Wednesday, February 28, 2007

the apostle

last week in fusion we showed a clip from the robert duvall movie, "the apostle", in which 5 pentecostal preachers take turns team-preaching. showing this clip was memorable for several reasons:

1. their style of preaching was very charismatic - there was lots of yelling and screaming, specific invocation of the third person of the trinity [aka the holy spirit], and it took place in a tent revival setting

2. we showed that clip at westwinds, an "emerging" church, which is very UNlike a tent revival

3. though westwinds is not a classically pentecostal church, it began as one and retains many constituents who come from that background [myself included]

4. we showed the clip during a 4 week series on the book of jude, wherein we looked specifically at the concept of "false teachers"

now, our decision to show this clip left people wondering:

a. is westwinds making a connection between "false teachers" in the book of jude and pentecostal preachers?


b. if so, what am i supposed to do about it?

well, in response to these questions i think it's helpful to have a brief discussion about jude. first off, jude is a book warning us against false teachers - but the "false teachers" in jude are people who are orienting christians away from the person and work of jesus christ. they are gnostics [who make a false division between the world of the spiritual world and the material world, a division which the Incarnation specifically de-bunks], the docetists [who believe that jesus was simply an illusion and that - since the Incarnation never happened - our morality is irrelevant], and the marcionists [who, though they weren't identified with the heretic marcion until much later in history, were staunch legalists who discredited the entire old testament via their harsh anti-semitism].

the preachers in "the apostle", on the other hand, did not orient people away from the person and work of jesus christ. in fact [suspending the differences in personhood between the holy spirit and jesus for the time being], their whole performance was explicitly christian.

if we were to criticize these preachers, we would almost undoubtedly criticize them for the manner in which they presented their message; but, particularly at westwinds, this is an extreme example of hypocrisy given that we are regularly accused of being heretical by virtue of our methodology.

but we all know that methodology is not a matter of orthodoxy
it is a matter of style
and, providing our methodology doesn't lead us into errant theology or misdirect our focus away from christ
we ought to have plenty of lee-way for our church services to look as dissimilar as we want.

and as for the difference in personhood between the holy spirit and jesus, scripture tells us that the spirit leads us to christ [john 14.26, 15.26, 16.7-10 plus many, many others]; so, even though the preachers in "the apostle" were speaking specifically about the holy spirit [rather than specifically about jesus] a biblically credible understanding of the trinity means those two emphases are tantamount to the same thing.

if you are looking for a good movie
with a very strange scene in it
featuring some backwater-yet-enthusiastic-and-god-honoring preachers

i highly recommend
"the apostle"
starring robert duvall.

p.s. b.y.o tambourine for best results.


Friday, February 23, 2007

do what?

as a big fan of abstract theologies and innovative ecclesiology, i realize that i have a personal tendency towards things that make no sense whatsoever to normal people.

i just like weird stuff

i like obscure bible passages and ancient near eastern creation myths
i like angelology and alternate atonement theories
i even like watching stupid movies like ghost rider [which, btw, is stupid x 2 ]

but i also find myself driven to try and refine christian spirituality to its most true version
i want to believe and do and experience what jesus christ intended for me to believe and do and experience

as part of this desire, i've begun to think that those of us who follow jesus need to engage in spiritual practices more than we need to engage in theology
even though i love theology
and even though i recognize there is always a danger of works-based righteousness creeping into our understanding of salvation [which, interestingly enough, we always seem more scared of than useless/listless faith that doesn't compel us to act in any way different than how we're feeling from moment to moment].

so - in response to the ever-ontologically probing question "what should we be doing?"
here is the beginnings of my response
which, of course, i base on my understanding of jesus' life as presented in the gospels

#1. get together.
call it fellowship, mentoring, discipleship, or community - i think we ought to just get together with other people and be exposed to the manifestations of the divine life that are reflected in them and in-between us all. we ought to learn from one another, love one another, and learn to be present with one another even when we don't want to or feel like we don't need to.

#2. engage scripture.
yup - we need to read the bible [brilliant, i know]. these days it's common to talk about differing learning styles and the difficulty for some people to find meaning by reading the words of the biblical text; but, to be honest, if we're serious about christ we should be serious about the primary sources that tell us about him. so, if you don't find anything meaningful out of reading the bible - then buy the cd, or enter into a discussion group, or just read one verse per week over and over again and think about it ad naseum. you just can't be a jesus-lover if you're negligent about engaging scripture.

#3. pray.
again, brilliant [i know - lay off]. your prayers don't have to be intelligent, thoughtful, or even coherent in order to "count." just pray. be honest to god - tell him how you're feeling. ask for guidance and wisdom. pray for strength. shutting up is a pretty good idea, too - in an effort to hear his potential responses, though [if you're like me], shutting up is usually quickly followed by shutting my eyes and falling asleep in a puddle of my own apathy/drool.

#4. help the world.
care about the planet. care about injustice. care about people. care about culture/society. care about government...and then do something - do anything to actually try and make a difference. jesus wasn't divorced from the material reality of his day - he lived in it. he engaged pharisees and zealots, romans and ex-pats, politicians and slaves; he engaged politics and culture, societal norms and religious traditions, and he challenged injustice and evil in every way. we should too.

#5. give money.
generosity is an outward manifestation of gratitude to god. give money to people, to charities, to churches, and to npo's all over the planet.

#6. laugh.
i think we're all a little tired of the dour-religious stereotype. jesus partied, played with kids, had close friends, drank good [and alternately, sometimes cheap] wine, and spent most of the gospels eating. that sounds fun [there's obviously more to the story than "fun", but i think we get the confrontational jesus and the benign jesus much more than we get the loving-life-as-gods-gift-lets-enjoy-one-another jesus].

#7. dream up new ideas.
jesus revolutionized commerce, society, religion, and politics in the minds of his followers. isn't there a part of our followership that ought to do the same?

#8. make things.
scripture teaches us we are co-creators with god, image-bearers of the divine reflecting his nature in our activities. his first act that mattered to us? making the world and everything in it [p.s. john tells us jesus was around at this point, so it seems a good add in this list].

#9. have spiritual conversations.
be intentional about allowing the spiritual nomenclature and experiences of your life to affect your conversations. don't run away from honesty about the supernatural and/or the experience of jesus christ [don't be a weirdo about it either, forcing people into engagement with your religious convictions]. we're often careful not to offend others by virtue of bringing up religion, but i've always found that people are typically interested in a respectful disclosure of faith-based dialogue. we shouldn't be hesitant to welcome spirituality into our everyday lives with other people.

this list is, of course, incomplete/flawed/unsatisfying -as-a-thesis. but it is also a true beginning for how we ought to live. it is a starting point . it is the simplicity that will help to guide us through the complexity of doctrine and debate.

do justice
love mercy

stuff like that


- dave

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Evolution of Soul: Theosis for the 21st Century PART V

What has affected me most about theosis is not that I might gain additional spiritual reward, but that my life might have additional meaning because of the additional quality of God I carry. I get excited thinking about the ways in which God’s own Spirit is transforming me into an imitation of Christ that is not only pious and affectionate, but also passionate and strong.

It would be a mistake, I think, to dismiss these feelings as boyhood fancy or the ticklings of a new thought; rather, I believe that the expression of faith in Christ for me, indeed the very process of my present sanctification as much as is able, has primarily to do with God’s mission of mercy and justice for the world. This is not to overplay my own importance, but to realize that any and all of us have this access to Christus Victor and the pathways of theosis to order and place our steps.

I am left without the option of disregard for ecology or justice issues or the plight of the poor. I am compelled by the example of Christ’s caustic sacrifice to emulate his critique of the dominant power systems and cultural representations of the world around me. But far from believing myself to be an adversary of the world, I believe that theosis causes me to engage the world with a kind of universal sanctification in mind – I find myself an idealist, believing that I can contribute in some measure to making the world a better place.

May God grant us all the wisdom to be counter-cultural without being abusive, to be engaged in critique without being hateful, and to be passionate about justice without neglecting neither love nor piety.

The Evolution of Soul: Theosis for the 21st Century PART IV

Christus Victor was the dominant theory of the Atonement for the first thousand years of the Christian Church. In contrast to the doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement, a highly rationalized doctrine wherein Jesus is understood to be the perfect sacrifice who can atone for all the sins of humanity through his death, Christus Victor is perhaps best understood as a “drama, a passion story of God triumphing over the powers and liberating humanity from the bondage of sin.”[1]

Furthermore, this drama is understood to be subversive. Christ’s death is seen as an “exposure of the cruelty and evil present in the worldly powers that rejected and killed him”,[2] and His resurrection as a triumph over these powers. The Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus, then, serve as an indictment of the whole social order at the time – a social order that was based on strength, dominion, and control. This is understood to be much larger than simply the Roman Empire, and might instead be better conceived as the “Way of the World” or the “Kingdom of the Earth.” It is the entire moral bankruptcy of those who misuse power and refuse the demands of justice. Says Gustav Allen, author of the Christus Victor[3] and herald of the reclamation of the subversive gospel, “"The work of Christ is first and foremost a victory over the powers which hold mankind in bondage: sin, death, and the devil" showing that Christ’s victory was not merely over the dominant powers at that time but over all domination systems through all time. This victory likewise empowers and enables us to subvert and criticize these same systems.

I think one important component of theosis may mean an embodiment of Christus Victor.

If theosis means recovering the image of God in our humanity, then it must also mean acting on behalf of God for humanity. If we truly are to share in the divine nature, to participate in the image and moral will of God, than I think that has to be far more encompassing than merely behavior modification or personal holiness and lifestyle.

Theosis, and even the process by which we try and attain theosis, ought to have components of justice, disruption, and critique inherent.

A Contemporary Theosis:

Being participants in the divine nature has to mean more than simply the ability to live a more moral life or enjoy more spiritual blessings afterwards. To be a participant in the divine nature means that we must also fully participate in our human nature – as Christ did – and involve ourselves in human concerns albeit with divine authority and perspective. This means we must be transformed from spectators into activists, from mere worshippers into missionaries, and from prosperous USAmericans into life-giving ambassadors of Jesus.

Spectators v. Activists

I use these terms in reference to the global scenarios of injustice and corruption frequently viewed by USAmericans as something terribles somewhere else; yet, I believe that “somewhere else” is only a reality insofar as we negelct to think of the whole earth as our home and the playground of our commonality. A theosis of Christus Victor is a transformation that unifies our understanding of global concerns and compels us to act on behalf of the disenfranchised and underrepresented, to rise up – not with violence and hatred – but with concern and with a voice that cannot be silenced by politic or economy.

Wesley makes excellent commentary on such a “transformation of the economic and political order”[4] when he advocates for the establishment of Pentecostal commun(al)ism and the abolition of war.”[5] He understood these to be one aspect of the political dimension of sanctification, an aspect that would create a “holy dissatisfaction with the way things are” and becomes a “future hope that the present can become something better.”[6]

Though I am not a fan of the creation of a kind of Evangelical Enclave, I am very much in favor of a Christian church that wants to leave the Enclave of western imperialism and “get its hands dirty” in the waterless, hungry world of the poor.

Worshippers v. Missionaries

In The New Creation Theologian Theodore Runyn claims Wesley “understood God's goal as the transformation of this present age, restoring health and holiness to God's creation.”[7] He points out that Wesley saw our ethic as being that of entering “into the life of the world to renew the creature after the divine image and the creation after the divine will”[8], and I believe that ethic extends not only to the rescue of the poor but the redemption of the entire created order.

This is more than a sanctified ecology or an environmental enthusiasm. The redemption of creation is a biblio-centric emphasis that understands that true salvation is salvation for more than personal atonement, but is a restoration of all that has been lost since the Fall. This, of course, hastens us to be reminded of Ireneus’ recapitulation but with the fervor of Greenpeace and the broadening scope of the United Nations and the Presidential Council on Ecology and the Environment.

We can no longer be content to worship in our churches. We must now redeem all of the world as an act of worship, becoming missionaries who not only save souls but also save the planet, the animals, the cultures and the ethos of our world. It is a more comprehensive calling, more noble, but also more in line with theosis as it was perhaps understood by the Fathers.

Prosperous Americans v. Life-Giving Christ-Followers

The final movement I see required in a contemporary understanding of theosis is that we learn to see ourselves as a resource for the rest of the world, rather than the idolized playboy of the third-world and/or crumbling communism. Where once Christianity was the author of the American Dream, now I think we have to understand that – for many, many people – the acquisition of the American Dream comes at the expense of never waking up to the reality of the Bolivian Nightmare or the Rwandan Insomnia.

Our orientation must shift somewhat from primarily carrying a gospel of democracy and freedom to the leaders of the world, to carrying a gospel of things like clean water and public education to their children. I realize it is presumptuous to assert that more money from American tax dollars is the solution to the unfortunate economies of less-priveliged states, but I also believe that many Evangelical churches buy their way out of concern for those states with one-time gifts of charity and a short-term mission trip.

We must make larger, longer, investments in places where the time and attention of our finances can be seen to literally create a new world for villages and towns racked by natural disasters, former dictators, and the absence of infrastructure. If used correctly, our money can be a significant step towards solving a significant amount of the problems faced by isolated groups of people and I believe that a contemporary theosis has inherent within it that we try.

When we begin to see theosis in this light, the light of our embodiment of Christus Victor, then I think it has different implications for us than just personal holiness. Without downplaying the significance and worth of piety, allow me to say that I was raised in a holiness tradition and understood faith for many years as primarily good behavior motivated by affection for God. Now, however, the more of the scriptures that I read, the more I became convinced that the world is overrun with injustice and a significant portion of my reflection/embodiment of the divine nature has to be concern for the concerns of God.

[3] Gustav Allen, Christus Victor (London: Macmillan, 1969).

[4] Theodore W Jennings. Good News to the Poor: John Wesley's Evangelical Economics, (Abingdon Press, 1990), 153

[5] Theodore W Jennings. Good News to the Poor: John Wesley's Evangelical Economics, (Abingdon Press, 1990), 153

[7] Theodore Runyn. The New Creation: John Wesley's Theology Today, (Abingdon Press, 1998), 169.

[8] Theodore Runyn. The New Creation: John Wesley's Theology Today, (Abingdon Press, 1998), 169.

The Evolution of Soul: Theosis for the 21st Century PART III

Because of my previous lack of familiarity with the doctrine of theosis, I have found it helpful to trace the origins of thought surrounding it through the Patristic Period and into the Middle Ages. In no way is this a comprehensive look at the development of theosis doctrine; rather, this section will serve as an overview of the material contained within The Story of Christian Theology as pertaining specifically to theosis and its development in order to supply the reader with the foundation for my interest in it.

Ignatius of Antioch, d. c.110-115 A.D.?

Theosis – or some precursor of it – seems to come first into the theology of Ignatius and his understanding of the sacraments. Ignatius believed that each time one participated in the Eucharist, he was transformed by the sacrament as a means of grace. Though his thoughts were not fully recorded or developed along the eventual implications of this belief, he did “mean to emphasize that by partaking in the bread and wine of the Lord’s meal, a person is gaining a participation in the divine immortality that overcomes the curse of death brought on by sin.”[1] Centuries later, this basis of belief became the understanding for believers in both Catholic and Orthodox traditions that each time they participated in the sacrament they were given increasingly more of the divine nature.

Ireneus, c.120-202 A.D.

If anyone could most rightly be called the father of theosis doctrine it would be Ireneus. His understanding of the Incarnation-- a metaphysical “do-over”, so to speak-- lay the groundwork for his vision of humanity’s participation in the divine nature. For Ireneus, God’s “purpose and goal in redemption is to reverse the sin, corruption and death introduced into humanity by Adam and lift humanity up to life and immortality.”[2] He saw this as being accomplished through the union of Christ’s two natures – divine and material – which make provision for believers to follow suit. Theosis asserts the complete restoration of all people, in principle, through the recapitulation of Christ by which He “provided redemption by going through the entire scope of human life and at each juncture reversed the disobedience of Adam.” Thus, anyone who now chooses to accept Christ as their “new head” [hence, recapitulation] will trade their old, corrupt “head” [born of Adam – the first head of humanity] and be able to find repentance and transformation with the hope of participating in the divine nature.

For many fathers, theosis goes beyond simply restoring people to their state before the Fall of Adam and Eve, teaching that because Christ united the human and divine natures in his person, it is now possible for someone to experience closer fellowship with God than Adam and Eve initially experienced in the Garden of Eden, and that people can become more like God than Adam and Eve were at that time. Some Orthodox theologians go so far as to say that Jesus would have become incarnate for this reason alone, even if Adam and Eve had never sinned.[3]

Nevertheless, it is from Ireneus that most of the latter theologians take their cue. He was the first one to truly follow the implications of Ignatius’ thoughts to their practical conclusions and make use of the doctrine in such a way as to help our understanding of soteriology.

Origen of Alexandria, c.182-251 A.D.

Origen understood theosis as the ultimate goal of every believer’s life. For him, theosis was the journey and the struggle of faith that was the centerpiece of Christian living, and he encouraged his adherents to scour the scriptures for the “most important level of meaning in the scripture”[4] which often revealed how believers ought to live in order to further their divinization.

Origen conceived salvation as a “process of transformation into the image of God”[5] which would eventually lead believers into a partial participation in God’s own nature, though he did value human free will in the midst of this transformation alongside the “absolute necessity”[6] of God’s grace. In this way, we might conceive of his soteriology as a kind of synergy, wherein human thoughts and will and emotions cooperate with the Spirit of God to gradually reflect more of His nature.

Origen’s thoughts seem most consistent with the contemporary Evangelical notions of “working out your salvation”,[7] or even of the process of sanctification or holy living. He steps into contentious territory in the tension between grace-and-behavior/law, but with the intention of encouraging theosis-transformation rather than simply behavior-modification.

Athanasius, c. 298-373 A.D.

Next in line was Athanasius, though his orientation on theosis was more of a defense versus Arianism than it was an assertion of Christ’s humanity. Athanasius believed that Christ’s union of the divine and the material was the soteriological bridge that allows people to be saved; and, if that union were in some way compromised – i.e. if Jesus were not “truly God” – than the salvation of humanity was impossible. So Athanasius’ rationale was that the “human problem was death because of sin”[8] and the solution was “deification by means of humanity and divinity being joined in the Incarnation.”[9]

Athanasius also supplied one of the most oft-quoted references regarding the doctrine of theosis, which – though it was cited in the introduction – is printed here.

For He was made man that we might be made God; and He manifested Himself by a body that we might receive the idea of the Unseen Father; and He endured the insolence of men that we might inherit immortality.

Note that Athanasius makes careful mention of the duality of Jesus’ existence: He is both “manifested” and is able to give us an “immortal” inheritance. In his fight against the Arian heresy, Athanasius was very clear about the fact that the gospel was about Jesus Christ, and “if Jesus Christ was not God and human, then he could not bring the two together…[and] salvation would be reduced to living a good moral life…”[10]

Gregory of Nazianzus, c.329-389 A.D.

Much of Gregory’s thinking about theosis had to do with combating Apollinarianism, which denied that Christ’s “spirit”[11] never fully entered human experience and/or limitations, but instead wore His humanity like a suit which was ultimately discarded. For Gregory, this constituted a threat to salvation, for if Jesus Christ’s humanity was not complete, then neither could we be saved wholly through it. Apollinarius’ theology, on the other hand, “could work whether one believed the Son of God who dwelled in Jesus Christ as his rational soul was eternal God or created demigod”,[12] which many heretics had already begun to teach. Yet this teaching was ultimately condemned as heresy because of the reality that Gregory foresaw, which was that no true bridge between the wholly divine nature of God and the wholly material nature of humanity could be made without Jesus Christ having wholly become human. The incarnation was the bridge between these two natures, and theosis was the “process of grace transforming humans into partial participants in the divine nature through the wonderful exchange of the incarnation.”[13]

Gregory of Nyssa, c. 334-394 A.D.

Perhaps this Gregory’s most significant contribution to the doctrine of theosis is that of epektasis. Epektasis, or “constant progress”, was Gregory’s way of understanding the perpetual climb of humanity out of our fallen nature. It was the way in which he chose to represent theosis as “constant progress in godliness and virtue” and noted that it is the goal of humanity to “become more and more perfect, more like God, even though [we] will never understand, much less attain, God’s transcendence.”[14]

This doctrine particularly rubbed with the Platonic philosophy that immutability is perfection and any ability to change constituted an imperfection; hence, many Platonists neglected to see the spiritual nature of progress in the same way that Gregory did. In Gregory’s view, however, he understood God to be immutable – because He was/is already perfect – but insisted we must change [ergo voluntarily be imperfect] in order to become more like God, who is supremely Perfect.

Thomas Aquinas, 1225-1274 A.D.

Arguably the greatest theologian since the Apostle Paul, Aquinas’ was a welcome voice in the conversation about the significance and meaning of theosis, particularly in our understanding of how theosis brings together both justification [the judicial/satisfaction side of salvation [and] sanctification [the internal side of personal holiness]. For Aquinas, “grace is a work of God in human beings raising them above their human nature to the point where they become sharers in the divine nature.”[15] Significant to Aquinas’ line of thought was his belief that human nature was not ruined by the Fall in Genesis 3; rather, the Fall destroyed “original righteousness” but not human nature. Human nature, according to Aquinas, retained the image of God during the Fall and that nature is revitalized through transformation by God’s supernatural grace into the nature of the divine.

As we have traced theosis through these theologians, it becomes clear that the doctrine is morphing somewhat in its scope. Whereas some of the earlier writers might have thought theosis in more mystical terms, we begin to see in the latter ones the idea that we are returning to something from which we have been taken; or, more accurately, something is being returned to us. Aquinas in particular seems to suggest that our theosis is a re-entry into a pre-Fall Edenic identity that is more truly, more authentically, human insofar as we define humanity as bearing the image and likeness of God.

It is this notion of our true humanity that I would like to put forward as a beginning for a contemporary theosis. I believe there may be great benefit to our evangelistic efforts and our spiritual conversations with the world if we frame things in this light. I will explore these ideas later on in the article.

[1] Roger E.Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform. (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity, 1999), 48.

[2] Roger E.Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform. (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity, 1999), 77.

[4] Cf. Roger E.Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform. (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity, 1999), 106.

[5] Roger E.Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform. (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity, 1999), 112.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Cf. Philippians 2.12b

[8] Roger E.Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform. (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity, 1999), 169.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Roger E.Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform. (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity, 1999), 170-171.

[11] In reference to the Platonic distinction of the three components of being: body, soul, spirit.

[12] Roger E.Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform. (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity, 1999), 189.

[13] Roger E.Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform. (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity, 1999), 189.

[15] Brian Davies, The Thought of Thomas Aquinas (Oxford: Claredon, 1992), 264.

The Evolution of Soul: Theosis for the 21st Century PART II

Theosis is the name of a doctrine that originated in the Patristic period. It concerns the claim that Christians are able to be transformed through the power of the Holy Spirit to become more morally and willfully intact; that is, believers are given a co operant grace to participate in the restoration of the moral image of God. It is the “call to man to become holy and seek union with God, beginning in this life and later consummated in the resurrection”[1] and, though often equated with Eastern Orthodox or Catholic theology in contemporary thought, is frequently conceived as something akin to sanctification in Protestant theology.

The word theosis literally means “ingodded”, though it is often translated as deification or divinization. The doctrine is understood to be grounded in Scriptures (Psalms 82:6, John 10:34-35, 2 Peter 1:4, 1 John 3:1-2) and in the Apostolic Tradition according to its principal proponents (Origen, Clement, Ephrem, Macarius, Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus the Confessor). Over time, the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of theosis became defined as a "union (of energies) without confusion (of essence)" in which the essential distinction between Creator and creature eternally remains.[2] As Orthodox Bishop Kalistos Ware writes: "In the Age to come, God is 'all in all,' but Peter is Peter and Paul is Paul."[3]

The doctrine began to gain credence with the axiom-driven support of such enthusiasts as Ireneus, who claimed that “if the Word was made man it is that men might become gods”[4], and Athenasius, who marked the purpose of the Incarnation that “God became man so that man might become God.”[5] Ireneus, in particular, saw “salvation as transformation of humans into partakers of the divine nature”[6] and in later days his thoughts were often accompanied by scriptures such as 1 Peter 1.4 (“Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires”).

The transformation brought about through theosis is multi-faceted, and theosis itself furthers our image and understanding of God. Through theoria, the knowledge of God in Christ Jesus, believers will “come to know and experience what it means to be fully [in the created image of God].”[7] This is a restoration of the moral image of God in humanity. Through communion with Christ, “God shares Himself with humanity in order to conform them to all that God is in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness,”[8] which is the process by which believers are made holy in their character. St. Maximus the Confessor, a proponent and defender of the doctrine of theosis c. 580-682, wrote:

"A sure warrant for looking forward with hope to deification of human nature is provided by the incarnation of God, which makes man god to the same degree as God Himself became man. For it is clear that He who became man without sin (cf. Heb. 4:15) will divinize human nature without changing it into the divine nature, and will raise it up for His own sake to the same degree as He lowered Himself for man's sake. This is what St. Paul teaches mystically when he says, '...that in the ages to come He might display the overflowing richness of His grace' (Eph. 2:7)."[9]

The contemporary view of western Catholics differs slightly from this perspective, however, and sees theosis as a “specific and advanced form of contemplative prayer,”[10] while that of modern Protestants, with the exception of Methodists and some pietists, tends to ignore the term theosis in favor of some version of the doctrine of sanctification or, more commonly, entire sanctification.

Yet those who hold to the doctrine of theosis would mark a distinction between their understanding of divinization as substantively more than the Protestant doctrine of sanctification. For, while theosis boasts no ontological change – i.e. humanity actually becoming fully divine in nature – there is an ontological participation by which there is a “very real participation in the divine life.”[11] “The Orthodox hope of salvation,” says scholar Ross Aden, “in its broadest sense is more than hope of a divine sentence of 'not guilty' or even of a beatific vision; it is `human participation in the being of God . . . a total sharing in the Triune life.”[12] According to some scholars the western churches come closest to this kind of understanding through the use of the phrase “the imitation of Christ”[13], the “imitation”, however, is of a different quality than the “manifestation of the energies of the Holy Spirit.”[14]

Theosis is, perhaps, one way in which Protestants [and particularly Evangelicals] may rediscover a healthy emphasis on the ongoing progress of the Christian life which seems all-too-absent from our popular teachings. Though to some it may seem like simply a “re-branding” of Wesleyan sanctification doctrine, I believe there is a richness to this theology that may not be fully represented in our understanding of sanctification; and, one in which we find great meaning and encouragement to follow Christ.

[2] Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way (New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1995), 168.

[3] Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way (New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1995), 168.

[4] Against Heresies, Bk. V. Pref. col. 1035

[5] On the Incarnation of the Word, Bk. IV. par 65

[6] Roger E.Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform. (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity, 1999), 77.

[9] PHILOKALIA Volume II, page 178

[12] Ross Aden, "Justification and Sanctification: A Conversation Between Lutheranism and Orthodoxy," St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 38:1 (1994):96-98.

[13] Cf. Accessed 7/31/06, who also cites G.L. Bray, "Deification," in Sinclair B. Ferguson, David. F. Wright, J.I. Packer, ed. New Dictionary of Theology (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity, 1988) p. 189.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Evolution of Soul: Theosis for the 21st Century

"For He was made man that we might be made God; and He manifested Himself by a body that we might receive the idea of the Unseen Father; and He endured the insolence of men that we might inherit immortality."

- Athanasius

As a Protestant/Pentecostal, I had never before encountered the term theosis until reading The Story of Christian Theology.[1] While satisfied with the doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement as a manner of understanding grace and salvation, there has always been a part of my mind that saw and understood the act of Christ’s death as a means of defiance. Indeed, reading and theologians like Walter Brueggemann, or even the popular Tony Campolo, tend to foster the idea of Christ as a dissident; but, more so, it just seemed like Christ’s decision to be crucified, early on, in front of his mother, in spite of Judas, was an act composited from a thousand errands of defiance. Jesus died spectacularly, and the spectacle with which he died is often lost in our conversations about what it meant simply for Him to be a sacrifice.

So, when I begin to read about Christus Victor, I get hints of the revolutionary Jesus who not only undid the curse of the law, but who also used the manner of His death as a subversive statement against common Messianic expectation and the mechanical Roman Empire. And, the more I have learned about Christus Victor, the more I have come across theosis as a compelling centerpiece for what Christ has actually made available to His followers; that is, we are able to become more like Him, not just in the pleasant ways, but in the truly meaningful and counter-cultural critical ways that He employed in a kind of social disruption.

My investigation of theosis, fostered by learning somewhat of Christus Victor, has given me a new perspective on what the crucifixion means to me as a follower of Jesus Christ. I’m not entirely prepared to say that I have completely changed my theology, but I am more than prepared to say that this complement to my growing understanding of the vast array of theological discussion has invigorated my convictions that Jesus is offering us all a better life and a better humanity through Himself.

In this article I will endeavor to unpack the relevance and potential application for an understanding of theosis in the 21st Century.

[1] Roger E.Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform. (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity, 1999).

Friday, February 16, 2007

my theological pet monkey: theosis

in my mind, one of the great over-simplifications of 20th C protestantism is the belief that there is only one way to understand salvation.

and - yes - i realize that even saying that much already makes me sound like a heretic :)

see, substitutionary atonement [the atonement theology that talks about jesus dying for our sins to pay the penality of death on a cross as a sacrifice for all the world to be saved] is a great way of understanding what jesus has made available to us; but, it's not the only way.

neither is it the only atonement theology represented in scripture.

equally, biblically credible atonment theories include christus victor, cleansing theory, and theosis to name just a few of the several dozen that have recently returned to theological vogue.

what's important about all of these is that they are all attempts to illustrate [and textually support] the centrality of jesus christ to the redemption of the world.

what's important for us is to recognize that he hasn't just saved the world in one way, but makes salvation available in every way.

by which i mean that he was indeed a sacrificial offering for our sins,
but he also justifies us by paying the price for our sins [which is different, but accomplishes the same thing],
and he also pays our metaphysical debts [which is different, but accomplishes the same thing],
and he also reconciles us to himself [which is different, but accomplishes the same thing],

just as his death was an act of defiance, exhausting the powers of evil
and his incarnation and ascension were echoes of the image of god placed into us in the garden of eden - which ultimately re-awoke that image in us and allows us presently to be participants in the divine nature.

why is this important?

briefly? because i find that substitutionary atonement is an atonment theology that doesn't make any sense to our world. alan mann did a great job of unpacking this in his book "atonement for a 'sinless' society", wherein he made note of the fact that no one in our world believes in sin anymore - so, a gospel that begins by telling people they've been separated from god by sin isn't useful.

to some people it must sound like we're just making stuff up.

i mean, if no one believes that sin exists
and if those same people have a foggy/shadowy notion of a god that probably exists but is unknowable
then it must sound a bit odd for us to begin talking about being separated from that god by virtue of something that they don't believe is real
so we find ourselves trying to convince them that sin is real
and that their sin is real
and that they are sin"ful"
which is tantamount to saying "you're a crappy human being"
which most people don't particularly appreciated

so now, instead of introducing them to the life-giving and transformative power of jesus christ
we've told them they suck and are going to hell unless they listen to our abstract theological concepts

which rarely works

and mostly pisses people off

and then we get confused as to why no one wants to be a christian anymore in america?

however; if we begin to mine historical theology i believe we gain access to innumerable other atonement theologies that actually DO make sense to people today

like christus victor - which tells us about the story of a revolutionary rabbi who defied the imperial powers of injustice and advocated for the justice of god to be present with the poor, the lonely, the disenfranchised, and the unloved

or, theosis - which tells us that we are fundamentally spiritual people [a statement which rarely breeds any disagreement], and that we have been made in the shadow and image of the supreme being. theosis tells us that our image has been damaged, that we are spiritually separated from ourselves and from god, and that we can participate in the nature of god and in our true nature by embracing jesus christ.

if we are willing to hold loosely to our articulations of jesus' significance; and simultaneously unwilling to diminish his significance today; then i believe we can learn from our forebears about how else to biblically and credibly articulate how jesus saves so that people can get it and embrace it in our world today.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

communitas [yup - i like big words]

i've added yet another meaningful term to my ongoing collection of giant/obscure terms: communitas.

see, i've been wrestling for some time with the idea of community. i believe that part of our christian identity is to both live in and help foster communities of faith and mutual accountability; i also believe that we are called to redeem the communities in which we live, celebrating the good things/people within them and honoring god by participating with our neighbors in love and acts of charity and mercy; but i really struggle with the way community is commonly conceived in churches in america today.

it just seems so wimpy sometimes [which, of course, is one of the reasons why we talk about community so much at westwinds, to try and give the term some real worth]

in the midst of my "community" struggle/theologue, i've become exposed to the term "communitas", which is being held up in some circles as an alterative to "community." communitas is community that simply happens while a collection of people are doing something; it is incidental community - community that occurs in the midst of a project, or short term missions trip, or mission-in-town, or in the random pairings of people who are aligned [initally] only for some other purpose. in contrast, "community" is seen as an end unto itself - i.e. "we all ought to be in community."

learning this, i've begun to realize that the true community i have often experienced in my life - and especially in my 12 years in ministry - is community that has happened in the midst of doing something else.

my closest friends are all people with whom i have been "on mission" with. we've built websites together, written music and plays, learned how to reinvent the wheel - and in the process, have become lifelong friends like no others i can think of.

victor turner - the brain behind communitas as an anthropological phenom - believes that the reason we experience this communitas is because projects/mission trips/special efforts require isolation from our regular lives and force us into experiences of liminality [wherein we are neither in our "old" lives, nor yet into the lives that await us at the end of our experiences/rituals]. in this light, all of my post-midnight excursions, my overseas pilgrimmages, my cd recordings and web development, my ecclesial redesigns, my imaginations and ruminations about christian spirituality, are that which have facilitated communitas.

which is why many attempts at "community" often feel useless

like we don't know who we can count on

or that the people who might be the greatest friends we'll ever have are simply just great people whom we know.

what's missing in much of american christianity is the vehicle that facilitates community

what's missing is our mission

our reason d'etre

and it ought to be our prime concern to recover it from the archives of our scriptures and our memory.

and not just so we can experience true community [read "communitas"]
but so we can do what the jerusalem church should have done right away
see, jesus commanded them to go out
but they got lazy and spent their time being busy sharing and giving and loving

until something horrific scattered them

in this way, their experience of "healthy community" became a kind of red herring
that actually distracted them from the teachings of jesus
instead of teaching them how to embody them

to come full circle - i feel like i've learned a lot about why i'm wired the way i am
about why i love projects
about why i love to create
because - in addition to the inherent beauty and value of creation and collaboration - in the midst of my "mission" i'm experiencing the intensity of formative relationships that will buoy my endurance during times of isolation, lonliness, and wonder.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

the task of the preacher today

i came across these words from danish pastor Kaj Monk and thought they were definately worth reprinting:

"what is, therefore, the task of the preacher [or church] today?
shall i say "faith, hope, and love"?
that sounds beautiful
but i would say - courage.
no, even that is not challenging enough to be the whole truth.

our task today is recklessness.
for what we christians lack is not psychology or literature,
we lack a holy rage.

the recklessness that comes from the knowledge of god and humanity.
the ability to rage when justice lies prostrate on the streets...
and when the lie rages across the face of the earth -
a holy anger about things that are wrong in the world.

to rage against the ravaging of god's earth
and the destruction of the world.
to rage when little children must die of hunger,
when the tables of the rich are sagging with food.
to rage at the senseless killing of so many,
and the madness of militaries.

to rage at the lie that calls the threat of death and the strategy of destruction - peace
to rage against complacency.
to restlessly seek that recklessness that will challenge and seek to change human history until it conforms with the norms of the kingdom of god.

and remember the signs of the christian church have always been -
the lion, the lamb, the dove, and the fish...
but never the chameleon."

Sunday, February 11, 2007

on intellect and experience

i've been thinking a lot lately about the tension between intellect and experience in regards to christian spirituality. on the way hand, i think god wants us to think about our faith, about spiritual issues, about the bible, about how we act/think/react/believe/etc... on the other hand, i think god also wants for us to "know" him [yes - in the biblical way], to feel his presence, to be aware of what he's doing in side us and how that makes us feel, to have us respond demonstrably in worship, to hunger for an overwhelming sense of his pleasure, and so on...

so here's some of my early thoughts on the matter

i think that what god wants most from/in us is transformation
what we want most from god is more of him, more of him in us, more of an experience with him

now, transformation comes about through a number of different ways
as theologian walter bruggemann said
transformation rarely occurs - or occurs to much of a degress - through intellectual assent to a proposition
they change by contacting and connecting with god

so, i think what we need to realize is that our efforts at being "intellectual" or "rationale" are in-and-of-themselves very unlikely to produce any kind of real change

real change requires experience

in order to change we must experience the god-of-the-universe within our own spiritual selves

however, the problem with "experience" as we understand it in our modern/charismatic nomenclature is that the experiences most common and easy to identify don't seem to produce much real transformation either [i.e. we see pentecostals getting lost in worship, but we see those same people living lives of embarrassing inconsistency - btw, i consider myself a lost sheep of pentecostalism, so these comments aren't meant to be cutting or hateful, just self-reflective].

so, i believe we need to continue exploring "third options" that bring together intellectual credibility with intense emotional encounter/experience.

we need to be biblically honest
we need to think critically about ourselves and our world
we need to engage the mind in both logical and speculative pursuits of philosophy and reason
we also need to revalue emotion
we need to be able to feel it, or it's not really true [at least, not in the way that scripture seems to identify the truth of christ greatly impacting the hard hearts of humanity]

i grew up charishing experience
then i became disillusioned with the biblical negligence i saw in wider pentecostalism
so i increasingly pursued knowledge and understanding
to the detriment of my heart
and i'm afraid that it's all but impossible for me to "experience" god in the ways i used to
and i miss that
i want that back

but i don't really want it the way it was
for i'm not now who i was then

so - again - i'm looking for an alternative to mindless experience and/or passionless intellect

and i'm probably not the only one