Theosis and the supposedly cruciform God

Some recent conversations around the theme of theosis have directed me to Michael Gorman’s book Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology. Gorman’s thesis about theosis runs something like this: i) Jesus is a crucified or cruciform Lord; ii) to be Lord is to be God; ii) therefore, God is also cruciform; iv) believers participate in the crucified Lord; v) therefore, believers participate in God; vi) which is theosis. Here’s his definition: “Theosis is transformative participation in the kenotic, cruciform character of God through Spirit-enabled conformity to the incarnate, crucified, and resurrected/glorified Christ” (Kindle loc. 82).

The first chapter is an analysis of the “Christ-hymn” of Philippians 2:6-11 as a foundation for the model. I’ve highlighted here three stages in the argument and have suggested why I don’t think it works very well.

Salvation by faith, judgment by works, and the theological captivity of ideas

Someone got in touch recently asking about how we square the circle of justification by faith and judgment according to works in the New Testament. We are told all the time that we’re saved by faith and not by works—don’t you dare lift a finger to try and save yourself! But there’s no shortage of biblical texts warning that if we misbehave, we’ll get our comeuppance. Ephesians 5:5, for example: “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”

John Piper addresses the problem head-on:

One of the questions raised about death is whether Christians face a divine judgment and if so why and what kind. It is a good question because on the one hand we believe that our acceptance with God is based on free grace purchased by the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ and that this acceptance is attained through faith not earned through meritorious works. But on the other hand the New Testament frequently teaches that believers will be judged by God along with all men and that both our eternal life and our varied rewards will be “according to works.”

You are gods: Carl Mosser on theosis

Michael Bird’s Euangelion blog is a constant source of intriguing biblical studies, etc., miscellanea. Yesterday it was Byzantine Star Wars iconography, today it’s Carl Mosser explicating the biblical basis for the supposed doctrine of theosis—roughly the idea that believers, if they stick with the process, eventually become divine. It’s mainly associated with Eastern Orthodoxy, but C.S. Lewis appears to have held the view: “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.”

My arguments against Ortlund’s restatement of Packer’s arguments against annihilationism

On the Gospel Coalition site Gavin Ortlund has summarily restated J.I. Packer’s response to annihilationist arguments. Here I restate my arguments against the arguments against annihilationism, while noting at the same time that annihilationism as a reading of New Testament eschatology is itself largely misconceived. For the most part, the texts under discussion refer not to what happens to individuals after they die—whether eternal conscious torment or annihilation—but to what happens to peoples and nations when they are judged by the living God in the course of history.

Packer maintains that the question boils down to whether, when Jesus spoke of some people departing “into eternal punishment” at the “final judgment” (Matt. 25:46), he “envisaged a state of penal pain that is endless, or an ending of conscious existence that is irrevocable: that is…, a punishment that is eternal in its length or in its effect”.

Was Jesus’ atoning death unique?

Christian soteriology works on the assumption that Jesus’ death was a unique saving event. The only real antecedent considered is the suffering of Isaiah’s servant, upon whom the Lord has laid “the iniquity of us all”, understood not as referring to a historical figure or community in Isaiah’s world but as a prophecy about Jesus. But the easy presumption of uniqueness is maintained only by suppressing the historical context. Broadly, Jesus’ death can be located in a tradition of righteous suffering under pagan oppression. In particular, Jews at the time—presumably including Jesus himself—would have been familiar with the stories of the Maccabean martyrs.

In 2 Maccabees, which is generally dated to the late second century BC, we are given the story of the gruesome torture and killing of the old man Eleazar, seven brothers, and their mother by the tyrant Antiochus, for refusing to perform an “unlawful sacrifice” and eat the meat of a pig. This is happening because Israel has been unfaithful to the covenant and is being punished by God—sooner rather than later, “in order that he may not take vengeance on us afterward, when our sins have reached their height” (2 Macc. 6:15).

Some notes on Mark 1:2-3 in response to Rikk Watts

Rikk Watts has kindly responded to my reflections on his argument about the high christology of Mark 1:2-3. I’m not trying to pick a fight here—and I say, as before, that this is an argument for the kingdom narrative rather than against a high christology. But the issue is an important one, and for my own benefit, if nothing else, I want to look closely at Rikk’s careful feedback. I should also point out that he refers to a couple of his publications (details below), which I haven’t read, and there are a few points which he doesn’t develop—so there is obviously more to his analysis than meets the eye. His comments on the previous post are set out in bold face. In the end, I’m still not persuaded that we go from Jesus is YHWH in Mark 1:2-3 to Jesus is servant of YHWH in 1:11, for reasons that are summarised in the final chapter.

What happened to the resurrection of the wicked?

Robin Parry poses an interesting puzzle about the resurrection of the wicked. I’ve slightly restated it, but it goes roughly as follows:

  1. At the end of the age there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous for judgment: sheep and goats, wheat and weeds, good-doers and evil-doers, etc. (e.g., Jn. 5:28-29).
  2. The resurrection of Christians depends on our relationship with Jesus, who is the firstfruits from the dead (1 Cor. 15:20).
  3. Moreover, our resurrection bodies will be imperishable (1 Cor. 15:42-55).
  4. So how can the wicked be raised when they are not “in Christ”?
  5. And will they have the same type of resurrection body as the righteous—as Robin puts it, paraphrasing Augustine: “super-dooper fire-proof, eternal bodies, specially built to endure eternal fire in hell”?

I replied to Robin, but this is an attempt to develop the argument in a bit more detail.

Deeper into the doctrine of the second coming of Jesus

The Gospel Coalition has been doing an intermittent series over the last year tagged “Deeper into Doctrine”. For people who prefer their theology in narrative form—and for post-moderns generally, if there are still any around—“doctrine” is a dirty word. But I don’t see any objection to formulating propositional summaries of core biblical ideas, provided that i) we don’t disengage from the critical interpretation of the texts; and ii) we don’t lose sight of the narrative framework. This is where I have a problem with Sam Storms’ definition of the doctrine of the second coming of Jesus….

Where Witherington finds Wright least convincing

Ben Witherington has been doing a thorough and informative series of posts on N.T. Wright’s new/forthcoming book Paul and His Recent Interpreters, starting here—in itself a good overview of recent Pauline scholarship. I haven’t been tracking with it too closely (I have been persuaded to read the book), but a remark in part nine gave me pause.

It comes up in a discussion of Wright’s reliance on Wayne Meek’s The First Urban Christians. Witherington quotes Wright’s explanation of why at certain points he finds Meek’s sociological analysis inadequate….

Telling our story (all of it)

Last week I went with my friend Steve Knight to see Hamlet at the Barbican. Hamlet is a tragedy. By the end of the play everyone of any dramatic importance is dead. The old king has had a “leperous distilment” poured in his ear. Polonius is stabbed in error behind the arras. Rosencrantz and Guidenstern are sent to their doom in England by Hamlet’s cunning. In the last scene, Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes and Hamlet manage to poison each other within the space of a few minutes in a manner that teeters on absurdity. Only Ophelia’s death has any pathos to it. The poor demented girl slips into a river off-stage and drowns. Millais’ sumptuous depiction is well known.


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