Roger E. Olsen


Theology Today Volume 64 (2007): 186-200
Roger E. Olson is professor of theology at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Sem­inary 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 Cen­turies of Tradition and Reform, and The Westminster Handbook to Evangelical 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.

THE concept of humanity’s deification, or theosis, is alive and well in contem­porary Christian thought even outside its traditional home in Eastern Ortho­doxy. This phenomenon should be considered a renaissance rather than an entirely new discovery; interest in deification has been around in Protestant theological circles for a long time and perhaps even from the very beginning. As we shall see, Martin Luther had a lively interest and belief in deification. He used the term Vergottung several times in his writings, including in his Commentary on Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. He referred to the justified Christian as a divine creature (ein göttliche Creatur).1 John and Charles Wes­ley incorporated ideas of human deification into their doctrine of sanctification and drank deeply at the wells of the Greek church fathers as their source. Of course, both Luther and the Wesleys appealed to the famous text of 2 Peter 1:4,

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.

which says, “by which he [God] has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature” (RSV). Besides Luther and the Wesleys, other Protestants interpreted this and other biblical passages as referring to a real participation in God and not only, as especially in neo-Protestantism, a moral imitation of Christ.

Nevertheless, Protestants have often been reluctant to speak of real deifica­tion. Roman Catholics have always believed in it and spoken of it even if not precisely as it has been taught in Eastern Orthodoxy. In any case, it never was rejected by Roman Catholics as much as by Protestants. Especially the neo-Protestantism of post-Kantian theology in Europe and America shied away from the idea as too metaphysical (if not physical) and mystical to fit in with the project of moralizing dogma. According to much nineteenth- and mid-twentieth-century neo-Protestant and even neo-orthodox theology, we can only experi­ence God’s effects on us, which are primarily moral, and never God in himself. Karl Barth scoffed at the idea of deification as a real ontological transformation of persons through participation in God. Emil Brunner considered it mystical and therefore useless to the emphasis he wished to place on the 1-Thou encounter between God and the individual. Even in Roman Catholic thought the idea of deification fell on hard times during the later nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries. While Karl Rahner could make room for it, Hans Küng could not. By the 1970s and 1980s the time was ripe for a rediscovery and retrieval of deification in Western theology.

One has to wonder to what extent the rise of something that came to be called the “New Age movement” contributed to this renaissance of deification in Western theology. One can only suspect that the increasing cultural thirst for real spiritual experience and even for some union with God in and through reli­gion served as a catalyst for deification’s rediscovery. Some New Age book­stores stocked not only Western Christian mystical writings such as those of Meister Eckhart but also the collection of Eastern Orthodox writings known as the Philokalia. Eventually this desire for union with God spurred more main­line Western theology to appropriate the ancient concept of theosis, which expresses real union between God and humans without the pantheistic or panentheistic connotations of much that goes under the label of New Age. Even if the renaissance of interest in deification has nothing at all to do with the New Age movement and the reach of Eastern religions and spiritualities into West­ern society, another explanation for it must certainly lie in a weariness with shallow moralistic accounts of salvation. Even liberation theology, for all its contributions, falls short of offering a transforming experience that energizes human spiritual and ethical life. The search for transformation through spiritu­ality lies at the heart of the new interest in deification. Finally, some of the ren­aissance of interest in deification arises from the ecumenical movements and especially dialogues between Protestant and Eastern Orthodox theologians. As Western Christians have come into increasing contact with representatives of Orthodoxy, they have begun to see that deification holds promise for greater mutual understanding and cooperation between the Christian East and the Christian West.

When asked to identify who is talking about deification in Western theolog­ical circles, my initial response is “Who isn’t?” It seems that almost every Protestant and Catholic theologian writing creatively and constructively in the last two to three decades has found it necessary to address the subject, and many are trying to incorporate it into their emerging theological visions. Among Catholics, Catherine Mowry LaCugna and Hans Urs von Balthasar come to mind. Most surprisingly, however, much of the contemporary discussion of deification is taking place in Protestant circles, including among evangelical Protestants. Lutherans are in the forefront, especially the Finnish school of Luther research led by Tuomo Mannermaa and his students, who have received hearty endorsement from American Lutherans Carl Braaten and Robert Jenson. A former Lutheran, and recent Roman Catholic convert, who has embraced deification is Bruce Marshall of the Methodist-related Perkins School of Theol­ogy. Anglicans and Episcopalians are reaching back into their roots and redis­covering and newly appropriating deification from Richard Hooker and Lancelot Andrewes. Notable among them is A. M. Allchin, author of many books on Anglican spirituality and theology. Christian Church/Church of Christ theologian F. W. Norris has publicly endorsed deification as “consensual and cogent.”2 Methodist Thomas Oden explicitly embraces deification as part of sal­vation in the third volume of his Systematic Theology, entitled Life in the Spirit (1992). German Reformed theologian Jürgen Moltmann makes constructive use of the idea in several of his books, including The Spirit of Life (1992) and The Coming of God (1996). Even the normally rationalistic and nonmystical Wolfhart Pannenberg appropriates the concept in volume two of his Systematic Theology (1994). Among evangelicals, Clark Pinnock, Stanley Grenz, Robert Rakestraw, Daniel Clendenin, and Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen have all encouraged the idea of deification as a positive and helpful one for the construction of faith­ful and contemporary evangelical theology and spirituality.

Some of the most intense and creative ferment surrounding the notion of deification in contemporary theology is taking place within that communion where it has traditionally been most at home, namely, Eastern Orthodoxy. Most notably, lively debate has arisen around Orthodox John Zizioulas’s suppression of the traditional distinction between God’s essence and God’s energies in accounting for deification. Zizioulas has dared to criticize the almost-canonical theology of Vladimir Lossky, whose books communicate the meaning of deification as inextricably tied to this distinction as interpreted by medieval monk Gregory Palamas. Several Eastern Orthodox theologians have jumped into the fray, siding with either Lossky or Zizioulas. Defenders of Zizioulas, whose book Being as Communion (1997) has been well received by Protestants and Catholics alike, see him as a reformer whose work will enhance interfaith dialogue and lead eventually to interfaith communion. Crit­ics see him as a maverick, if not a heretic.

Two questions must be kept separate but related in any discussion of con­temporary theological thinking about deification. First, is it a viable concept for Protestant theology, or should Protestants continue to be wary of it as an idea that will undermine the gospel of justification by grace through faith as an extrinsic and forensic act of God? Second, can deification be separated from the traditional Palamite distinction between God’s essence and energies? Many contemporary Catholic and Protestant theologians adopt deification as a helpful concept and even as necessary to a holistic account of salvation while shying away from the essence/energies distinction. This is true of LaCugna and most of the Protestants, including the evangelicals, who appropriate deifi­cation. Some contemporary theologians continue to have little or no use for deification. Evangelical and ecumenical theologian Donald Bloesch is one example of a Protestant who fears its inclusion in theology in any form will undermine the gospel. For Bloesch and others like him who are wary of deifi­cation, traditional Protestant ideas such as union with Christ do all that deifi­cation is supposed to do without the latter’s pitfalls. This article will focus on the second question mentioned above: Is deification linked inextricably with the distinction between God’s essence and energies, or can it be retrieved and believed without that distinction?

Contemporary Eastern Orthodox theology generally reiterates the Palamite doctrine of deification. Lossky is as good a guide as any in discerning the mainline contemporary Orthodox idea. For him, deification means “to become by grace, in a movement boundless as God, that which God is by His nature.”3 This is possible because created beings have the faculty of being assimilated to God because such was the very object of their creation.’ All that Lossky says about deification implies what Orthodox theologian Georgios Mantzaridis explicitly says: “When man shares the uncreated divinizing gift, he acquires supranatural attributes.”5 In complete harmony with all Eastern Orthodox the­ologians, Lossky affirms that deification never removes the difference between uncreated God and the creature. Even the humanity of Jesus Christ, illumined as it was by union with the divine, remained finite and creaturely. Yet it was divinized by union with the divine, which means it received immortality and supernatural qualities that belong to God alone. Jesus Christ as man was mys­teriously more than human, not only because he was God incarnate but because of the divinized quality of his humanity. The same can be true in some meas­ure of every saint. Yet, even as a “god by grace” or “created god,” the saint remains infinitely less than Jesus Christ, who was not only that but also a divine person who assumed human nature. Divinized persons never become God to the extent that Jesus was God.

Lossky speaks for all Eastern Orthodox theologians when he says repeat­edly that deification is not the result of human striving or merit or virtue; these only open one up to the divinizing power of the Holy Spirit. Deification is a gift. Mantzaridis says it well: “Divine grace secretly performs man’s deifica­tion, while virtue simply renders him capable of receiving deification.”6 Deifi­cation may be a gift, but it is one that requires two wills, including a free response of Holy Spirit—empowered detachment from all that is not God .7 It is, then, a synergistic process that includes divine initiative and human response in an endless cycle until its completion, when the person is fully per­fected in union with God. This process is possible only because of the Incar­nation, which made divinity available to humanity, and through the Holy Spirit, who communicates it to people. It is achieved only by those who remove obstacles to it by faithfully participating in the sacraments and pray­ing without ceasing. The ultimate goal of deification was stated by Maximus

3. Vladimir Lossky, Orthodox Theology: An Introduction (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Sem­inary 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.

the Confessor: to become all that God is except identity with his essence. In other words, in the fullness of deification the creature remains dependent on God for his divine life in God.

In concert with the bulk of Eastern Orthdodox tradition, Lossky connects deification inextricably with the distinction between God’s essence and God’s uncreated energies. He traces this distinction through the early church fathers, especially Gregory of Nazianzus and Basil of Caesarea, up through Gregory Palamas and finds it even in Augustine. According to this idea, “God ... exists both in His essence and outside of His essence” in his energies,’ which are ema­nations of God’s hidden and ineffable essence. God is more than his essence; he is also his energies and is wholly present in each “ray” of his divinity.’ Lossky explains the distinction most clearly in his statement that “wholly unknowable in His essence, God wholly reveals Himself in His energies, which yet in no way divide His nature into two parts `knowable and unknowable’ but signify two dif­ferent modes of the divine existence, in the essence and outside of the essence.” 10 This is how Lossky and Eastern Orthodoxy in general understand 2 Peter 1:4. Christians become partakers of the divine uncreated energies and of the divine essence only through them. Otherwise, deification would mean a pantheistic dis­solution of the person in God or God in creation. Both the transcendence and unique personhood of God are protected, according to Lossky, only by the Palamite distinction, which is not unique to Gregory. Part of the nature of per-sonhood is ineffability; a person is ultimately a mystery. As person and as tran­scendent, God cannot be treated as an object; no creature can penetrate God’s essence. But God graciously reveals himself and draws creatures into real, onto­logical communion through his emanations or uncreated energies without dero­gating from the inviolable mystery of who and what he is in and of himself.

In various writings but especially in Being as Communion, John Zizioulas has challenged or attempted to circumvent the traditional Palamite distinction between God’s essence and energies. Zizioulas regards deification as partici­pation in the hypostasis of Christ rather than in the divine energies.” This is no doubt one reason for Zizioulas’s popularity among Roman Catholics and Protestants who cannot grasp or do not appreciate the traditional Orthodox dis­tinction between God’s essence and energies. For Zizioulas, the church 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,” Modern Theology 19, no. 3 (July 2003): 358.

Christ’s identity in history and Christ is the church’s identity; there exists a real ontological unity between them. This is at the heart of his “communion ontol­ogy.” The church not only reflects but really participates in the Trinity, which exists eternally as communion between three persons. “God” is the com­munion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, just as “church” is the communion between Christ and his people and between believers and believers through the Spirit. Zizioulas replaces the divine energies with the hypostasis of Christ in redemption; each person is divinized in the depths of his or her soul (includ­ing body) through union with Christ in eucharistic fellowship. “The signifi­cance of the union with Christ is not the communication of divine energies, but becoming a son of God by transforming one’s hypostasis through a relation­ship identical with that of the Son [with the Father].”“2 Especially Protestants can buy into this notion of deification more easily than the Palamite doctrine espoused by Lossky and most other Eastern Orthodox theologians. Their own tradition includes much talk about union with Christ that is truly transforma-tive. But Zizioulas’s critics insist that abandonment of the essence/energies distinction leads inevitably to one of two results: either a near-pantheistic iden­tity of the redeemed person with God or belief that deification is merely a metaphor and not real participation in God. Only the concept of uncreated divine energies provides the bridge between God and the creature that avoids pantheism and shallow moralism.

Catherine LaCugna thinks along the same lines as Zizioulas and has been critical of the Orthodox essence/energies distinction while nevertheless pro­moting an idea of salvation as deification. For her, salvation includes a real perichoresis (coinherence) of the redeemed person and Christ through the Holy Spirit. It is union with Christ and therefore with the Trinity that truly transforms a person into something more than merely human. “The Holy Spirit incorporates us into the very life of God, into the mystery of perichoresis, the ‘to and fro’ of being itself which exists in personhood.”13 Because being is inseparable from personal communion, becoming God by participation (deifi­cation) automatically takes place when a person is inserted into real fellowship with Christ by the Holy Spirit. “God’s nature is understood not as an imper­sonal substance but as the reality of ecstatic and self-communicating persons existing together in communion and love. Deification is another name for what

12. Ibid., 369.

13. Catherine LaCugna, God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life (San Francisco: HarperSan-Francisco, 1991), 298.

was described ... as the common vocation to glory.”14 Deification means that the Holy Spirit transforms persons in communion with Christ in both will and knowledge and “communicates to us the divine reality according to our capac­ity to receive.”ts It is a communion of love that surpasses discursive knowl­edge. But LaCugna differs from the Orthodox doctrine in that for her, deification does not involve a change in substance; it is only a personal transformation and renewal. It is a new capacity for relationships.16 She calls this an ontolog­ical change, but traditional Orthodox theologians would no doubt argue that it does not amount to what they believe 2 Peter 1:4 signals—namely, a real, substance-transforming participation in God’s own nature that elevates one above mere humanity.

LaCugna is a good example of a contemporary Western theologian who appropriates deification language without reference to the Eastern essence/ energies distinction. The question, of course, is whether this is still deification. If deification has any standard, the definition provided by the Eastern Ortho­dox tradition must be taken very seriously. To a very large extent both Catholic and Protestant traditions abandoned it for a long time. It seems somehow disingenuous for them now to rediscover union with Christ and call it deifica­tion, which everyone associates especially with Eastern Orthodox theology, but empty it of its Orthodox meaning. On the other hand, defenders of LaCugna and others who speak of deification without the essence/energies distinction can respond that the term does not have to mean what it means to traditional Orthodox theologians. While this is true, it is confusing to find “deification” being used of something that has for a very long time been called “sanctifica­tion,” or “union with Christ,” or “communion with God,” or even “being filled with God.” Why now adopt the terminology of deification if one is unwilling to take on the older meaning of elevation above humanity into created godness through divine energies?

One Protestant who has not hesitated to adopt that Palamite distinction into his discovery of deification is F. W. Norris. He makes the pragmatic value of deification explicit. Within a world that yearns for spirituality, “Christians ought to speak of deification.”17 For him, “Koinonia, fellowship with God, is actually deification, participation in God.”18 He goes through the entire history

14. Ibid., 345-46.

15. Ibid., 348.

16. Ibid., 404.

17. Norris, “Deification,” 413.

18. Ibid.

of Christian talk of real oneness with God by participation through the Incar­nation and the Holy Spirit and concludes that “deification should be viewed by Protestants not as an oddity of Orthodox theology but as an ecumenical con­sensus, a catholic teaching of the Church, best preserved and developed by the Orthodox.” 19 This is because he finds deification not only in the early church fathers but also in the Reformers, including the Anabaptists and other Radical Reformers, and in modern orthodox theologians such as John Polkinghorne. However, Norris believes the notion of deification in its fullness necessarily includes the distinction between divine essence and energies. One might be surprised to hear an adherent of the Restorationist movement 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 East­ern Orthodox but also Western theologians find solace in a sense of deifi­cation. 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 brave and right. Surely deification means real ontological partici­pation in God’s nature that elevates us above our humanity without infringing on God’s own essence or our real humanity. Our deified humanity is still humanity just as Christ’s was and is. But it is more than mere, ordinary human­ity. It is humanity energized, empowered, and transformed within the divine presence. The old patristic analogy of iron and fire comes to mind even though that was usually used by the church fathers of the union between Christ’s two natures. Nevertheless, Norris provides a good example of a Western theolo­gian who dares to appropriate not just the language and imagery of deification but also its metaphysical underpinnings.

A contemporary Protestant theologian who seems to say the same thing as Orthodox theologians without explicitly mentioning the divine energies as the power of deification is Anglican A. M. Allchin, who defines deification as “becoming God by God’s gift and grace.”21 While acknowledging Protestant suspicion of the language of deification as becoming God, he forges on by link­ing it closely with the Incarnation, which plays a very important role in

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.

Anglican tradition. For him, the Incarnation demonstrates that both God and the human person are “ecstatic,” meant for each other. The union between God and humanity once for all achieved in Christ is “constantly renewed in varying ways in the coming of the Spirit.”22 According to Allchin, if the Incarnation is true, the truth of deification follows. God became what we are to lift us up to what he is because we are meant for each other. The Trinity shows that God is constituted by relationships; the Incarnation shows that one such relationship is external to God, and deification expresses that the Incarnation was not only for Christ but also for us. The coinherence of divinity and humanity 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 Tes­tament writings. It is at their heart.23

Allchin defines deification as a fusion of love between God and people and between humans and other humans. It is accomplished by the Holy Spirit as God’s power, wisdom, and joy overflowing into creation. It lifts us up to be where God is in his divine splendor.’ “Divine splendor” is another term for divine energies in Eastern Orthodox theology; without doubt, Allchin knows this. Even though he does not explicitly mention the energies, he seems to think along those lines.

Another Protestant theologian who makes use of the Orthodox Palamite distinction in explicating a contemporary doctrine of deification is Jürgen Moltmann. In The Spirit of Life he attributes the world’s transformation to the “vitalizing energies of the Spirit.”25 He calls deification a reciprocal perichore-sis or mutual indwelling of God and ourselves that causes us and the entire cosmos to participate in the eternal life of God. It comes from an “immense outflowing source of energy.”26 Deification is an emanation of divine powers and energies through the Holy Spirit overcoming the difference but not the dis­tinction between Creator and creature.27 According to Moltmann, “If being the

22. Ibid., 5.

23. Ibid., 6.

24. Ibid., 2-3.

25. Jürgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 196.

26. Ibid., 199.

27. Ibid., 177.

child of God is meant in a more than metaphorical sense, it implies kinship to God. The children are of the same nature as their father and mother. Even if they are adopted, they acquire the full rights of inheritance. They become par­takers of the divine nature.”28 Moltmann’s distinctive contribution to contem­porary Protestant thinking about deification may be his extrapolation from deification of redeemed persons to cosmic deification. In this he follows Max­imus and John of Damascus closely. For him, as for them, the purpose of the Incarnation and deification is the transformation of all of creation by the divine energies, which create a perichoresis or interpenetration between God and the universe. The effect is an elevation of the cosmos to God 29 God’s Shekinah (glory) fills the whole creation and releases it from mere mortality into the eternal life of God. Moltmann distinguishes his idea (which borrows heavily from Johann Tobias Beck) from Orthodox theology, which, he says, envisions a future spiritualization of the cosmos. His own expectation is not that but an elevation of the cosmos into God. This is his controversial Christian panenthe-ism of the future. Moltmann does not mention the distinction between God’s essence and energies explicitly, and one is hard pressed to know exactly what he thinks of it. However, his use of the language of energies may justify the assumption that he does envision them as distinct from the essence of God.

Two contemporary evangelical thinkers who make use of deification in their soteriologies but who never mention the Palamite distinction are Clark Pinnock and Stanley Grenz. Deification plays a significant role in Pinnock’s Flame of Love: The Theology of the Holy Spirit, which is really a systematic theology using the Holy Spirit as its central unifying theme. According to Pinnock, sal­vation includes more than justification. It necessarily includes “transforming, personal, intimate relationship with the triune God” because “God intends to elevate humanity to life with God.” “Salvation is the Spirit, who indwells us, drawing us toward participation in the life of the triune God.”30 Pinnock dis­tances himself from the Orthodox doctrine of deification when he says that “this is a personal union, not an ontological one.”31 Of course, Zizioulas and others who espouse an ontology of communion would object and say that is a false dichotomy. Pinnock does not seem to see that. In the end one wonders if

28. Jiirgen 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: Inter-Varsity, 1996), 149, 150.

31. Ibid., 154.

he has really expressed deification or simply a traditional Protestant notion of union between God and redeemed persons through Christ and the Spirit. In The Social God and the Relational Self Stanley Grenz attempts to develop a con­cept of deification using Zizioulas’s communion ontology. For him, salvation includes participation in Christ, which “entails sharing in his filial relationship with the one he called `Father.’ Although Grenz explicitly called this aspect of salvation deification, his account of it falls short of the strong doctrine of Eastern Orthodoxy and expresses instead a transformation and re-creation of personal identity through the indwelling Spirit: “The indwelling Spirit shapes the fellowship of Christ’s followers after the pattern of the love that preexists in the triune life.”33 For Grenz, the distinction between an ontological change and a change of identity is false; if a person’s self is constituted in a certain rela­tionship, the person’s being is so constituted. One has to wonder, however, whether this really rises to the meaning of 2 Peter 1:4 and its tradition of inter­pretation by the Greek fathers and later Eastern Orthodox theologians. Again, is this really deification?

Perhaps the most intriguing and talked-about contemporary theological use of deification has been made by some Lutherans as they have entered into ecu­menical dialogue with Eastern Orthodox theologians. This dialogue has spurred Lutherans to reconsider Luther’s doctrine of justification, and some of them are finding that it includes an element of inward transformation that they believe can fairly be called deification. In fact, Luther called it that himself. Finnish Lutheran scholar Tuomo Mannermaa has written extensively about Luther’s use of deification language and how it is not secondary to his empha­sis on imputed righteousness but part and parcel of it. This has led to what is called the Finnish school of Luther research. It is embraced by several Amer­ican Lutheran theologians, especially Carl Braaten and Robert Jenson, who hosted a colloquium between Mannermaa and his Finnish students and Amer­ican theologians at St. Olaf College in which I participated. According to Mannermaa and his students, Luther viewed justification as “Christ present in faith.”34 In other words, for Luther, justification was not only a forensic

32. Stanley J. Grenz, The Social God and the Relational Self (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.

declaration that the sinner who believes is righteous but also, and even more, a real communication of Christ to the believer, such that “the believer ... par­takes of the properties of God’s being.”35 This is bound to come as something of a surprise to those who have only read about Luther’s doctrine of justifica­tion from textbooks. Mannermaa and others involved in this new Luther research pile up references to just such a real, ontological, transforming union between Christ and the believer in Luther’s writings about justification. The traditional Lutheran distinction between justification and sanctification in which Christ is present only in the latter and not at all in the former is false. Luther explicitly called one aspect of justification deification without denying imputed righteousness; God imputes Christ’s righteousness to believers pre­cisely because by faith Christ is present in them, transforming them into new people united with God. Bruce Marshall concurs wholeheartedly with Man-nermaa’s discovery and concludes on the basis of numerous Luther statements that “it seems that for Luther believers have a real participation by faith in Christ’s own divinity, and so in his own divine attributes or characteristics. At the same time, a distinction remains between a divine and creaturely way of possessing the divine attributes.”36

One has to wonder what Eastern Orthodox theologians think of this new interpretation of Luther. No doubt they are thrilled about the discovery that Luther believed in deification and that he included it as a moment in justifica­tion and did not relegate it to sanctification. However, few of these Lutheran theologians mention the all-important Palamite distinction except as they explain the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of deification. What role did it play in Luther’s thinking? What role will it play in these Lutherans’ thinking? Man-nermaa muddies the waters of ecumenical understanding when he declares that for Luther the Christian participates in God’s essence and becomes a par­taker of this divine essence.37 Of course, even Lossky believes something like this, but for him we are made partakers in the divine essence only indirectly by means of the uncreated divine energies. Otherwise, the result would be a blending of the human and the divine, which is not possible. Did Luther accept this? Do the Finns? Do American Lutheran theologians? This is as yet unclear. In his book One with God: Salvation as Deification and Justification (2004), Finnish evangelical theologian Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen discusses the Palamite

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.

distinction but then does not mention its role, if any, in Luther’s thought or in the thought of other Protestant reformers.

Norris (and the traditional Orthodox theologians such as Lossky and Mantzaridis) is correct in averring that the essence/energies distinction with­out separation is part and parcel of the doctrine of deification. Those who reject it or purposely neglect it should probably find some other term for their belief in real, ontological union between God and the believer. The difference between an account of deification that is based on the distinction and one that is not is too great to be bridged by one word. Perhaps “divinization” should be reserved for those views of participation in God that do not rest on the distinc­tion. “Deification” should be reserved for those that do rest on it. Christians should speak of deification and should make clear that they mean we are being made partakers of God’s own nature by the energetic presence of Christ and the Spirit within us transforming us into replicas of God that actually bear something of his own being. We are becoming more than merely human with­out being blended with God’s own essence, which remains transcendent. The distinction is like that between the immanent and economic Trinity: one Trin­ity in two modes or aspects—one God-in-himself and the other God-with-us. It is not the same as the neo-Kantian distinction between God-in-himself and his effects; God with us and for us in Christ and the Holy Spirit is really God but through his uncreated splendor, power, and grace—in other words, through his uncreated energies. God’s essence is not a prison that encloses him, but it is his alone and is not to be shared with any creature except by way of the ema­nations of his energies. Just as the sun communicates life-giving properties to the organism that cannot enter into the sun or be entered by the sun, so God communicates himself to creatures in faith through Christ and the Holy Spirit even though believers cannot become one with God’s essence. The “himself’ that he communicates transformingly is the communion of love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that flows out from the divine essence and carries some portion of it along and into creation. But actual oneness with God’s essence would obliterate the God/creature distinction.

Protestants who experiment with the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of deifica­tion or who talk about deification should consider adopting the Palamite dis­tinction even if not apophatic or Hesychast mysticism. What they can contribute to the Protestant—Orthodox conversation is a strong emphasis on the personal nature of the transformation involved in deification through divine energies. The energies should not be thought of as impersonal forces or pow­ers but only and always as bound up with the personal presences of Christ and  the Spirit in communion with them and the saints. We do not know God only in his effects; we also know God in and through his personal, transforming presence, which includes the emanations of his essence that we call his uncre-ated energies bound up with the hypostases of Son and Spirit that take us into the trinitarian life itself.

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