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Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Traditions [Paperback]

By Michael Christensen (Editor) & Jeffery A. Wittung (Editor)
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Item Number 85059  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   325
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.06" Width: 6.28" Height: 0.82"
Weight:   1.17 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Feb 1, 2008
Publisher   Baker Publishing Group
ISBN  080103440X  
EAN  9780801034404  

Availability  89 units.
Availability accurate as of Jan 21, 2018 01:54.
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Item Description...
This critical volume focuses on the concept of deification in Christian intellectual history. It draws together Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant scholars to introduce and explain the theory of deification as a biblically rooted, central theme in the Christian doctrine of salvation in diverse eras and traditions. The book addresses the origin, development, and function of deification from its precursors in ancient Greek philosophy to its nuanced use in contemporary theological thought. The revival of interest in deification, which has often been seen as heresy in the Protestant West, heralds a return to foundational understandings of salvation in the Christian church before divisions of East and West, Catholic and Protestant. Originally published in hardcover, this book is now available in paperback to a wider readership.

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More About Michael Christensen & Jeffery A. Wittung
Stephen Finlan I taught Theology and general Humanities at universities and seminaries for 13 years, but now I am the pastor of Mathewson Street United Methodist Church in Providence, RI. I am interested in preaching the gospel and in discovering the transforming power of the Spirit. I have a Ph.D. in Pauline Theology from University of Durham, and have been writing about Jesus, Paul, atonement, and theosis for many years. I have strongly held views on these subjects, but I also seek lively and varied debate from those who have other views. The "strongly held" aspect is probably seen in my _Problems with Atonement_, whle my "open to debate" aspect is seen in my _Options on Atonement_ and _The Apostle Paul_.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Broad overview of how deification is looked at in the church  Jan 29, 2010
Not all essays are created equal, and it's certainly true here. Still, some good stuff. This book is useful on many levels. Even when the authors disagree, they almost always use the same fathers and the same passages from the fathers--and even the same structures in their arguments! The reader will have a competent grasp on the doctrine of theosis after reading this work.

It begins with outlining what theosis claims and doesn't claim. Next is a survey of late antiquity, ending just after the writing of the New Testament. Then the Cappadocians are dealt with, followed by the medievals, etc.

I will focus on a few essays. One author critiques NT Wright's reading of 1 Corinthians 15 by saying that Paul doesn't mean "spiritual" in the same way that Wright is using it. Fair enough. While I like Wright, and much of this author's argument was sheer overkill (e.g., looking for disagreements), I think the author has a point (in any case, it doesn't matter since both Wright and the author have similar conclusions).

There is a fine essay on St Ephrem the Syrian and "paradise as the landscape of salvation." They lyrical poetry here is beautiful.

One essay is dealing with the neo-Palamism of Vladimir Lossky. Lossky is taking Gregory Palamas's essence/energy distinction and offering a new and more thorough critique of Thomism and Augustinianism. While the author disagrees with Lossky, I commend him for recognizing what is at stake in this debate. He goes after the strongest opponent of his position and gives his best argument. Let's look at it.

Lossky argues that Augustine's view of Absolute Divine Simplicity, making God's attributes identical with his essence, ultimately means that one either, when given the promise of 2 Peter 1:4, becomes part of God's essence (which means one becomes *the* unknowable essence of God), or one participates in God via created intermediaries (the sacraments, habitus grace, the created grace of Reformed imputationism). So, Lossky puts the dilemma: if you don't accept essence/energies distinction, you either say you become part of God himself (like his arm, I guess), or you never actually commune with God at all.

This is a devastating argument if true. Our author in this book goes to great pains to show it false. First he says Lossky has set up a false dilemma. More on this later. Then he points out areas where Lossky has taken his neo-Palamism to an almost overreactionary mania (there might be some truth here). Third, he notes where Palamism mirrors medieval Judaism in hypostasizing the divine attributes in the world (this may be true on one level, but I think there are responses to this). Fourthly, he notes that Thomism and Augustinianism posit different ways of participating in God (in other words, they deny that God is simply some glob of essence).

While I disagree with this author, it is a very fine chapter. Now, a response. Per points (2) and (3), I agree. I doweq54n't know enough about point (1) to speak authoritatively. As to (4)

So what gives? Well, what he says about (4) might be true. I have rhetorical problems with Augustine calling the Holy Spirit "the grace inside an individual." This relieves the Augustinian from the problem of "created grace" (!!!), but there's just something wrong-sounding about this. Another problem is while they don't like the neo-Palamites saying the Augustinian-Thomists believe God is a big glob of essence, a lot of Augustine's statements sound exactly like that!

Augustine does identify the attributes with the essence, and does make the attributes interchangeable (cf Augustine, De trinitate, 7). Well, it's hard to deny Lossy's arguments at this point.

The rest of the book is quite interesting. Andrew Louth gives a very brief summary of deification in Orthodox theology, heavily relying on Bulgakov(!). There are good essays explicating deification in the Cappadocians and St Maximus. My particular favorite was the essay dealing with the lyrical poetry of St Ephrem the Syrian. Simply beautiful. Boris Jakim gives us an interesting take on Bulgakov's Russian theosis.

There are also token essays by Lutherans, Methodists, and Calvinists that will interest adherents of those respective denominations.
The Transformation Involved in Responding to the Encounter with God offered in Christ  Dec 10, 2008

"Theosis, deification, or divinization is no longer a topic limited to Eastern Orthodox thought. ...It seems to me that the concept of theosis is becoming increasingly unclear. ... Too many people make use of it without having made a sufficient investigation of its history or having understood its role in the Eastern tradition." Gösta Hallonsten

Theosis, A Renewal of Interest:
Often regarded as a Greek heretical innovation, in the Protestant West, the popular and scholarly revival of interest in deification declares a return to the foundational understanding of salvation in Christianity before the great schism between Byzantine East and Roman West. The idea and history of theosis is being rediscovered, as a compelling vision of human spiritual transformation into graceful wholeness, that is worthy of serious exploration and could yet be relevant to contemporary Western mystical trends. G. Hallonsten considers that the recent publication of an English translation of Jules Gross's classic on divinization according to the Greek speaking Fathers, as 'just one sign' of this renewed interest. According to Dr. Norman Russell, the eminent patristic scholar and expert on theosis, "The remarkable revival of interest in theosis, or Christian deification, has been driven to some extent by an evangelical concern to find new ways of speaking about the transformatory power of the Christian life.

Kenosis to Theosis:
Kenosis, or self emptying, which St. Paul used to describe Emanuel ministry for the universe, ends into Theosis, partaking of the nature of God as St. Peter described in his second epistle. The words of Clement of Alexandria became the reference passage, "The Word of God became man that you may learn from him how man may become God." St. Ireneus was the first of the Church Fathers who iterated it and St. Athanasius has popularized this cornerstone belief. Theosis was elaborated by the Alexandrine fathers, and used extensively by St. Cyril in his theological debates with the Antiochians using the hypoststic union Christology. This theme of the Orthodox Church was avoided in the west, until Karl Rahner and Hans von Balthassar have come so close to the language of the Alexandrine Church.
Kenosis, or self emptying was mentioned four times in this book within three essays, first by A. Louth, and twice in an essay on Russian Theosis of Sergius Bulgakov. Dionysius p-Areopagite was also exposed by A. Louth in a chapter 'Transformation, The Human Dimension of theosis'. In his conclusion he relates the centrality of deification in Orthodox theology as a counterpart to the doctrine of incarnation, which was the thematic approach of a Coptic bishop in medieval Egypt. The human side of theosis in such cosmic dimension witnesses to the transformation in responding to the encounter with God offered in Christ through the Holy Spirit.

Partakers of the Divine Nature:
This collection of papers, given at a conference on theosis held at Drew University in 2004, tracks the concept of partaking of the divine nature, as 'Christian deification,' known in Greek as 'theosis' or 'theopesis' as utilized alternatively by St. Athanasius, in a critical historical analysis. The doctrine of theosis goes back in Christian thought to Origen, and his Alexandrine disciples Macarius, Athanasius, and Cyril who defended the soteriological work of Jesus Christ as a divinizing work of grace. Recently theosis became very much a topic of theological discussions, outside the Eastern Orthodox Church domain. Some of the work of its contributing members was published earlier in "Theosis: Deification in Christian Theology," edited by Vlad Kharlamov and Stephen Finlan, who drew my attention to this valuable collection. This supplementing volume covers a wide variety of studies with an emphasis on theosis in medieval times, Reformation and modern thought. Several outstanding scholars, including Andrew Louth and John McGuckin, who have been engaged for some time in the study of theosis, contributed valuable essays.
Throughout its five sections, that first review the broad issues linked to the nature, biblical basis, and theology of the doctrine of theosis is elaborated on by sections on conceptual development from late antiquity to post modernity, considering the change and discontinuity of this Christian concept as the intellectual history of an idea.

Copto-Arabic Tradition of Theosis:
Now, that I selected a unique study on Medieval Coptic theology, I have been introduced to Bishop el Bushi (1170 -1250), by Dr. G. Bebawi, Cantab Coptic scholar, only few years ago, when a recent resurgence of theosis debates started in the Coptic Church. In a compelling study of medieval Coptic teaching on Theosis, through exposing el Bushi's 'Treatise On the Incarnation,' Dr. Stephen Davis, of Yale Divinity, and an expert on the Egyptian Church in Late antiquity tackled a rare and inspiring subject on the church of the Martyrs, under Islamic siege for half of a millennia, yet renewing one of its controlling doctrines, a century before G. Palamas even thought to borrow the concept from Denys Areopagite during the Hesycast controversy. El Bushi sacramental theology, reflects the Coptic hermeneutical tradition and sacramental enactment of its Christological doctrine, in his masterful approach to divinization, "Whoever partakes (of the Eucharist) in a worthy manner and with faith, God resides in him and gives him the life that He gave to the body united to him."

This book review:
This review is a talking of gratitude to few of my mentors and friends, who enriched Dr. S. Davis essay, of whom four are mentioned: late Fr. G. Anawati, OP, late Dr. A. Atiya, Fr. S. Khalil, SJ, and Dr. J. Faltas.

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