By nature, top ten lists are as personal as they are peculiar. One man’s “great read” is another man’s doorstop, and vice versa. Nevertheless, these often idiosyncratic lists are fun to compile. For in the assembling of the list, one has the chance to review much of what has shaped his or her thinking over the course of the past year; and in doing so, the chance to possibly shape the thinking of another. So here, once again, I offer you the very best of the books that I have read over the course of the past year. What about you? Have you read any great books this year? Anything that you think others should read? If so, feel free to comment below. Read the rest of this entry »
Tag Archives: N.T. Wright
Earlier this morning, as I perused the usual websites I tend to haunt over my morning cup of coffee, I encountered a news item entitled: “Pastor Ed Young, Wife to Stream Time in Bed on the Internet.” Needless to say, I did a double take.
Apparently, Ed Young, who is the Founding and Senior Pastor of the multi-site Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas, has a new book to sell. This book, which he co-authored with his wife, is called Sexperiment; and it encourages married couples to commit to having sexual relations every day for seven straight days. Now please understand, I am not questioning a pastor’s decision to teach on the subject of human sexuality. Far from it. What I am questioning here today is the seemingly boundless lengths to which we are willing to go to market Christianity to a Modern, presumably disinterested, culture.
Back in 2008, Paul and Susie Wirth released a book entitled, 30-Day Sex Challenge. It was marketed with the tagline:
“Every man’s fantasy: 30 days of sex! Every woman’s dream: 30 days of intimacy!”
Now I want you to stop and look at that for a moment; and I want you to ask yourself: what is being “sold” and who’s “selling” it? While I don’t know the sales figures for the book, its basic premise caught fire, as it was used as the inspiration for many “challenges” delivered in numerous churches across the nation.
But as we all know, news cycles move on, and Modernity is always anxious to discard the “old” in favor of the “new.” And so now, just three years later, capitalism once again rears its ugly head within the church, and two new books are released. The first book, Young’s Sexperiment, promises to do in seven days, what the “old” book could only do in 30. And as for Mark Driscoll’s book, Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship and Life Together, it promises to tell you all sorts of explicit things, the likes and details of which I will leave for you to investigate.
Here’s the problem. Not only are we, as Christians, caught in the lie that the “new” must be better than the “old,” we’re also caught up in constantly struggling to find new and “innovative” ways to market our materials. If N.T. Wright goes on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report, than Driscoll has to show up on Dr. Drew’s Loveline. And if Rob Bell previews his book, Love Wins, with a catchy video, than Ed Young has to one-up him and stage a “Sexperiment Bed In.” You read that right. In an effort to generate some serious sales volume, Ed Young and his wife, are camped out for 24 hours on a bed on the roof of their church. And you are invited to witness this live event through this link.
The question are numerous. Where will this all end? Is it even possible for this to end? Or are we all caught up upon a wave – a wave that leaves us flailing about as we wait to be dashed upon the rocky shoreline? I guess only time will tell.
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.
Now, for those of you who don’t know the “Good Bishop,” I realize that this may not mean much of anything to you. But I would argue that 100 years from now, N.T. Wright will be viewed in the same way that we now view St. Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Johnathan Edwards, etc… In other words, when history finally renders its judgement of Wright’s work, I believe that he will take his rightful place with the giants of the faith.
And that brings me to my point. Earlier this week, I found myself pondering why I was so giddy. Clearly, I wasn’t going to get the opportunity to meet the man (although I secretly hope that it might still happen!). So why was I so jazzed? Did I honestly expect to learn something “new” in the 45 minutes he has to teach?
It was Thursday afternoon when the answer hit me. It’s not Wright that has me so excited. What has me so pumped this week is the simple fact that I attend a church that would actually invite Wright to speak. I attend a church that wants to challenge it’s people with a world class scholar. I attend a church that understands the nature of the Great Christian Tradition. I attend Willowcreek Community Church. And for the first time in a long while … I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the ministry of my home church.
First, a brief note on translations. As some of you know, I am doing my reading from N.T. Wright’s recently released translation of the New Testament. Now Wright is clear that no translation should be considered the definitive translation, and he goes as far as to say:
“… [even if you know Greek itself, but especially if don't] you should always have two English translations open in front of you. No one translation – certainly not this one – will be able to give you everything that was there in the Greek …”
The reason I point this out is that his phrasing in certain well-known passages is actually causing me to slow down and really think issues through. And for that, I am exceptionally grateful for his work as well as for his wise counsel regarding the utilization of a multiplicity of translations.
This brings me to my first real observation on the text itself. Look at how Wright translates Acts 2:42: “They all gave full attention to the teaching of the apostles and to the common life, to the breaking of bread, and the prayers.” Something about the way he opens this particular verse really spoke to me. It starts by saying: “They all gave full attention.” But “full attention” to what?
- “The teachings of the apostles.”
- “The common life”
- “The breaking of bread”
- “The prayers”
As I look at that list and consider the words “full attention”, I realize that I probably give the most attention to the teachings of the apostles, slightly less attention to the common life, still less attention to the breaking of bread, and a shocking lack of attention to prayer itself … Once again, I am struck by the same impression I had when I read through Matthew. My “discipleship” bears little resemblance to the discipleship prescribed by Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels and again in the book of Acts. What about you friends? Do these things get your “full attention?” Or do you give them cursory nods on Sunday and a few other occasions during the week?
My second observation actually comes out of my teachings at the Classical Consortium. This year, in Classical Rhetoric II, we took at look at various sermons preached in the book of Acts. And then we analyzed the common features of these sermons and compared them to our presentations of the Gospel today. Quite often, in today’s culture, we tend to present the Gospel as something that can be brought alongside culture. In other words, we present it in a way that causes the reader to believe that they can have “eternal life” and the idyllic, American life complete with a house, two cars, a dog and a white picket fence. If drawn out, it looks something like this:
But when we look at the bulk of the New Testament material, it becomes clear that this sort of “synthesis” between the Story of the Gospel and the story of the culture just is not possible. Because the Story of the Gospel is in direct opposition to the story of the dominant culture. If we were to draw it out, it would something like this:
“Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit. “Rulers of the people and elders,” he said, “if the question we’re being asked today is about a good deed done for a sick man, and whose power it was that rescued him, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man stands before you fit and well because of the name of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead. He is the stone which you builders rejected, but which has become the head cornerstone. Rescue won’t come from anybody else! These is no other name given under heaven and among humans by which we must be rescued.”
Here, in these five simple verses, you see Peter pulling out all the stops. First, he assails the Jewish leaders and charges them with crucifying Jesus and rejecting the “cornerstone.” But Peter’s work was not done. In his very next breath, he takes on the Romans who had adopted an early pronouncement by Augustus Caesar in 17 BC that “Salvation is to be found in none other save Augustus, and there is no other name given to men in which they can be saved.” So here, Peter presents the Gospel, and in doing so, he takes shots at the two leading cultures that dominated the world of his day.
So as I finished my reading of Acts, I found myself wondering: What would a radical encounter between the Gospel and the dominant culture of today look like? What “sacred cows” would have to be slaughtered in the lives of many Christians? And what would it cost us to engage in that kind of work?