Friday, August 10, 2007

Theosis: Achieving Your Potential in Christ (2)

Over a decade ago, a friend introduced me to the term 'Theosis.' Being thoroughly rooted in Missouri Synod Lutheranism, I had no idea what 'theosis' was. It sounded like a disease. But I was informed that this was a very old term and had great importance to the Eastern Orthodox Church's view of salvation. Now, after reading a few works on 'theosis,' I'm beginning to wonder if my first impression was not so far off the mark.

It is possible that some readers are now thoroughly offended by that previous comment. I will be simply dismissed as an unenlightened protestant heretic. (Yes, some EO writers clearly lump all protestants together as heretics and I am not in the least bothered by that judgment because they are wrong.) What I have discovered is that the word and concept of theosis carries with it all the baggage of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Some Lutherans (particularly the Finnish Lutherans) have tried to resurrect the word 'theosis' into the vocabulary of the modern Lutheran Church. They rationalize their position by stating that 'theosis' simply means 'deification.' And because Luther himself uses the term 'deification,' it is appropriate for Lutherans to use the word 'theosis.' Some might consider this an over-simplification of their argument, but it basic point which I gathered from some Finnish Lutheran presentations.

The concept of theosis in Anthony Coniaris's book Achieving Your Potential in Christ: Theosis is the fruit of all Eastern Orthodox doctrine. All EO doctrine serves and enlightens its understanding of theosis. What this means is that the errors of EO on original sin, justfication, work of the Spirit (eg, Pelagianism) corrupt any positive usage of the term 'theosis.'

It is possible that 'theosis' is a very good term, but its current usage among the EO make it very inappropriate for usage by Evangelical Lutherans.


Fr John W Fenton said...

A few comments, if I may:

* I understand your argument that theosis does not measure up to a Lutheran standard. Unless I missed it (which is entirely possible), I don't see the points listed for how or why it doesn't measure up.

* When Coniaris suggests that theosis is "the fruit of all Eastern Orthodox doctrine," he is suggesting that, for the Orthodox, theosis is not a doctrine (e.g., justification or sanctification). I would suggest that it is the practical (and practiceable) application of baptism--which, per se, is not a doctrine. (It took me a while to learn this point about theosis.)

* If I'm going to study what Lutherans teach about justification or any other doctrine, reading Scaer or Marquart would not be as profitable as reading the Book of Concord or the application of the doctrine in the liturgy. I suggest the same is true of Orthodox theology (or any theology, for that matter). Coniaris is good, but his context is the liturgy and the church fathers (e.g., St Athanasius, St Maximos the Confessor, etc). Orthodox priests are not "bound" to Coniaris, but they are to the fathers and liturgy (although not in the same way that Lutherans are "bound" to the Book of Concord).


Jeff said...

Become like God? Sounds scary... too much responsibility.