Becoming Like God: An Evangelical Doctrine Of Theosis -- By: Robert V. Rakestraw

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 40:2 (Jun 1997)
Article: Becoming Like God: An Evangelical Doctrine Of Theosis
Author: Robert V. Rakestraw

Becoming Like God:
An Evangelical Doctrine Of Theosis

Robert V. Rakestraw*

In one of his letters Athanasius, the fourth-century defender of the faith, made his famous statement that the Son of God became man “that he might deify us in himself.” 1 Elsewhere he wrote similarly that Christ “was made man that we might be made God.” 2 This is the doctrine of theosis, also known as deification, divinization or, as some prefer, participation in God. 3

While the concept of theosis has roots in the ante-Nicene period, it is not an antiquated historical curiosity. The idea of divinization, of redeemed human nature somehow participating in the very life of God, is found to a surprising extent throughout Christian history, although it is practically unknown to the majority of Christians (and even many theologians) in the west. In Orthodox theology, however, it is the controlling doctrine. Furthermore “it is not too much to say that the divinization of humanity is the central theme, chief aim, basic purpose, or primary religious ideal of Orthodoxy.” 4 With the growing interest in Eastern Orthodox/evangelical rapprochement it is essential that theosis studies be pursued. Evangelicals may receive considerable benefit from a clear understanding and judicious appropriation of the doctrine. This is so particularly in light of the crying need for a robust, Biblical theology of the Christian life that will refute and replace the plethora of false spiritualities plaguing Church and society.

Daniel Clendenin has introduced our topic in a very helpful article in this Journal 5 and in his book on Eastern Orthodox Christianity. 6 In my supplement to his work I will draw upon different materials, both primary and secondary. After presenting some of the key ideas and proponents of divinization theology I will offer an introductory critique of the concept.

* Robert Rakestraw is professor of theology at Bethel Theological Seminary, 3949 Bethel Drive, St. Paul, MN 55112.

I. Biblical Themes

Two verses, more than any others, provide the basis for theosis theology: Gen 1:26 and 2 Pet 1:4. The Genesis text speaks of men and women as created in the image and likeness of God. The Greek fathers taught that, in the fall, humanity lost the likeness but retained the image...

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