Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 15

Volume 64 (2007): 186-200

Today

R O G E R E. O L S O N

Deification in Contemporary Theology

Abstract: Although the concept of theosis, or deification, is usually associated with Eastern Orthodoxy, it has enjoyed an ecumenical renaissance in modern and contemporary Christian theology. Nevertheless, not all uses of the idea are equal; some fall short of its full significance in Orthodox soteriology. Within Orthodox theology deification has become the cause of some debate. The Palamite essence/energies distinction is essential if the idea of deification is not to lead to panentheism. T h e c o n c e p t of h u m a n i t y ' s deification, or theosis, is alive a n d well in c o n t e m

porary Christian thought e v e n outside its traditional h o m e in Eastern O r t h o doxy. This p h e n o m e n o n should b e c o n s i d e r e d a r e n a i s s a n c e rather than an entirely n e w discovery; interest in deification h a s b e e n a r o u n d in Protestant theological circles for a long time a n d p e r h a p s e v e n from the very b e g i n n i n g . A s w e shall see, M a r t i n L u t h e r h a d a lively interest a n d belief in deification. H e u s e d the t e r m Vergottung Commentary on Paul's Epistle several times in his writings, including in his to the Galatians. H e referred to the justified John and Charles Wes

Christian as a divine creature (ein gttliche

Creatur)}

ley incorporated ideas of h u m a n deification into their doctrine of sanctification and d r a n k deeply at the wells of t h e G r e e k c h u r c h fathers as their source. O f course, b o t h L u t h e r and the W e s l e y s appealed to the f a m o u s text of 2 Peter 1:4,

Roger E. Olson is professor of theology at Baylor University's George W. Truett Theological Sem inary in Waco, Texas. He has served as president of the American Theological Society (Midwest Division), chair of the Evangelical Theology Group of the American Academy of Religion, and editor of Christian Scholar's Review. He is the author of 20th Century Theology: God and the World in a Transitional Age (with Stanley J. Grenz), The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Cen turies of Tradition and Reform, and The Westminster Handbook to Evangelical Theology. 1. For this and other uses of "deification" by Luther, see Bruce D. Marshall, "Justification as Declaration and Deification," International Journal of Systematic Theology 4, no. 1 (March 2002): 3-28.

186

Deification in Contemporary Theology

187

w h i c h says, " b y w h i c h h e [ G o d ] h a s granted to us his p r e c i o u s and very great p r o m i s e s , that t h r o u g h these y o u m a y e s c a p e from the corruption that is in the w o r l d b e c a u s e of passion, a n d b e c o m e partakers of the divine n a t u r e " ( R S V ) . B e s i d e s L u t h e r and the W e s l e y s , other Protestants interpreted this a n d other biblical p a s s a g e s as referring to a real participation in G o d a n d not only, as especially in neo-Protestantism, a m o r a l imitation of Christ. Nevertheless, Protestants h a v e often b e e n reluctant to speak of real deifica tion. R o m a n Catholics h a v e always believed in it and spoken of it e v e n if not precisely as it has been taught in Eastern Orthodoxy. In any case, it n e v e r w a s rejected b y R o m a n Catholics as m u c h as b y Protestants. Especially the n e o Protestantism of post-Kantian theology in E u r o p e a n d A m e r i c a shied a w a y from the idea as too metaphysical (if not physical) and mystical to fit in with the project of moralizing d o g m a . According to m u c h nineteenth- and mid-twentiethcentury neo-Protestant a n d even n e o - o r t h o d o x theology, w e c a n only experi ence G o d ' s effects on u s , w h i c h are primarily moral, and never G o d in himself. Karl Barth scoffed at the idea of deification as a real ontological transformation of persons through participation in G o d . Emil B r u n n e r considered it mystical and therefore useless to the e m p h a s i s h e w i s h e d to place o n the I-Thou encounter b e t w e e n G o d and the individual. E v e n in R o m a n Catholic thought the idea of deification fell on hard times during the later nineteenth to m i d twentieth centuries. W h i l e Karl R a h n e r could m a k e r o o m for it, H a n s K n g could not. B y the 1970s and 1980s the time w a s ripe for a rediscovery and retrieval of deification in Western theology. O n e h a s to w o n d e r to w h a t extent the rise of s o m e t h i n g that c a m e to b e called the " N e w A g e m o v e m e n t " contributed to this renaissance of deification in Western theology. O n e can only suspect that the increasing cultural thirst for real spiritual experience a n d even for s o m e union with G o d in and through reli gion served as a catalyst for deification's rediscovery. S o m e N e w A g e b o o k stores stocked not only Western Christian mystical writings such as those of Meister E c k h a r t but also the collection of Eastern O r t h o d o x writings k n o w n as the Philokalia. Eventually this desire for union with G o d spurred m o r e m a i n which

line Western theology to appropriate the ancient concept of theosis,

expresses real union b e t w e e n G o d and h u m a n s without the pantheistic or panentheistic connotations of m u c h that goes under the label of N e w A g e . E v e n if the renaissance of interest in deification h a s nothing at all to d o with the N e w A g e m o v e m e n t and the reach of Eastern religions and spiritualities into West ern society, another explanation for it m u s t certainly lie in a weariness with shallow moralistic accounts of salvation. E v e n liberation theology, for all its

188

Roger E. Olson

Theology

contributions, falls short of offering a transforming e x p e r i e n c e that energizes h u m a n spiritual a n d ethical life. T h e search for transformation t h r o u g h spiritu ality lies at the heart of t h e n e w interest in deification. Finally, s o m e of the ren aissance of interest in deification arises from the e c u m e n i c a l m o v e m e n t s a n d especially dialogues b e t w e e n Protestant and Eastern O r t h o d o x t h e o l o g i a n s . A s Western Christians h a v e c o m e into increasing contact with representatives of Orthodoxy, they h a v e b e g u n to see that deification holds p r o m i s e for greater m u t u a l u n d e r s t a n d i n g a n d cooperation b e t w e e n the Christian East a n d the Christian West. W h e n asked to identify w h o is talking about deification in Western theolog ical circles, m y initial response is " W h o i s n ' t ? " It s e e m s that almost every Protestant and Catholic theologian writing creatively and constructively in the last t w o to three decades has found it necessary to address the subject, and m a n y are trying to incorporate it into their emerging theological visions. A m o n g Catholics, Catherine M o w r y L a C u g n a and H a n s U r s v o n Balthasar c o m e to mind. M o s t surprisingly, however, m u c h of the contemporary discussion of deification is taking place in Protestant circles, including a m o n g evangelical Protestants. Lutherans are in the forefront, especially the Finnish school of Luther research led by T u o m o M a n n e r m a a and his students, w h o h a v e received hearty e n d o r s e m e n t from A m e r i c a n Lutherans Carl Braaten and Robert Jenson. A former Lutheran, and recent R o m a n Catholic convert, w h o has e m b r a c e d deification is B r u c e Marshall of the Methodist-related Perkins School of Theol ogy. Anglicans and Episcopalians are reaching b a c k into their roots and redis covering and newly appropriating deification from Richard H o o k e r a n d Lancelot A n d r e w e s . Notable a m o n g t h e m is A . M . Allchin, author of m a n y b o o k s on Anglican spirituality and theology. Christian C h u r c h / C h u r c h of Christ theologian F. W. Norris h a s publicly endorsed deification as "consensual and c o g e n t . " Methodist T h o m a s O d e n explicitly e m b r a c e s deification as part of sal vation in the third v o l u m e of his Systematic Theology, entitled Life in the Spirit
2

(1992). G e r m a n Reformed theologian Jrgen M o l t m a n n m a k e s constructive use of the idea in several of his b o o k s , including The Spirit of Life (1992) a n d The Coming of God (1996). E v e n the normally rationalistic and nonmystical Systematic

Wolfhart Pannenberg appropriates the concept in v o l u m e t w o of his Theology

(1994). A m o n g evangelicals, Clark Pinnock, Stanley Grenz, Robert

Rakestraw, Daniel Clendenin, and Veli-Matti Krkkinen h a v e all e n c o u r a g e d

2. F. W. Norris, "Deification: Consensual and Cogent," Scottish Journal of Theology 49, no. 4 (1996): 411-28.

Deification in Contemporary Theology

189

the idea of deification as a positive and helpful o n e for t h e construction of faith ful and contemporary evangelical theology and spirituality. S o m e of the m o s t intense a n d creative ferment s u r r o u n d i n g the notion of deification in c o n t e m p o r a r y theology is taking place within that c o m m u n i o n w h e r e it h a s traditionally b e e n m o s t at h o m e , namely, Eastern O r t h o d o x y . M o s t notably, lively d e b a t e has arisen a r o u n d O r t h o d o x J o h n Z i z i o u l a s ' s suppression of the traditional distinction b e t w e e n G o d ' s e s s e n c e a n d G o d ' s energies in accounting for deification. Zizioulas h a s dared to criticize the almost-canonical theology of V l a d i m i r Lossky, w h o s e b o o k s c o m m u n i c a t e the m e a n i n g of deification as inextricably tied to this distinction as interpreted b y m e d i e v a l m o n k G r e g o r y P a l a m a s . Several Eastern O r t h o d o x t h e o l o g i a n s h a v e j u m p e d into the fray, siding with either L o s s k y or Zizioulas. D e f e n d e r s of Zizioulas, w h o s e b o o k Being as Communion (1997) h a s b e e n well received b y

Protestants a n d Catholics alike, see h i m as a reformer w h o s e w o r k will e n h a n c e interfaith dialogue and lead eventually to interfaith c o m m u n i o n . Crit ics see h i m as a m a v e r i c k , if not a heretic. T w o questions m u s t b e kept separate but related in a n y discussion of con t e m p o r a r y theological thinking about deification. First, is it a viable c o n c e p t for Protestant theology, or should Protestants c o n t i n u e to b e w a r y of it as an idea that will u n d e r m i n e the gospel of justification b y grace t h r o u g h faith as an extrinsic and forensic act of G o d ? Second, c a n deification b e separated from the traditional P a l a m i t e distinction b e t w e e n G o d ' s essence a n d energies? M a n y c o n t e m p o r a r y Catholic a n d Protestant theologians adopt deification as a helpful c o n c e p t and e v e n as necessary to a holistic a c c o u n t of salvation while shying a w a y from the essence/energies distinction. T h i s is true of L a C u g n a and m o s t of the Protestants, including t h e evangelicals, w h o appropriate deifi cation. S o m e c o n t e m p o r a r y theologians continue to h a v e little or n o u s e for deification. Evangelical a n d e c u m e n i c a l theologian D o n a l d B l o e s c h is o n e e x a m p l e of a Protestant w h o fears its inclusion in t h e o l o g y in a n y form will u n d e r m i n e the gospel. F o r B l o e s c h and others like h i m w h o are w a r y of deifi cation, traditional Protestant ideas such as union with Christ d o all that deifi cation is s u p p o s e d to d o without the latter's pitfalls. This article will focus o n the second question m e n t i o n e d a b o v e : Is deification linked inextricably with the distinction b e t w e e n G o d ' s e s s e n c e a n d energies, or c a n it b e retrieved a n d believed w i t h o u t that distinction? C o n t e m p o r a r y Eastern O r t h o d o x t h e o l o g y generally reiterates the P a l a m i t e doctrine of deification. L o s s k y is as g o o d a guide as any in discerning the mainline c o n t e m p o r a r y O r t h o d o x idea. F o r h i m , deification m e a n s "to b e c o m e

190

Roger E. Olson

Tbeology

by grace, in a m o v e m e n t boundless as God, that w h i c h G o d is by His n a t u r e . "


4

This is possible because created beings h a v e the faculty of being assimilated to G o d because such w a s the very object of their creation. All that L o s s k y says about deification implies w h a t O r t h o d o x theologian Georgios Mantzaridis explicitly says: " W h e n m a n shares the uncreated divinizing gift, h e acquires supranatural attributes." In c o m p l e t e h a r m o n y with all Eastern O r t h o d o x the ologians, Lossky affirms that deification never r e m o v e s the difference b e t w e e n uncreated G o d and the creature. E v e n the h u m a n i t y of Jesus Christ, illumined as it w a s by union with the divine, r e m a i n e d finite and creaturely. Yet it w a s divinized by union with the divine, w h i c h m e a n s it received immortality and supernatural qualities that belong to G o d alone. Jesus Christ as m a n w a s m y s teriously m o r e than h u m a n , not only because h e w a s G o d incarnate but b e c a u s e of the divinized quality of his humanity. T h e s a m e can b e true in s o m e m e a s ure of every saint. Yet, even as a " g o d by g r a c e " or "created g o d , " the saint remains infinitely less than Jesus Christ, w h o w a s not only that but also a divine person w h o a s s u m e d h u m a n nature. Divinized persons never b e c o m e G o d to the extent that Jesus w a s God. L o s s k y speaks for all Eastern O r t h o d o x theologians w h e n h e says repeat edly that deification is not the result of h u m a n striving or merit or virtue; these only o p e n o n e u p to the divinizing p o w e r of the H o l y Spirit. Deification is a gift. M a n t z a r i d i s says it well: " D i v i n e grace secretly performs m a n ' s deifica tion, w h i l e virtue simply renders h i m c a p a b l e of receiving deification." Deifi cation m a y b e a gift, but it is o n e that requires t w o wills, including a free r e s p o n s e of H o l y S p i r i t - e m p o w e r e d d e t a c h m e n t from all that is not G o d . It is, then, a synergistic process that includes divine initiative and h u m a n r e s p o n s e in an endless cycle until its c o m p l e t i o n , w h e n the p e r s o n is fully per fected in u n i o n with G o d . This p r o c e s s is possible only b e c a u s e of the Incar nation, w h i c h m a d e divinity available to humanity, and t h r o u g h the H o l y Spirit, w h o c o m m u n i c a t e s it to p e o p l e . It is achieved only b y those w h o r e m o v e obstacles to it by faithfully participating in the s a c r a m e n t s and p r a y ing without ceasing. T h e ultimate goal of deification w a s stated by M a x i m u s
7 6 5

3. Vladimir Lossky, Orthodox Theology: An Introduction (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Sem inary Press, 1989), 72. 4. Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1973), 102. 5. Georgios I. Mantzaridis, The Deification of Man, trans. Liadain Sherrard (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1984), 112. 6. Ibid., 88. 7. Lossky, Mystical Theology, 126 and 130.

Theo!

Deification in Contemporary Theology

191

the Confessor: to b e c o m e all that G o d is except identity with his e s s e n c e . In other w o r d s , in t h e fullness of deification the creature r e m a i n s d e p e n d e n t o n G o d for his divine life in G o d . In concert with the bulk of Eastern Orthdodox tradition, Lossky connects deification inextricably with the distinction between G o d ' s essence and G o d ' s uncreated energies. H e traces this distinction through the early church fathers, especially Gregory of Nazianzus and Basil of Caesarea, u p through Gregory Palamas and finds it even in Augustine. According to this idea, " G o d . . . exists both in H i s essence and outside of H i s e s s e n c e " in his energies, which are e m a nations of G o d ' s hidden and ineffable essence. G o d is m o r e than his essence; h e is also his energies and is wholly present in each " r a y " of his divinity. Lossky explains the distinction most clearly in his statement that "wholly u n k n o w a b l e in His essence, G o d wholly reveals Himself in H i s energies, which yet in n o w a y divide H i s nature into t w o parts ' k n o w a b l e and u n k n o w a b l e ' but signify t w o dif ferent m o d e s of the divine existence, in the essence and outside of the e s s e n c e . "
10 9 8

This is h o w Lossky and Eastern Orthodoxy in general understand 2 Peter 1:4. Christians b e c o m e partakers of the divine uncreated energies and of the divine essence only through them. Otherwise, deification would m e a n a pantheistic dis solution of the person in G o d or G o d in creation. Both the transcendence and unique personhood of G o d are protected, according to Lossky, only b y the Palamite distinction, which is not unique to Gregory. Part of the nature of per sonhood is ineffability; a person is ultimately a mystery. A s person and as tran scendent, G o d cannot b e treated as an object; n o creature can penetrate G o d ' s essence. B u t G o d graciously reveals himself and draws creatures into real, ontological c o m m u n i o n through his emanations or uncreated energies without dero gating from the inviolable mystery of w h o and what h e is in and of himself. In various writings b u t especially in Being as Communion, J o h n Zizioulas

has challenged or attempted to c i r c u m v e n t the traditional P a l a m i t e distinction b e t w e e n G o d ' s e s s e n c e a n d energies. Zizioulas regards deification as partici pation in t h e hypostasis of Christ rather than in the divine e n e r g i e s .
11

T h i s is

no doubt o n e reason for Z i z i o u l a s ' s popularity a m o n g R o m a n C a t h o l i c s a n d Protestants w h o c a n n o t grasp or d o not appreciate the traditional O r t h o d o x dis tinction b e t w e e n G o d ' s essence a n d energies. F o r Zizioulas, the c h u r c h is
8. Ibid., 73. 9. Ibid., 74. 10. Ibid., 86. 11. Aristotle Papanikolaou, "Divine Energies or Divine Personhood: Vladimir Lossky and John Zizioulas on Conceiving the Transcendent and Immanent God," Modem Theology 19, no. 3 (July 2003): 358.

192

Roger E. Olson

Christ's identity in history and Christ is the c h u r c h ' s identity; there exists a real ontological unity b e t w e e n t h e m . This is at the heart of his " c o m m u n i o n ontol ogy." T h e c h u r c h not only reflects but really participates in the Trinity, w h i c h exists eternally as c o m m u n i o n b e t w e e n three p e r s o n s . " G o d " is the c o m m u n i o n of Father, Son, and H o l y Spirit, j u s t as " c h u r c h " is the c o m m u n i o n b e t w e e n Christ and his p e o p l e and b e t w e e n believers and believers t h r o u g h the Spirit. Zizioulas replaces the divine energies with the hypostasis of Christ in r e d e m p t i o n ; each person is divinized in the depths of his or her soul (includ ing b o d y ) t h r o u g h u n i o n with Christ in eucharistic fellowship. " T h e signifi c a n c e of the union with Christ is not the c o m m u n i c a t i o n of divine energies, but b e c o m i n g a son of G o d by transforming o n e ' s hypostasis t h r o u g h a relation ship identical with that of the S o n [with the F a t h e r ] . "
12

Especially Protestants

can b u y into this notion of deification m o r e easily than the P a l a m i t e doctrine e s p o u s e d by L o s s k y and m o s t other Eastern O r t h o d o x theologians. T h e i r o w n tradition includes m u c h talk about u n i o n with Christ that is truly transforma tive. B u t Z i z i o u l a s ' s critics insist that a b a n d o n m e n t of the essence/energies distinction leads inevitably to o n e of t w o results: either a near-pantheistic iden tity of the r e d e e m e d p e r s o n with G o d or belief that deification is m e r e l y a m e t a p h o r and not real participation in G o d . O n l y the c o n c e p t of u n c r e a t e d divine energies p r o v i d e s the b r i d g e b e t w e e n G o d and the creature that avoids p a n t h e i s m and shallow m o r a l i s m . C a t h e r i n e L a C u g n a thinks along the s a m e lines as Zizioulas and h a s b e e n critical of the O r t h o d o x essence/energies distinction w h i l e nevertheless p r o m o t i n g an idea of salvation as deification. F o r her, salvation includes a real perichoresis (coinherence) of the r e d e e m e d p e r s o n and Christ t h r o u g h the

H o l y Spirit. It is union with Christ and therefore with the Trinity that truly transforms a person into s o m e t h i n g m o r e than m e r e l y h u m a n . " T h e H o l y Spirit incorporates us into the very life of G o d , into the m y s t e r y of perichoresis, 'to and fro' of being itself w h i c h exists in p e r s o n h o o d . "
13

the

B e c a u s e b e i n g is

inseparable from personal c o m m u n i o n , b e c o m i n g G o d b y participation (deifi cation) automatically takes p l a c e w h e n a person is inserted into real fellowship with Christ by the H o l y Spirit. " G o d ' s nature is u n d e r s t o o d not as an i m p e r sonal substance but as the reality of ecstatic and s e l f - c o m m u n i c a t i n g p e r s o n s existing together in c o m m u n i o n and love. Deification is another n a m e for w h a t

12. Ibid., 369. 13. Catherine LaCugna, God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), 298.

Deification in Contemporary Theology

193

w a s described . . . as the c o m m o n vocation to g l o r y . "

14

Deification m e a n s that

the H o l y Spirit transforms p e r s o n s in c o m m u n i o n with Christ in both will and k n o w l e d g e and " c o m m u n i c a t e s to us t h e divine reality according to o u r c a p a c ity to r e c e i v e . "
15

It is a c o m m u n i o n of love that surpasses discursive k n o w l

edge. B u t L a C u g n a differs from the Orthodox doctrine in that for her, deification does not involve a c h a n g e in substance; it is only a personal transformation and r e n e w a l . It is a n e w capacity for r e l a t i o n s h i p s .
16

S h e calls this an o n t o l o g -

ical c h a n g e , but traditional O r t h o d o x theologians w o u l d n o d o u b t argue that it does n o t a m o u n t to w h a t they believe 2 Peter 1:4 s i g n a l s n a m e l y , a real, substance-transforming participation in G o d ' s o w n nature that elevates o n e a b o v e m e r e humanity. L a C u g n a is a g o o d e x a m p l e of a c o n t e m p o r a r y Western theologian w h o appropriates deification l a n g u a g e w i t h o u t reference to the Eastern e s s e n c e / energies distinction. T h e question, of course, is w h e t h e r this is still deification. If deification h a s any standard, the definition p r o v i d e d b y the E a s t e r n O r t h o dox tradition m u s t b e taken very seriously. To a very large extent both Catholic and Protestant traditions a b a n d o n e d it for a long t i m e . It s e e m s s o m e h o w d i s i n g e n u o u s for t h e m n o w to rediscover u n i o n with Christ a n d call it deifica tion, w h i c h e v e r y o n e associates especially with Eastern O r t h o d o x theology, but e m p t y it of its O r t h o d o x m e a n i n g . O n the other hand, defenders of L a C u g n a and others w h o speak of deification w i t h o u t the essence/energies distinction can r e s p o n d that the term does not h a v e to m e a n w h a t it m e a n s to traditional O r t h o d o x theologians. W h i l e this is true, it is confusing to find "deification" b e i n g u s e d of s o m e t h i n g that h a s for a very long t i m e b e e n called "sanctification," or " u n i o n with Christ," or " c o m m u n i o n with G o d , " or even " b e i n g filled with G o d . " W h y n o w adopt the t e r m i n o l o g y of deification if o n e is u n w i l l i n g to take o n the older m e a n i n g of elevation a b o v e h u m a n i t y into created g o d n e s s through divine energies? O n e Protestant w h o h a s not hesitated to adopt that P a l a m i t e distinction into his discovery of deification is F. W. N o r r i s . H e m a k e s the p r a g m a t i c v a l u e of deification explicit. Within a w o r l d that yearns for spirituality, "Christians ought to s p e a k of d e i f i c a t i o n . "
17

F o r h i m , "Koinonia,
1 8

fellowship with G o d , is

actually deification, participation in G o d . "

H e goes t h r o u g h the entire history

14. 15. 16. 17. 18.

Ibid., 345-46. Ibid., 348. Ibid., 404. Norris, "Deification," 413. Ibid.

194

Roger E. Olson

of Christian talk of real o n e n e s s with G o d b y participation t h r o u g h the Incar nation and the H o l y Spirit and c o n c l u d e s that "deification should b e v i e w e d by Protestants not as an oddity of O r t h o d o x theology but as an e c u m e n i c a l con sensus, a catholic teaching of the C h u r c h , best p r e s e r v e d and d e v e l o p e d by the Orthodox."
19

This is b e c a u s e h e finds deification not only in the early c h u r c h

fathers but also in the R e f o r m e r s , including the A n a b a p t i s t s and other R a d i c a l Reformers, and in m o d e r n o r t h o d o x t h e o l o g i a n s such as J o h n P o l k i n g h o r n e . H o w e v e r , Norris believes the notion of deification in its fullness necessarily includes the distinction b e t w e e n divine e s s e n c e and energies. O n e m i g h t b e surprised to hear an adherent of the Restorationist m o v e m e n t declaring that we Christians have the promise of participating in the divine nature. We are gods, united with Christ through baptism in his death and resurrection. We participate in his body and blood through the Eucharist. Not only East ern Orthodox but also Western theologians find solace in a sense of deifi cation. Such restoration does not mean that we become God as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are God. Our participation in the divine nature is in God's energies, not the essence, a participation through grace accepted in faith which includes being participants in Christ's sufferings.
20

Norris is b r a v e and right. Surely deification m e a n s real ontological partici pation in G o d ' s nature that elevates us a b o v e our h u m a n i t y w i t h o u t infringing o n G o d ' s o w n e s s e n c e or our real humanity. O u r deified h u m a n i t y is still h u m a n i t y j u s t as Christ's w a s and is. B u t it is m o r e than m e r e , ordinary h u m a n ity. It is h u m a n i t y energized, e m p o w e r e d , and transformed within the divine p r e s e n c e . T h e old patristic analogy of iron and fire c o m e s to m i n d e v e n t h o u g h that w a s usually u s e d by the c h u r c h fathers of the u n i o n b e t w e e n C h r i s t ' s t w o natures. N e v e r t h e l e s s , N o r r i s p r o v i d e s a g o o d e x a m p l e of a Western t h e o l o gian w h o dares to appropriate not j u s t the l a n g u a g e a n d i m a g e r y of deification but also its m e t a p h y s i c a l u n d e r p i n n i n g s . A c o n t e m p o r a r y Protestant theologian w h o s e e m s to say the s a m e thing as O r t h o d o x theologians without explicitly m e n t i o n i n g the divine energies as the p o w e r of deification is Anglican A. M . Allchin, w h o defines deification as " b e c o m i n g G o d b y G o d ' s gift and g r a c e . "
21

W h i l e a c k n o w l e d g i n g Protestant

suspicion of the language of deification as b e c o m i n g G o d , h e forges on b y link ing it closely with the Incarnation, w h i c h plays a very important role in Angli-

19. Ibid., 422. 20. Ibid., 428. 21. A. M. Allchin, Participation in God: A Forgotten Strand in Anglican Tradition (Wilton, CT: Morehouse-Barlow, 1988), 68-69.

Theology

Deification in Contemporary Theology

195

can tradition. F o r h i m , the Incarnation demonstrates that both G o d and the h u m a n person are "ecstatic," m e a n t for e a c h other. T h e u n i o n b e t w e e n G o d and h u m a n i t y o n c e for all achieved in Christ is "constantly r e n e w e d in varying w a y s in the c o m i n g of the S p i r i t . "
22

A c c o r d i n g to Allchin, if the Incarnation is

true, the truth of deification follows. G o d b e c a m e w h a t w e are to lift u s u p to w h a t h e is b e c a u s e w e are m e a n t for each other. T h e Trinity s h o w s that G o d is constituted b y relationships; the Incarnation s h o w s that o n e such relationship is external to G o d , and deification expresses that the Incarnation w a s not only for Christ but also for us. T h e coinherence of divinity and h u m a n i t y in Christ is not absolutely unique to the Incarnation: Throughout the New Testament a co-inherence of human and divine is implied, a relationship of union and communion which overthrows our customary ways of thinking both of God and humankind, and opens the way towards the wonder of our adoption into the circulation of the divine life. This faith and experience is not something peripheral to the New Tes tament writings. It is at their heart.
23

Allchin defines deification as a fusion of love b e t w e e n G o d a n d p e o p l e a n d b e t w e e n h u m a n s and other h u m a n s . It is a c c o m p l i s h e d b y the H o l y Spirit as G o d ' s power, w i s d o m , a n d j o y overflowing into creation. It lifts us u p to b e w h e r e G o d is in his divine s p l e n d o r .
24

" D i v i n e s p l e n d o r " is another t e r m for

divine energies in Eastern O r t h o d o x t h e o l o g y ; w i t h o u t doubt, A l l c h i n k n o w s this. E v e n t h o u g h h e d o e s not explicitly m e n t i o n the energies, h e s e e m s to think a l o n g those lines. A n o t h e r Protestant theologian w h o m a k e s u s e of t h e O r t h o d o x P a l a m i t e distinction in explicating a c o n t e m p o r a r y doctrine of deification is Jrgen M o l t m a n n . In The Spirit of Life h e attributes the w o r l d ' s transformation to t h e "vitalizing energies of t h e S p i r i t . "
25

H e calls deification a reciprocal p e r i c h o r e

sis or m u t u a l i n d w e l l i n g of G o d a n d ourselves that c a u s e s us a n d t h e entire c o s m o s to participate in the eternal life of G o d . It c o m e s from an " i m m e n s e outflowing source of e n e r g y . "
26

Deification is an e m a n a t i o n of divine p o w e r s

and energies through the H o l y Spirit o v e r c o m i n g the difference but not the dis tinction b e t w e e n Creator a n d c r e a t u r e . A c c o r d i n g to M o l t m a n n , "If b e i n g t h e
27

22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27.

Ibid., 5. Ibid., 6. Ibid., 2 - 3 . Jrgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 196. Ibid., 199. Ibid., 177.

196

Roger E. Olson

Theology

[orb-'

child of G o d is m e a n t in a m o r e than m e t a p h o r i c a l sense, it implies k i n s h i p to G o d . T h e children are of t h e s a m e nature as their father a n d mother. E v e n if they are adopted, they acquire the full rights of inheritance. T h e y b e c o m e par takers of the divine n a t u r e . "
28

M o l t m a n n ' s distinctive contribution to c o n t e m

porary Protestant thinking about deification m a y b e his extrapolation from deification of r e d e e m e d p e r s o n s to c o s m i c deification. In this h e follows M a x i m u s and J o h n of D a m a s c u s closely. F o r h i m , as for t h e m , t h e p u r p o s e of t h e Incarnation a n d deification is the transformation of all of creation b y the divine energies, w h i c h create a perichoresis or interpenetration b e t w e e n G o d a n d the
2 9

universe. T h e effect is an elevation of t h e c o s m o s to G o d .

God's

Shekinah

(glory) fills the w h o l e creation a n d releases it from m e r e mortality into the eternal life of G o d . M o l t m a n n distinguishes his idea ( w h i c h b o r r o w s heavily from J o h a n n Tobias B e c k ) from O r t h o d o x theology, w h i c h , h e says, envisions a future spiritualization of the c o s m o s . H i s o w n expectation is not that b u t an elevation of the c o s m o s into G o d . T h i s is his controversial Christian p a n e n t h e i s m of the future. M o l t m a n n d o e s not m e n t i o n the distinction b e t w e e n G o d ' s essence a n d energies explicitly, and o n e is hard pressed to k n o w exactly w h a t h e thinks of it. H o w e v e r , his u s e of the l a n g u a g e of energies m a y justify the a s s u m p t i o n that h e does envision t h e m as distinct from t h e e s s e n c e of G o d . T w o c o n t e m p o r a r y evangelical thinkers w h o m a k e u s e of deification in their soteriologies but w h o never m e n t i o n the Palamite distinction are Clark P i n n o c k and Stanley Grenz. Deification plays a significant role in P i n n o c k ' s Flame Love: The Theology of the Holy Spirit, of

w h i c h is really a systematic theology

using the Holy Spirit as its central unifying t h e m e . A c c o r d i n g to Pinnock, sal vation includes m o r e than justification. It necessarily includes "transforming, personal, intimate relationship with the triune G o d " b e c a u s e " G o d intends to elevate h u m a n i t y to life with G o d . " "Salvation is the Spirit, w h o indwells u s , d r a w i n g us toward participation in the life of the triune G o d . "
3 0

P i n n o c k dis

tances himself from the O r t h o d o x doctrine of deification w h e n h e says that "this is a personal union, not an ontological o n e . "
3 1

O f course, Zizioulas a n d

others w h o e s p o u s e an ontology of c o m m u n i o n w o u l d object a n d say that is a false dichotomy. P i n n o c k does not s e e m to see that. In the e n d o n e w o n d e r s if

28. Jrgen Moltmann, The Coming of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 272. 29. Ibid., 274. 30. Clark Pinnock, Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996), 149, 150. 31. Ibid., 154.

Deification in Contemporary Theology

197

he has really expressed deification or simply a traditional Protestant notion of union b e t w e e n G o d a n d r e d e e m e d persons through Christ a n d the Spirit. In The Social God and the Relational Self, Stanley G r e n z attempts to d e v e l o p a con

cept of deification using Zizioulas's c o m m u n i o n ontology. F o r h i m , salvation includes participation in Christ, w h i c h "entails sharing in his filial relationship with the o n e h e called ' F a t h e r . ' "
32

A l t h o u g h G r e n z explicitly called this aspect

of salvation deification, his account of it falls short of the strong doctrine of Eastern O r t h o d o x y and expresses instead a transformation and re-creation of personal identity through the indwelling Spirit: " T h e indwelling Spirit shapes the fellowship of Christ's followers after the pattern of the love that preexists in the triune l i f e . "
33

F o r Grenz, the distinction b e t w e e n an ontological c h a n g e

and a c h a n g e of identity is false; if a p e r s o n ' s self is constituted in a certain rela tionship, the p e r s o n ' s b e i n g is so constituted. O n e h a s to wonder, h o w e v e r , whether this really rises to the m e a n i n g of 2 Peter 1:4 a n d its tradition of inter pretation b y the G r e e k fathers a n d later Eastern O r t h o d o x theologians. Again, is this really deification? P e r h a p s the m o s t intriguing a n d talked-about c o n t e m p o r a r y theological u s e of deification h a s b e e n m a d e by s o m e L u t h e r a n s as they h a v e entered into ecu menical dialogue with Eastern O r t h o d o x theologians. This d i a l o g u e h a s spurred L u t h e r a n s to reconsider L u t h e r ' s doctrine of justification, a n d s o m e of t h e m are finding that it includes an e l e m e n t of i n w a r d transformation that they believe c a n fairly b e called deification. In fact, L u t h e r called it that himself. Finnish L u t h e r a n scholar T u o m o M a n n e r m a a h a s written extensively about L u t h e r ' s u s e of deification l a n g u a g e a n d h o w it is n o t secondary to his e m p h a sis o n i m p u t e d righteousness b u t part a n d parcel of it. T h i s h a s led to w h a t is called the Finnish school of L u t h e r research. It is e m b r a c e d b y several A m e r ican L u t h e r a n theologians, especially Carl Braaten a n d R o b e r t J e n s o n , w h o hosted a c o l l o q u i u m b e t w e e n M a n n e r m a a a n d his F i n n i s h students a n d A m e r ican theologians at St. Olaf C o l l e g e in w h i c h I participated. A c c o r d i n g to M a n n e r m a a a n d his students, L u t h e r v i e w e d justification as "Christ present in f a i t h . "
34

In other w o r d s , for Luther, justification w a s n o t only a forensic

32. Stanley J. Grenz, The Social God and the Relational (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2001), 325. 33. Ibid., 336. 34. Tuomo Mannermaa, "Why Is Luther So Fascinating? Modern Finnish Luther Research," Union with Christ: The New Finnish Interpretation of Luther, ed. Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 2.

198

Roger E. Olson

Theology

declaration that the sinner w h o believes is righteous but also, and e v e n m o r e , a real c o m m u n i c a t i o n of Christ to the believer, such that "the believer . . . par takes of the properties of G o d ' s b e i n g . "
35

This is b o u n d to c o m e as s o m e t h i n g

of a surprise to those w h o h a v e only read about L u t h e r ' s doctrine of justifica tion from t e x t b o o k s . M a n n e r m a a and others i n v o l v e d in this n e w L u t h e r research pile u p references to j u s t such a real, ontological, transforming u n i o n b e t w e e n Christ and the believer in L u t h e r ' s writings about justification. T h e traditional L u t h e r a n distinction b e t w e e n justification a n d sanctification in w h i c h Christ is present only in the latter and not at all in the former is false. L u t h e r explicitly called o n e aspect of justification deification w i t h o u t d e n y i n g i m p u t e d righteousness; G o d i m p u t e s Christ's r i g h t e o u s n e s s to believers p r e cisely b e c a u s e by faith Christ is present in t h e m , transforming t h e m into n e w p e o p l e united with G o d . B r u c e M a r s h a l l c o n c u r s w h o l e h e a r t e d l y with M a n n e r m a a ' s discovery a n d c o n c l u d e s on the basis of n u m e r o u s L u t h e r statements that "it s e e m s that for L u t h e r believers h a v e a real participation by faith in Christ's o w n divinity, and so in his o w n divine attributes or characteristics. A t the s a m e time, a distinction r e m a i n s b e t w e e n a divine and creaturely w a y of p o s s e s s i n g the divine a t t r i b u t e s . "
36

O n e h a s to w o n d e r w h a t Eastern O r t h o d o x theologians think of this n e w interpretation of Luther. N o d o u b t they are thrilled about the discovery that L u t h e r believed in deification and that h e included it as a m o m e n t in justifica tion and did not relegate it to sanctification. H o w e v e r , few of these L u t h e r a n theologians m e n t i o n the all-important P a l a m i t e distinction e x c e p t as they explain the Eastern O r t h o d o x doctrine of deification. W h a t role did it play in L u t h e r ' s t h i n k i n g ? W h a t role will it play in these L u t h e r a n s ' t h i n k i n g ? M a n n e r m a a m u d d i e s the waters of e c u m e n i c a l u n d e r s t a n d i n g w h e n h e declares that for L u t h e r the Christian participates in G o d ' s e s s e n c e and b e c o m e s a par taker of this divine e s s e n c e .
37

Of course, e v e n L o s s k y believes s o m e t h i n g like

this, but for h i m w e are m a d e partakers in the divine e s s e n c e only indirectly b y m e a n s of the u n c r e a t e d divine energies. O t h e r w i s e , the result w o u l d b e a b l e n d i n g of the h u m a n and the divine, w h i c h is not possible. D i d L u t h e r accept this? D o the F i n n s ? D o A m e r i c a n L u t h e r a n t h e o l o g i a n s ? T h i s is as yet unclear. In his b o o k One with God: Salvation as Deification and Justification (2004),

Finnish evangelical theologian Veli-Matti K r k k i n e n discusses the P a l a m i t e

35. Ibid., 16. 36. Marshall, "Justification as Declaration and Deification," 6. 37. Tuomo Mannermaa, "Justification and Theosis in Lutheran-Orthodox Perspective," in Braaten and Jenson, Union with Christ, 34.

Theology]

Deification in Contemporary Theology

199

distinction but then does not m e n t i o n its role, if any, in L u t h e r ' s t h o u g h t or in the t h o u g h t of other Protestant reformers. Norris (and the traditional O r t h o d o x theologians such as L o s s k y and M a n t z a r i d i s ) is correct in averring that the essence/energies distinction with out separation is part a n d parcel of the doctrine of deification. T h o s e w h o reject it or purposely neglect it should p r o b a b l y find s o m e other t e r m for their belief in real, ontological u n i o n b e t w e e n G o d a n d the believer. T h e difference b e t w e e n an account of deification that is based o n the distinction and o n e that is n o t is t o o great to b e b r i d g e d b y o n e w o r d . P e r h a p s " d i v i n i z a t i o n " s h o u l d b e reserved for those v i e w s of participation in G o d that d o not rest o n the distinc tion. "Deification" should b e reserved for those that d o rest o n it. Christians should speak of deification and should m a k e clear that they m e a n w e are b e i n g m a d e partakers of G o d ' s o w n nature b y the energetic p r e s e n c e of Christ a n d the Spirit within us transforming u s into replicas of G o d that actually bear s o m e t h i n g of his o w n b e i n g . W e are b e c o m i n g m o r e than m e r e l y h u m a n with out b e i n g b l e n d e d with G o d ' s o w n e s s e n c e , w h i c h r e m a i n s transcendent. T h e distinction is like that b e t w e e n the i m m a n e n t and e c o n o m i c Trinity: o n e Trin ity in t w o m o d e s or a s p e c t s o n e G o d - i n - h i m s e l f a n d the other G o d - w i t h - u s . It is not the s a m e as the n e o - K a n t i a n distinction b e t w e e n G o d - i n - h i m s e l f a n d his effects; G o d with us a n d for us in Christ a n d the H o l y Spirit is really G o d but t h r o u g h his uncreated splendor, power, a n d g r a c e i n other w o r d s , t h r o u g h his u n c r e a t e d energies. G o d ' s e s s e n c e is not a prison that encloses h i m , b u t it is his alone and is not to b e shared with a n y creature e x c e p t b y w a y of t h e e m a nations of his energies. Just as the sun c o m m u n i c a t e s life-giving properties to the o r g a n i s m that c a n n o t enter into the sun or b e entered b y the sun, so G o d c o m m u n i c a t e s himself to creatures in faith t h r o u g h Christ and the H o l y Spirit even t h o u g h believers c a n n o t b e c o m e o n e with G o d ' s e s s e n c e . T h e " h i m s e l f that h e c o m m u n i c a t e s transformingly is the c o m m u n i o n of love of t h e Father, Son, and H o l y Spirit that flows out from the divine e s s e n c e a n d carries s o m e portion of it along a n d into creation. B u t actual o n e n e s s with G o d ' s e s s e n c e w o u l d obliterate the G o d / c r e a t u r e distinction. Protestants w h o e x p e r i m e n t with the Eastern O r t h o d o x doctrine of deifica tion or w h o talk about deification should consider a d o p t i n g the P a l a m i t e dis tinction e v e n if not apophatic or H e s y c h a s t m y s t i c i s m . W h a t they c a n contribute to the P r o t e s t a n t - O r t h o d o x c o n v e r s a t i o n is a strong e m p h a s i s o n the personal nature of the transformation i n v o l v e d in deification t h r o u g h divine energies. T h e energies should not b e t h o u g h t of as i m p e r s o n a l forces o r p o w ers b u t only a n d a l w a y s as b o u n d u p with the personal p r e s e n c e s of Christ a n d

200

Roger E. Olson

the Spirit in c o m m u n i o n with t h e m and the saints. W e d o not k n o w G o d only in his effects; w e also k n o w G o d in a n d t h r o u g h his personal, transforming p r e s e n c e , w h i c h includes the e m a n a t i o n s of his e s s e n c e that w e call his u n c r e ated energies b o u n d u p with the h y p o s t a s e s of Son and Spirit that take us into the trinitarian life itself.