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Justification and Deification

Justification and Deification

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Published by akimel
by George Vandervelde
by George Vandervelde

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Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 37:2, Winter 2001
JUSTIFICATION AND DEIFICATION—PROBLEMATICSYNTHESIS: A RESPONSE
TO
LUCÍAN TURCESCUGeorge Vandervelde
By entering sympathetically into the Lutheran emphasis on justification byfaith and by challenging Orthodox theology to take this emphasis far more seriously, Lucían Turcescu makes a significant contribution to the ecumenical discussion. He criticizes Orthodox theology for passing too readily over the notionof justification by faith by branding it as a forensic notion that is marred by ex-trincicism and juridicism. Turcescu not only points out that the understanding of  justification as the acquittal of 
the
guilty sinner is biblical, but he also attemptsto incorporate it into a soteriology that includes
both
justification and diviniza-tion
(theosis).
He does so by presenting salvation as a two-stage process, justification constituting the first, and divinization the second and final stage.Taken at face value, the description of justification and
theosis
as twostages of the process of salvation seems plausible. After all, Paul clearly pre
sents
justification by faith as the point of entry to reconciliation (e.g., Rom. Sii
li).
Justification marks the point of 
transition,
as Turcescu rightly states, fromliving in bondage to sin to friendship with God. The question is whether Paul,or Luther for that matter, sees justification as only a first stage.Speaking of stages suggests
that
justification is an initial phase from whichone moves to the next, that is, adoption or divine indwelling. This position isdifficult to maintain. As Turcescu acknowledges, justification places one beforeGod as a forgiven, reconciled person (cf. Rom. 5:6-10). Paul can use the sameverb for adoption as he has for justification. Just as faith is "reckoned" as righteousness (Rom. 4:3-8)/ so a person is
"reckoned"
or
"counted"
as a child of 
God
byadoption (Rom. 9:8). Moreover, elsewhere Paul explicitly describes the transition effected by justification as one from the position of bondage and slavery tothat of adopted sons (Gal. 3:23-4:7). To be justified is to be adopted as son ordaughter. In other words, through faith in Christ one hears God declare God'slove to a person who by virtue of that love is now a reconciled sinner, a childand friend of God. Justification is thus not a phase but a permanent condition,not merely a passage way but the foundation for all that life with God entails.Friendship may indeed be distinguished from adoption but only as distinctmetaphors that capture different aspects of the same reality. These terms attempt to capture various dimensions of the rich reality of being in Christ reconciled to God by faith. Friendship and adoption allow development and eschato-
^iblical quotations throughout this essay are taken from
The Complete Parallel Bible containing the Old and New Testaments with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanomcal Books,
the New RevisedStandard Version (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993).
73
 
74
Journal of Ecumenical Studieslogical fulfillment (see Rom. 8:18-30). In that sense, too, both are indeed distinct from justification, which is not subject to development. One cannot bemore or less justified, while one can grow as friend and child of 
God.
However,this does not mean that justification is an initial stage. To live more fully as thefriend and child of 
God
that one is meant to be is to live ever more fully by faithin God's justifying action in Jesus Christ. To be justified by faith is to become"children of God through
faith"
(Gal. 3:26), and to be "clothed... with Christ"(Gal. 3:27). Faith connects us to Christ "who became for us wisdom from God,and righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30). In thewords of the Joint Declaration on Justification, "Justification is the forgivenessof sins ..., liberation from the dominating power of 
sin
and death... and fromthe curse of the law ... It is acceptance into communion with God—alreadynow, but then fully in God's coming kingdom... It unites with Christ and withhis death and resurrection..." (para. 11, omitting the scriptural references).
2
Justification, one might say, is the sinner's entrance into the communionwith God that was forfeited by sin. Biblically and theologically it would bemore accurate and helpful to understand justification as the abiding foundationof the house in which we dwell as reconciled sinners in the presence of God.That relationship can be characterized as friendship, adoption, sanctification,or renewal. Justification is neither a foundation buried underground nor an initial stage left behind. Justification is the dynamic suspension of Christian lifethat shapes all that it carries.If justification by faith is not the first phase of salvation but its ground, thecompatibility of 
theosis
and justification by faith becomes far more problematic.Now it is not sufficient to show how being indwelt by Christ or being adoptedas God's child, construed as a second stage in the justification paradigm, iscompatible with
theosis.
Now one must demonstrate how justification by faithitself is compatible with
theosis.
A direct confrontation of justification by faith and
theosis
reveals that theseare the pivots of two distinct discourses. The language of justification by faith isunimaginable without reference to notions such as alienation, guilt, hostility, and
sin.
Its starting point is the fallen human condition as it stands before God's judgment and grace. The language of divinization, by contrast, can functionwithout any reference to sin. Its starting point is the created human condition asit stands in contrast with the fullness of life and divinity that exist in God.Pointing to the contrast between these two paradigms does not mean, of course, that the
theosis
paradigm leaves sin out of the picture but, rather, thatits primary axis is not sin-reconciliation but mortality-immortality, corruptibil-ity-incorruption, creaturely life-divine life. Sin is the rupture and
 frustration
 of 
^Tie quotation in this essay from the text of the Joint Declaration is taken from the LutheranWorld Federation and the Roman Catholic Church,
Joint Declaration on
the
Doctrine of Justification
(Grand Rapids, MI, and Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000 [orig.:
Ge
 meinsame
Erklärung zur Rechtfertigungslehre
(Frankfurt/M.: Verlag Otto Lembeck; Paderborn: Boni-fatius-Verlag, 1999)]),
pp.
9-27.
 
Justification and Deification: A Response to Lucian Turcescu 75the original destiny of human beings, namely, divinization. In the
theosis
model the center of gravity lies not in reconciliation but in participation. Again,reconciliation is not at all incompatible with
theosis,
but it is the pathway toparticipation in the divine life or in the divine energies. From the point of viewof 
theosis,
the ultimate goal of human life, of creaturely life, is participation inthe higher, divine life. The ultimate goal of salvation is to attain "a likeness toGod that transcends the natural relationships given to man in creation, for it isparticipation in divine qualities bestowed by God's grace."
3
Dutch Lutherantheologian K. Zwanenpol described the contrast between a justification and a
 theosis
orientation in this way:In the soteriology of the Greek Fathers and Eastern Orthodoxy weclearly find different emphases. Central to it is a divinization which mustbridge the chasm between human existence
and
the life of God. This chasmis considered to be a 'natural' distance between God and humanity, by virtue of which human existence is characterized
as
'alienated' or 'perishable.'Of course sin is not left out of consideration, but it is conceived as a
dou bling of 
the distance
by which God and humanity are separated
 from
 eachother. Accordingly,
in this
soteriology
the
forgiveness of sin
and the
elimination of 
guilt
has the function of creating a precondition for making diviniza
tion
possible
at
all.
4
The distinctness of these discourses is confirmed by their correlation withthe distinct ways in which Christ is thought to effect salvation. In a
theosis-
centered soteriology, salvation is basically accomplished in the incarnation, inthe hypostatic union: "God became man in order that man might become God."Orthodox soteriology, Bishop Máximos Aghiorgoussis has pointed out, "considers salvation as basically given in the person of the Savior, with his workonly completing what is already given at the incarnation of the Word-of-God-made-flesh:
theosis,
communion between man and God, and reconciliation of man (and world) with God."
5
Harmonizing the two discourses too quickly obscures more than it clarifies.The problem of meshing the two approaches becomes apparent when Turcescuseeks to demonstrate the fruitfulness of the synthesis by examining the JointDeclaration on Justification's treatment of the role of human activity in theprocess of salvation. Some of his insights are very much to the point, as whenhe points to the untenability of speaking of faith as "passive." At the same time,a short-circuit occurs, when he introduces the Orthodox notion of synergy to
'William G. Rusch, "How the Eastern Fathers Understood What the Western Church Meant byJustification,'* in H. George Anderson, T. Austin Murphy, and Joseph A. Burgess,
eds.,
Justification by Faith: Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue
VII 
(Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Press, 1985), p. 136,here describing Clement of Alexandria's conception.
4
K. Zwanenpol, "Luther en
Theosis,"
Luther Bulletin,
vol. 2 (1993),
pp.
69-70; emphasis in original.
3
Maximos Aghiorgoussis, "Orthodox Soteriology," in John Meyendorff 
and
Robert Tobias, eds.and intra,
Salvation in
Christ:
A Lutheran-Orthodox Dialogue
(Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress,
1992),
p. 56.

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