They say that if you’ve ever tried to learn to play the guitar, you’ve probably tried your hand at Van Morrison’s “Gloria,” a three-chord tribute to the power of teenage lust.  But as I personally lack anything that can even charitably be described as a sense of rhythm, I don’t play the guitar and thus I can’t really speak to the truthfulness of this claim. Nevertheless, I am familiar with Van Morrison’s tune, primarily because at one time in my life, I was a fan of Patti Smith, who re-appropriated and re-interpreted the original work as her own crass middle finger defiantly extended towards the heavens. Read the rest of this entry »
Category Archives: Theology and Salvation
Throughout this Good Friday we are looking at the various theories of the atonement or explanations of what Jesus accomplished on the cross. This is the third post today, and in this one we turn to the theory of Satisfaction.
Throughout Church history Christians have meditated upon Jesus’ cross, and inevitably asked the question, “What did Jesus accomplish on the cross?” The bible uses a number of metaphors to describe the work of Jesus on the cross, and throughout its history the Church emphasized particular metaphors over others, depending upon the different historical and cultural contexts of the Church. The Church’s contextual contemplation of Jesus’ suffering led to different explanations as to what Jesus accomplished by his death on the cross. These different answers became the various theories of the atonement we know, study and often ignore today, and the most prominent theory from the Medieval Church was the theory of Satisfaction.
Throughout this Good Friday we are looking at the various theories of the atonement or explanations of what Jesus accomplished on the cross. This is the second post today, and in this one we turn to the theory of Ransom.
Throughout Church history Christians have meditated upon Jesus’ cross, and inevitably asked the question, “What did Jesus accomplish on the cross?” The bible uses a number of metaphors to describe the work of Jesus on the cross, and throughout its history the Church emphasized particular metaphors over others, depending upon the different historical and cultural contexts of the Church. The Church’s contextual contemplation of Jesus’ suffering led to different explanations as to what Jesus accomplished by his death on the cross. These different answers became the various theories of the atonement we know, study and often ignore today, and the most prominent theory advanced by the early Church was the theory of Ransom. Read the rest of this entry »
Throughout Church history Christians have meditated upon Jesus’ work on the cross, and inevitably the question arose, “What precisely was accomplished by Jesus on the cross?” The bible uses a number of metaphors to describe the work of Jesus on the cross, and throughout its history the Church emphasized particular metaphors over others, depending upon the different historical and cultural contexts of the Church. Their contextual contemplation of Jesus’ suffering led to different explanations as to what Jesus’ work on the cross accomplished. These different answers became the various theories of the atonement we know and study today, and the earliest theory advanced by the Church was the theory of Recapitulation. Read the rest of this entry »
For many of us, particularly those of us that have grown up within Evangelical circles, the question seems almost absurdly simple. The Gospel is the “good news,” of course!
Good news, you say? Good news about what? Good news for whom? Is it good news for everyone? And if so, why is it not always seen as “good” by those on the receiving end of the “news?” Read the rest of this entry »
Today, December 1, 2012, is the first day of Advent (the 24 day anticipation of Jesus’ coming or arrival). Advent simply means coming or arrival, and the nuance of the term coming is appropriate. Coming can refer to the historical event of Jesus’ first advent, the current remembrance of the incarnation or the future hope we have for Jesus’ second advent. Traditionally, the Advent wreath has five candles, representing Hope, Joy, Peace, Love and Christ. The first candle for this first week represents Hope. As such, Advent is marked from the outset as a season of hope, but what do we hope for? Read the rest of this entry »
Late last week, I posted an article entitled, “The Descent: James MacDonald, Harvest Bible Chapel and the Blurry Road to the Prosperity Gospel.” Since that time, the storm that has threatened to envelope the evangelical world has only intensified as more and more people have begun to rightfully react to MacDonald’s highly questionable decision to bring Jakes into the Elephant Room, and his even poorer handling of the actual exchange itself.
Today, I want to respond to a round table discussion that Pastor MacDonald has filmed and posted on his blog. Why? Because aspects of this discussion further inflame and ultimately confuse the issue by giving voice to racially-insensitive, ad hominem attacks. I am, of course, referring to the words spoken by the African-American Pastor Bryan Loritts of Fellowship Memphis.
“Some of the strongest reactions of people were African Americans in the blogosphere. And I’ll just go ahead and say it, who strike me as wanting so bad to be in the white theological world. And to take a little bit of a tangent here, and I’ll get back. The loudest voices in the conservative, evangelical world, in my estimation right now, are your older white reformed voices. And so that implicitly sends the message that mature Christianity in the conservative evangelical world is older white. And you’ve got some African Americans who so idolize that – its what some people would call white idolization – that they then feel is if they’ve got to be the voice for black culture to speak against people like T.D. Jakes. So what happens is you kind of prop them up … My concern is: African Americans, a small minority, speaking against Jakes, and then leveraging that in the white theological world, for some of these older white theologians … to fit into their circles. We want to be in their circles. And so we’ll allow ourselves to be used as a puppet.”
Now stop and think about what Pastor Loritts has just said. Without personally knowing the character of all of the various African American critics of this debacle, Loritts feels free to dismiss them, in an ad hominem attack, as “puppets,” who are simply trying “to fit into [the white theological world].”
And where is James MacDonald when Loritts is voicing these patently unfair, unwise and dangerous derisions? He is once again opting to say absolutely nothing. He doesn’t put a stop to it. He doesn’t shake his head in disagreement. He doesn’t even ask a counter-question to force Loritts to consider the gravity of what he has just said. Instead, he allows for Loritts to use racially inflammatory rhetoric to condescendingly dismiss the African American critics of the Elephant Room 2 and then dares to conclude the session by offering these thoughts:
“One of my main take-aways is that if you discount relationship, you misunderstand a lot. If we hadn’t reached out to Bishop Jakes in relationship, we would have misunderstood his theology.”
So apparently, certain African American pastors and theologians were wrong to voice their concerns over T.D. Jakes because they lacked the necessary relationship with him to question his theology. But as for Bryan Loritts, he is perfectly justified in dismissing African American critics as sycophantic “puppets” without having personally reached out to each and every one of them.
The longer this goes on, the more troubling it becomes.
 The round table discussion was broken into two parts. The first part can be found at: http://jamesmacdonald.com/blog/?p=11232, while the second portion of the discussion can be found at: http://jamesmacdonald.com/blog/?p=11253.
There is a heated controversy brewing in the evangelical world – one that has the power to fundamentally alter the shape of one of the most influential churches in the Chicagoland area. The roots of the controversy stretch back to 2011 and the birth of an idea called The Elephant Room. Put simply, the premise behind this event was to gather various leaders both from within the church and from outside of it to discuss “the most Christ honoring ways of building a church.” The event was recorded, simulcast and eventually sold in the interest of reaching and influencing the widest possible array of Christian leaders around the globe. Read the rest of this entry »
Welcome back to our discussion on theosis and deification. If you haven’t been following the series thus far, I’d like to suggest that you scroll down to the end of the article and take a look at the links I have listed. For without the background of these articles, very little of what is said in the remainder of this series is going to make sense to you.
Now, as you know, the genesis of this series was a question posed by a friend of mine. He wanted to know if the Eastern Orthodox concept of theosis (“becoming one with God”) was related to Oswald Chambers’ “Christian Perfectionism.” So I began the series by unpacking 2 Peter 1:3-11, the most famous text upon which this presumably Eastern theology is built. Following that, I moved the discussion forward by exploring significant Catholic thinkers who have defended the theology as well.
So the question that lies before us today is this: is theosis (or deification) taught by significant Protestant and evangelical theologians? When I first started this series, my immediate, ill-considered impulse was to answer this question with a rather non-committal “probably not.” But the fact of the matter is, I could not have been more wrong. As it turns out, Western theologians, as far back as Augustine himself, have taught a version of theosis. Consider this list of Western theological giants: Anselm of Canterbury, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Charles Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, C.S. Lewis, and N.T. Wright. All of them, without exception, have wrestled with the concept of theosis, and all of them, without exception, have defended the idea that through our union with Christ – by being “in Christ” – we are in some way deified, and made into a “god.” Lewis himself says it most clearly (to our modern ears), when he writes in Mere Christianity:
“[God] said that we were “gods” and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him-for we can prevent Him if we choose—He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for.”
And so there you have it. Whether we are comfortable with it or not, there is no doubt that in the historical, orthodox teaching of the universal Church, theosis and deification have been taught. And for those of us in the Western, Protestant, evangelical tradition, this probably comes as something of a shock to our systems. What are we supposed to do with this? Is this idolatry? Wasn’t this the sin of humanity at the Tower of Babel? All of these are great questions, and as the series continues, I will unpack some of these ideas and more. But for now, I wish to leave you again with the words of C. S. Lewis. May you ponder them as you look upon the people that surround you in your everyday life.
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship. . .”
—C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
Recommended Reading in this Series on Theosis and Deificaiton:
 While it is true that Augustine lived and worked prior to the Great Schism that divided the East and the West in 1054 AD, he is generally thought of as a Western theologian, primarily because the Western Catholic Church and the Western Protestant Church has leaned upon him so heavily.
 N.R. Kerr, “St Anselm: Theoria and the Doctrinal Logic of Perfection,” in M.J. Christensen and Jeffrey A. Wittung, eds., Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Traditions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).
 In his writings, Luther used the term Vergottung, to express this idea. Moreover, he most explicitly defended this doctrine in his Commentary on Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, where he refers to the justified Christian as ein gottliche Creatur (“the divine creature”).
 J. Todd Billings, Calvin, Participation, and the Gift: The Activity of Believers in Union with Christ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008). It should be noted that amongst this list of theologians, Calvin’s doctrine of deification would be the weakest as he maintained the largest gap between a Holy God and a totally depraved humanity. Nevertheless, his writing in The Bondage and Liberation of the Will provides the clearest understanding of Calvin’s understanding of union with God though Christ.
 S. T. Kimbrough, “Theosis in the Writings of Charles Wesley,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 52 (2008), pp. 199-212.
 Richard B. Steele, “Transfiguring Light: The Moral Beauty of the Christian Life According to Gregory Palamas and Jonathan Edwards,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 52 (2008), pp. 403-449.
 Lewis touches on this theme in multiple works including (but not limited to): The Weight of Glory, A Grief Observed, and even his classic, Mere Christianity.
 See http://dunelm.wordpress.com/2009/01/31/nt-wright-and-theosis/. For an audio mp3 of the actual lecture, you can follow this link: http://media.intervarsity.org/mp3/N.T.Wright2-Glory.mp3
 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1976), 174-75.
 C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory” in The Weight of Glory (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1976), 45.
So are you starting to wonder where this discussion goes and what this means for evangelicals? Well let me tell you just a little bit about where we’re going. I’m not often one for giving my readers or my listening audience a road map, but in this case, it seems like you’ve earned it. Besides, when something goes on for this long, you kind of need to know that they journey has a destination.
Post 7: This post is going to lay out significant Protestant theologians and pastors that have subscribed to some version of theosis or deification. This is probably going to be the post that blows a fuse in your mind, because you’re going to wonder: “Why haven’t I heard about this?”
Post 8: This is likely going to be the hardest post for you to grasp. It will be the most technical, and yet, I would argue that it will be one of the most important in the series. Because if you get theosis or deification wrong, you end up in some really bad places.
Post 9: This is the big “so what?” post. If you’re wondering what all of this means and how it might actually change how you live your life, this is the post for you.
Post 10: The post will close out the series by asking one really significant question that will challenge you to re-think the need for theology.
So that’s it, friends. Four more posts to go after this one. Hope you’re enjoying the series; and I hope you find yourself thinking about God, creation, salvation and a host of other topics in ways that are simultaneously surprising and enriching at the same time.
As for those of you who are just now tuning in, here’s a few critical posts that will help you catch up with the conversation: