Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 37:2, Winter 2001

JUSTIFICATION AND DEIFICATION—PROBLEMATIC SYNTHESIS: A RESPONSE TO LUCÍAN TURCESCU George Vandervelde
By entering sympathetically into the Lutheran emphasis on justification by faith and by challenging Orthodox theology to take this emphasis far more seriously, Lucían Turcescu makes a significant contribution to the ecumenical discussion. He criticizes Orthodox theology for passing too readily over the notion of justification by faith by branding it as a forensic notion that is marred by extrincicism and juridicism. Turcescu not only points out that the understanding of justification as the acquittal of the guilty sinner is biblical, but he also attempts to incorporate it into a soteriology that includes both justification and divinization (theosis). He does so by presenting salvation as a two-stage process, justification constituting the first, and divinization the second and final stage. Taken at face value, the description of justification and theosis as two stages of the process of salvation seems plausible. After all, Paul clearly presents justification by faith as the point of entry to reconciliation (e.g., Rom. Siili). Justification marks the point of transition, as Turcescu rightly states, from living 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 which one moves to the next, that is, adoption or divine indwelling. This position is difficult to maintain. As Turcescu acknowledges, justification places one before God as a forgiven, reconciled person (cf. Rom. 5:6-10). Paul can use the same verb 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 by adoption (Rom. 9:8). Moreover, elsewhere Paul explicitly describes the transition effected by justification as one from the position of bondage and slavery to that of adopted sons (Gal. 3:23-4:7). To be justified is to be adopted as son or daughter. In other words, through faith in Christ one hears God declare God's love to a person who by virtue of that love is now a reconciled sinner, a child and 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 distinct metaphors that capture different aspects of the same reality. These terms attempt to capture various dimensions of the rich reality of being in Christ reconciled to God by faith. Friendship and adoption allow development and eschato-

^iblical quotations throughout this essay are taken from The Complete Parallel Bible containing the Old and New Testaments with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanomcal Books, the New Revised Standard Version (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993).

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logical fulfillment (see Rom. 8:18-30). In that sense, too, both are indeed distinct from justification, which is not subject to development. One cannot be more 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 the friend and child of God that one is meant to be is to live ever more fully by faith in 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 the words of the Joint Declaration on Justification, "Justification is the forgiveness of sins . . . , liberation from the dominating power of sin and death... and from the curse of the law . . . It is acceptance into communion with God—already now, but then fully in God's coming kingdom... It unites with Christ and with his death and resurrection..." (para. 11, omitting the scriptural references).2 Justification, one might say, is the sinner's entrance into the communion with God that was forfeited by sin. Biblically and theologically it would be more accurate and helpful to understand justification as the abiding foundation of 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 initial stage left behind. Justification is the dynamic suspension of Christian life that shapes all that it carries. If justification by faith is not the first phase of salvation but its ground, the compatibility of theosis and justification by faith becomes far more problematic. Now it is not sufficient to show how being indwelt by Christ or being adopted as God's child, construed as a second stage in the justification paradigm, is compatible with theosis. Now one must demonstrate how justification by faith itself is compatible with theosis. A direct confrontation of justification by faith and theosis reveals that these are the pivots of two distinct discourses. The language of justification by faith is unimaginable 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 function without any reference to sin. Its starting point is the created human condition as it 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, that its primary axis is not sin-reconciliation but mortality-immortality, corruptibility-incorruption, creaturely life-divine life. Sin is the rupture andfrustrationof

^Tie quotation in this essay from the text of the Joint Declaration is taken from the Lutheran World 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.: Gemeinsame Erklärung zur Rechtfertigungslehre (Frankfurt/M.: Verlag Otto Lembeck; Paderborn: Bonifatius-Verlag, 1999)]), pp. 9-27.

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the 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 to participation in the divine life or in the divine energies. From the point of view of theosis, the ultimate goal of human life, of creaturely life, is participation in the higher, divine life. The ultimate goal of salvation is to attain "a likeness to God that transcends the natural relationships given to man in creation, for it is participation in divine qualities bestowed by God's grace."3 Dutch Lutheran theologian 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 we clearly find different emphases. Central to it is a divinization which must bridge the chasm between human existence and the life of God. This chasm is considered to be a 'natural' distance between God and humanity, by virtue 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 doubling of the distance by which God and humanity are separatedfromeach other. Accordingly, in this soteriology the forgiveness of sin and the elimination of guilt has the function of creating a precondition for making divinization possible at all.4 The distinctness of these discourses is confirmed by their correlation with the distinct ways in which Christ is thought to effect salvation. In a theosiscentered soteriology, salvation is basically accomplished in the incarnation, in the hypostatic union: "God became man in order that man might become God." Orthodox soteriology, Bishop Máximos Aghiorgoussis has pointed out, "considers salvation as basically given in the person of the Savior, with his work only completing what is already given at the incarnation of the Word-of-Godmade-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 Turcescu seeks to demonstrate the fruitfulness of the synthesis by examining the Joint Declaration on Justification's treatment of the role of human activity in the process of salvation. Some of his insights are very much to the point, as when he 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 by Justification,'* 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 original. 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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address the problem of an erroneous emphasis on the passivity of faith within a justification paradigm. In speaking of the "passivity" of faith, Lutheranism seeks to do justice to the way in which God liberates a human being who is helplessly entangled in sin. The emphasis on passivity is an attempt to do justice to Paul's insistence that grace confronts a human being who is dead, guilty, hostile—an enemy of God. Faith comes in the picture not as one "activity" among others but as the uniquely qualified activity of accepting God's sentence of condemnation, his disclosure of the closed human situation of enslavement. To speak of "synergy" here is inappropriate. The synergy of the dead is a misnomer. The synergy of a person with her or his back turned in contempt is unthinkable. The synergy of an enemy is out of the question. In the neighborhood of justification by faith, synergy is a stranger, an interloper. Such incommensurability does not mean that one cannot learn from an Orthodox understanding of human cooperation. Rather, this incommensurability means that one cannot incorporate an Orthodox understanding of synergy directly into a soteriology centered on justification by faith. Only by entering deeply into the meaning of justification can one come out the other side by insisting that the entire point of justification by grace through faith is to attain to a fully restored partnership of human beings with God. One may say therefore that, while justification by faith is meant to yield the synergy of love, justifying faith rules out synergy. Or, to make the same point more forcefully: the synergy of love comes folly into its own (sanctification) only when one confesses that justifying faith precludes synergy. In articulating the complementarity of justification by faith and theosis, Turcescu acknowledges his indebtedness to the Finnish Lutheran movement that espouses a similar synthesis. The Finnish school has rightly exposed the crippling effect of the neo-Kantian interpretation of Luther. In its opposition to notions of "substance," which as things-in-themselves are considered to be unknowable, the neo-Kantian school reduced the presence of God in Christ to the effects of God's will on the will of the believer. Coupled with a development in Lutheranism that understood forensic justification in an extrincicist manner, the neo-Kantian Luther interpretation vitiated the reality of salvation. It is this shriveled soteriology that the Finnish school rightly repudiates. In opposing this neo-Kantian approach, it is striking that the Finnish school tends to perpetuate the extrincicism that easily insinuates itself within a forensic understanding of justification. Time and again, the new Luther interpretation juxtaposes the forensic and the effective aspects of justification.6 What is meant by the effective dimension of justification is the real union with Christ and the transformation that such union effects, that is, the renewal that is sanctification.
6 See Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson, eds., Union with Christ: The New Finnish Interpretation of Luther (Grand Rapids, MI, and Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), pp. 42,51,67,91.

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Over against a one-sided emphasis on justification by faith, understood as strictly extra nos, the Finnish emphasis on the renewal that is rooted in union with the present Christ is badly needed and entirely biblical: "So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation" (2 Cor. 5:17). To combat the extrincicist distortion, however, it is not enough to add to it an effective dimension. Compensating for this distortion by emphasizing divine indwelling and union with Christ as the effective dimension of justification leaves the extrincicist distortion intact and its deleterious "effect" unchecked. The extrincicist notion of justification itself needs to be tackled head-on. The very reality of justification, which, as Turcescu insists, indeed has a forensic, legal dimension, makes it impossible to juxtapose a forensic and an effective dimension. For Paul, as for Luther, justification is the most radically and totally effective act of grace imaginable. By God's justifying act, believers—in the radix of their being—sit, stand, and walk as new creation, as children, friends, partners of God. Everything that occurs in justification is true in Jesus Christ. To be sure, the distinction between justification and sanctification is entirely legitimate and in fact an indispensable antidote to anything that would detract from the purely gracious character of this new relation. Nevertheless, forensic justification is not a dimension next to which one can place union with Christ as the effective dimension of justification. Rather, union with Christ comes about in justifying grace. Whatever renewal takes place is the effect of justification—the purely gracious character of which the notion of "forensic" is designed to capture, however inadequately. When forensic justification, on the one hand, and indwelling, union with the present Christ, on the other, have been thoroughly integrated, one can deal more adequately with the relation of this soteriology to one characterized by the notion of theosis. In the first place, there is no need to import the notion of divinization to supply the reality quotient for a soteriology based on justification by faith. One can demonstrate that theosis is not the only, or even the most effective, way to combat the reductionism represented by neo-Kantianism's "quivering, anorexic ontology."7 In the second place, given the integral unity of justification by faith and union with Christ, the distinction between a soteriology based on justification and one based on theosis comes more clearly into view. When one respects the distinct discourses of justification soteriology and a theosis soteriology, the issue is not simply whether and how justification by faith and theosis are compatible but whether and how a notion of renewal that flows from the Lutheran notion of "forensic" justification is compatible with the notion of divinization. The ready synthesis of theosis with divine indwelling, filial adoption, and union with Christ represents a leap that is evidenced in much of the literature of the Finnish school of Lutheran studies. Many of the Luther passages in which one finds the term "divinization" are suffused with the language of holi7

Kurt E. Marquait, "Luther and Theosis," Concordia Theological Quarterly 64 (July, 2000):

193.

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ness, righteousness, love, adoption—gifts of God that come as the gift of Godself in the person of the present Christ. The hermeneutical question that needs to be posed is this: When Luther speaks at times of "Vergöttlichung" and even of being "vergottet," is the language of righteousness, holiness, love, adoption, and union with Christ to be interpreted in terms of divinization? Or, is the inverse more faithful to Luther's intentions, namely, to interpret the language of Vergöttlichung as his way of underscoring the superlative reality of the new life of holiness as God's gift, evidence of God's being truly present in Christ? Suppose, however, that Luther taught the notion of divinization; this could hardly be the end of the matter. Luther would turn over in his grave if his writings were declared to be normative for theology. One must return, as does Turcescu, to the biblical material, especially to the central passage in debate, 2 Pet. 1:4. This text is widely regarded as an unambiguous testimony to theosis. This is hardly the case. As biblical scholar Albert Wolters has argued, the notion of koinonoi in 2 Peter is best interpreted as "companions" or "partners."8 The fact that the text speaks of partnership "of the divine nature" does not, as such, point to the idea of divinization. Even the Orthodox tradition recoils from taking this phrase at face value. To do so suggests a partaking of the essence of God—a notion inimical to orthodoxy of whatever stripe. Not surprisingly, Orthodox theology, following the lead of Gregory of Palamas, speaks of participating in God's "energies." If this hermeneutical move is required to avoid heresy, it behooves ecumenical discussion to grant that 2 Pet. 1:4 cannot function as a direct support of theosis. Since the notion of partnership,friendship,or companionship with God has solid biblical pedigree, there is at least as much to commend this interpretation as there is to commend an interpretation that relies on a notion as foreign to biblical narrative and teaching as the "energies of God." This extra-biblical character does not necessarily render the introduction of "divine energies" illegitimate. The difficulties encountered in interpreting 2 Pet. 1 demonstrate merely that the move from "partakers of the divine nature" in the text to theosis is not self-evident. The acknowledgement that this step entails a hermeneutical decision for which one needs to give careful hermeneutical account and that theosis is not the only legitimate interpretation would go a long way to promoting an open dialogue about the divergent theologicalframeworksthat inform divergent interpretations. Turcescu's plea for greater sensitivity to the biblical testimony concerning justification by faith and for its incorporation into soteriologies that focus on theosis deserves careful attention. This plea becomes even more compelling when one takes carefully into account the critical differences between a soteriology that revolves around justification by faith and one that revolves around the notion of theosis.

8 Albert Wolters, '"Partners of the Deity*: A Covenantal Reading of 2 Peter 1:4," Calvin Theological Journal 25 (April, 1990): 28-44. See also "Postscript to 'Partners of the Deity,'" Calvin Theological Journal26 (November, 1991): 418-420.

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