being called ‘gods’, and I briefly walk through what that terminology entails through key biblical texts, in the OT and the NT (especially with the apostle Paul).

Of course, if you want the longer version check out my book Christosis: Engaging Paul’s Soteriology with His Patristic Interpreters where I spell out the issues related to Paul and theosis in excruciating detail. : )

Statements that the Bible/NT do not have a fully orbed Trinitarianism abound. Of course, those with a “low, slow” christology make that affirmation, but even those with an “early, high” christology regularly make such claims. Behind this is a strong concern to avoid the anachronism of later (creedal) theology back into texts. It is this problem of anachronism that I think undergirds those that would both deny and affirm Nicene theology. In other words, both groups are actually committing an anachronistic reading by making the comment that a fully orbed Trinitarianism is not found int the NT.

Historical Criticism: The concern of anachronism is almost self-evident in historical critical studies. There is a one-way flow of time, and every text/author must be interpreted in light of what is contemporaneous or previous to them. In no way should later conceptualities be introduced that would taint the historical evidence. Therefore, introducing later Nicene theology into a text would be out of order and would produce anachronistic results. Accordingly, one can easily say that the NT does not have a fully formed Trinitarianism, by which they mean a fully formed Nicene Trinitarianism. However, by using this later standard by which to measure Trinitarianism, historical critics have implicitly imported an anachronistic conceptuality into their their argument. Can’t the NT have a fully formed Trinitarianism on its own terms? Or might we say, in light of the historical critical concern to bracket out the ontology of Nicaea in terms of the immanent Trinity, they can fall into the trap of missing the event and action of God in terms of the economic Trinity. For example, Dunn in his Christology in the Making argues that Christ is the revelation of God in Paul’s letters, just that Christ is not ontologically identified with God (through pre-existence) in Paul’s letters: “God had himself acted in and through Christ” (255). This seems to be a strong indication of an economic view of Trinity, which is set in opposition to an immanent view. Yet if the immanent view was not at play in the discussion as an alternative, then the economic would be allowed more space.

Thus, it seems that this anachronistic standard is shaping historical critical affirmations and denials. This doesn’t mean that ontological issues are irrelevant to assessments of these texts, but we need to be careful of importing a standard from a latter time in order to make those assessments. This isn’t only a problem for those critiquing or questioning traditional readings, and I’ll mention how more traditional readers deal in anachronism  while trying to support their readings in a follow-up post.

I know we’re a few months out from the annual meetings this November, but now that the SBL schedule is online, I’m excited to point your attention to Edith Humphrey’s contribution as the main lecture at IBR this year. In addition Mike Gorman and I (Ben) will be serving as respondents, so I’ll get to be on stage with two of my friends who are among my favorite Paul scholars.

P18-401
Institute for Biblical Research
11/18/2016
7:00 PM to 9:00 PM

Edith M. Humphrey, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
Reclaiming all Paul’s Rs: Apostolic Atonement by Way of the Eastern Fathers (40 min)

Ben Blackwell, Houston Baptist University, Respondent (10 min)
Michael Gorman, Saint Mary’s Seminary and University, Respondent (10 min)
Discussion (20 min)

I don’t hold to the patristic idea of synergism, at least as it is popularly conceived, because most work a contrastive view of agency (or a zero sum game). If it is 100% God, then it must be 0% human (and vice versa). If God exists outside the system, as supra-being, rather than another agent within the system, then you can have non-contrastive agency. Such that election is 100% God and 100% human, though the priority is always in God’s divine action and election. At any rate, that is my 2 cents on divine and human agency.

The Orthodox and patristic writers do not have the Augustinian-Pelagian controversy in mind and so are very pleased to use the terminology of synergism–fellow workers with God. Synergism is not Pelagianism. Synergism is not merely the independent agency of the human working together with the independent agency of God.  Patristic writers affirm the full dependency as created beings upon God the Creator, who is the source of ALL life, ALL light, ALL wisdom, ALL glory, etc.  To the extent that any creature experiences these attributes, they are participating in the grace and presence of God.  As believers these attributes are displayed not merely as creational participation in the Creator, but as new-creational participation in the Creator-Redeemer.  Accordingly, as believers partake in the life of Christ through the Spirit they are able to live–in the present morally and in the future with the resurrection.  They do not somehow create this moral action or their resurrection on their own in some Pelagian manner.  They only experience life through connection to the head who provides growth from God.  You might disagree with their view of agency, but their agency must always be considered in this context.

Meyendorff continues his East versus West description:

And as Athanasius of Alexandria has shown in his polemics against Arianism, God alone is able to vanquish death, because He ‘alone has immortality’ (1 Tim 6.16).  Just as original sin did not consist in an inherited guilt, so redemption was not primarily a justification, but a victory over death.  (p. 160)

It’s not that the East doesn’t care about forgiveness or justification; it’s just that this is not ‘primary’. The problem from Adam is not that ‘in him’ we sinned (as the Latin had Rom 5.12), but ‘because’ of Adam death entered the world through sin.

Here’s an interesting article about East-West relations.  Eastern Orthodox Lose Two Evangelical Bridges | Christianity Today.

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