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Reviewed by:
  • Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Traditions
  • Andrei Antokhin
Michael J. Christensen and Jeffrey Wittung,, eds. Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Traditions. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008 Pp. 336. $29.99.

This volume collects articles by scholars from diverse academic and cultural backgrounds to pursue a variety of objectives that revolve around the notion of deification (theosis) or participation in God's nature. The volume is organized in historical and thematic fashions: Part 1 is dedicated to the context of theosis in Christianity, Part 2 to theosis in classical and Late Antiquity, Part 3 to theosis in patristic thought, Part 4 to theosis in medieval and Reformation thought, and Part 5 to theosis in modern thought.

It is customary to expect that a work of this scope would cover much conceptual ground and indeed it does. In Part 1, the articles by John Lenz, Stephen Finlan, and James Starr address the problem of the validity and legitimacy of situating the predecessors of theosis in the Hellenistic idea of apotheosis (Lenz), in Paul's writings (Finlan), and in 2 Peter (Starr). (Finding whether or not theosis can be grounded in the Bible is an especially intriguing effort because of Orthodox Christianity's insistence on approaching its spirituality as an extension of scriptural ideas.) A series of articles introduces readers to the general theoretical contours of theosis (Andrew Louth) and how these contours have been developed, maintained, diversified, and defended by Cappadocians (J. A. McGuckin), Athanasius (Vladimir Kharlamov), Maximus the Confessor (Elena Vishnevskaya), Ephrem the Syrian (Thomas Buchan), the Copto-Arabic tradition (Stephen J. Davis), Neo-Palamism [End Page 488] (Jeffrey D. Finch), and Sergius Bulkakov (Boris Jakim). Jakim's article on the Bulgakov's interpretation of theosis as divine-humanity is especially welcome as an encouraging sign of a renewed interest in Russian Christianity.

The book also presents theosis as a possible ecumenical tool through which different Christian denominations can relate to each other. Articles by Nathan R. Kerr on Anselm, Jonathan Linman on Luther, J. Todd Billings on Calvin, Michael Christensen on Wesley, and Francis J. Caponi on Rahner attempt to demonstrate that the theologians of other Christian traditions, besides the Orthodox ones, developed something similar (sometimes very similar and sometimes only partially similar) to the idea of theosis. This effort, however, yields mixed results. For example, Billings insists that although Calvin advocates in many writings union between Christ and the believer his position differs substantially from the late Byzantine notion of theosis, on the grounds that the reformer nowhere insists that this union amounts to a complete ontological assimilation of humanity to God. What then warrants inclusion of the article on Calvin in the volume that claims to deal with the history and development of theosis? The volume itself questions the methodological validity of bringing together different understandings of the nature of Christian salvation. Gosta Hallonsten's "Theosis in Recent Research: A Renewal of Interest and a Need for Clarity" argues that the similarities between theosis and the other Christian traditions' views of salvation might not be sufficient to equate the former with the latter. Hallonsten insists that identifying theosis as the central soteriological principle also necessarily involves identifying with the specific Orthodox understanding of the principle of divine economy of salvation, to which not all Christian denominations subscribe.

Jeffery A. Wittung's "Resources on Theosis with Select Primary Sources in Translation" gives the readers valuable opportunities not only to pursue further study of the questions raised in the volume but also to expand its research into the areas that have not been considered by it. There is, for example, no article in Partakers of the Divine Nature on Augustine and his attitude towards the concept of theosis but there is mention of a few sources in Wittung's compilation that can help those interested in this question to investigate it. Nonetheless I wish that the editors of the project were to consider the publication of another anthology of papers that would comprise a new set of past and present methodological, ecumenical, and theological discussions tackling the issue of...


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