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Jonathan Edwards's Reformed Doctrine of Theosis *

  • Kyle Strobel (a1)


Amid a scholarly rediscovery of Protestant forms of theosis, questions of whether Jonathan Edwards developed a theotic account of redemption have received increased attention. Ironically, however, interest in Edwards's doctrine of theosis has emphasized the philosophical rather than the theological bases in ways that seem to set him outside the boundaries of Reformed orthodoxy. Yet if we shift our attention away from the neo-Platonic explanations of Edwardsian theosis and place it instead where Edwards himself focused—on the communicable nature of the triune God within the economy—we see that his notions of theosis rest on firmly Protestant foundations and result in recognizably Reformed conclusions. But to say that attention to Edwards's trinitarian and incarnational theology reveals an orthodox form of theosis is not to say that his theotic soteriology lacked distinctive and even innovative elements. Unlike other theologians whose accounts of theosis bifurcated God's communicable nature from the creatures’ relational participation among the divine persons, Edwards's theology made room for and insisted on both.



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Oliver Crisp, Myk Habets, Ken Minkema, Kent Eilers, Jim Salladin, Donald Fairbairn, Carl Mosser, and Ty Kieser all provided helpful feedback for this article. It is significantly sharper because of their input.



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1 See McClymond, Michael, “Salvation as Divinization: Jonathan Edwards, Gregory Palamas and the Theological Uses of Neoplatonism,” in Jonathan Edwards: Philosophical Theologian (ed. Crisp, Oliver and Helm, Paul; Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2004) 142–55; Crisp, Oliver, Jonathan Edwards on God and Creation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012) 275–85; and Strobel, Kyle, “Jonathan Edwards and the Polemics of Theosis ,” HTR 105 (2012) 259–79.

2 I appreciate the direction from the reviewer on the first portion of the essay specifically.

3 See Finlan, Stephen and Kharlamov, Vladimir, “Introduction,” in Theosis: Deification in Christian Theology (ed. Finlan, Stephen and Kharlamov, Vladimir; Cambridge, UK: James Clarke, 2006) 112 . Carl Mosser is a noteworthy detractor to this view, suggesting, for the sake of clarity, that he prefers “to reserve this term [theosis] for reference to the Byzantine development of the patristic deification tradition and its contemporary exposition by Eastern Orthodox theologians” (“The Earliest Patristic Interpretations of Psalm 82, Jewish Antecedents, and the Origin of Christian Deification,” JTS 56 [2005] 30–74, at 31 n. 3). While it is possible that, in the future, a move like this could bring clarity, it would not currently since the literature assumes that these are synonyms.

4 Myk Habets, discussing one recent edited volume on theosis, notes that it “examines doctrines of theosis within such figures as the Cappadocians, Athanasius, Maximus the Confessor, and Ephrem the Syrian, to name but a few, and in each instance what is highlighted is the idiosyncratic doctrine of theosis each thinker has in contradistinction to other thinkers—and even, on occasion, the different doctrines of theosis within the same author, as for instance in Athanasius and Gregory of Nazianzus!” (“Theosis, Yes; Deification, No,” in The Spirit of Truth: Reading Scripture and Constructing Theology with the Holy Spirit [ed. Myk Habets; Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2010] 124–49, at 128 [italics in original]). Vladimir Kharlamov substantiates this point when he states, “As it has been already pointed out by Russell, even in modern Orthodox theology, theosis is far from being an univocally settled issue” (“Introduction,” in Theosis: Deification in Christian Theology [ed. Vladimir Kharlamov; Princeton Theological Monograph Series 2; Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2011] 1–20, at 7–8).

5 Similarly, Mosser states, “Succinctly, theōsis is for believers to become by grace what the Son of God is by nature and to receive the blessings that are his by rights as undeserved gifts. Most boldly, theōsis is described as a transforming union of the believer with God and Christ usually, if inadequately, translated as ‘divinization’ or ‘deification’” (“The Greatest Possible Blessing: Calvin and Deification,” SJT 55 [2002] 36–57, at 36). Furthermore, Norman Russell provides a broad sketch of the three ways the early Fathers used deification language: nominally, analogically, or metaphorically. The first two do not concern us here, but the metaphorical use, as Russell outlines it, is characteristic of two approaches—the ethical and the realistic. “The ethical approach takes deification to be the attainment of likeness to God through ascetic and philosophical endeavour, believers reproducing some of the divine attributes in their own lives by imitation.” “The realistic approach assumes that human beings are in some sense transformed by deification. Behind the latter use lies the model of methexis, or participation, in God” (The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004] 2, 9). Particularly relevant to our study is how fluid the technical vocabulary and imagery has been in the tradition. See also Mosser, Carl, “An Exotic Flower? Calvin and the Patristic Doctrine of Deification,” in Reformation Faith: Exegesis and Theology in the Protestant Reformation (ed. Parsons, Michael; Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2014), 3856 , at 48.

6 It is not unusual for scholars to assume that theosis is simply a view concerning the doctrines of justification or sanctification specifically. For instance, Seng-Kong Tan argues that Edwards's doctrine of sanctification is not identical to Eastern Orthodox accounts of theosis. See Tan, Seng-Kong, Fullness Received and Returned: Trinity and Participation in Jonathan Edwards (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2014) 343 . Furthermore, along similar lines, the book Justification: Five Views, lists theosis as a view of justification. See Justification: Five Views (ed. James K. Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy; Spectrum Multiview Books; Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011) 219–264.

7 Williams, Rowan, “Deification,” in The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality (ed. Wakefield, Gordon S.; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1983) 106–8, at 106.

8 Russell makes a similar statement to Williams's when he states, “In summary, until the end of the fourth century, the metaphor of deification develops along two distinct lines: on the one hand, the transformation of humanity in principle as a consequence of the Incarnation; on the other, the ascent of the soul through the practice of virtue” (The Doctrine of Deification, 14). Whereas Russell's focus is a bit different than Williams's, they affirm the same inclination. Russell emphasizes the doctrinal location of the transformation itself, whereas Williams addresses how participation is understood.

9 Most relevant here would be McClymond, “Salvation as Divinization,” 142–55.

10 Ibid., 144–50.

11 McClymond provides a helpful summary of the resemblances between Edwards and Palamas on theosis: “(1) a divine light that conforms human beings to God's character, together with optical language to describe spiritual experience; (2) an immediacy of contact and connection between God and humanity in the state of grace; (3) a concern to define the relationship between spiritual experience and the divine ‘essence’; (4) a notion of unceasing spiritual development both in this life and the next; (5) an emphasis on the role of the body, and bodily affections, within the spiritual life; and (6) a teaching on divinization per se, that is, a human participation in the life of God” (“Salvation as Divinization,” 145).

12 Instead of focusing on the grammar of theosis, our goal here is to unveil how theosis forms Edwards's broad systematic construction of redemption. Importantly, Edwards does not use the terms theosis, divinization or deification, and it is unclear if he knew of this terminology. Nonetheless, as argued here, he clearly employs a doctrine of theosis. McClymond is certainly right when he states, “Edwards employed a rich vocabulary of terms and phrases such as ‘communication,’ ‘emanation,’ ‘participation,’ ‘partaking’ and ‘uniting’ to describe the divine-human communion from either God's side or the creature's. Edwards referred to creatures as ‘of,’ ‘in’ and ‘to’ God, believers as ‘swallowed up’ in God, the Church as the ‘fullness’ or ‘completeness’ of Christ, and the world as God ‘himself diffused’ or the ‘remanation’ that reflects back God's ‘emanation’ in creating” (“Salvation as Divinization,” 153). Importantly, technical vocabulary tells us very little about a theologian's use of theosis. Carl Mosser notes, “Nearly all scholars who write on the subject [of deification] identity Irenaeus as the first Christian to formulate a doctrine of deification. But Irenaeus nowhere uses technical terminology” (“An Exotic Flower?,” 48). The appendices in Normal Russell's volume are important here (see Russell, The Doctrine of Deification, 321–44).

13 McClymond, “Salvation as Divinization,” 139–40.

14 This is a key component to McClymond's essay. Ibid., 139–40, 153–55.

15 Ibid., 154.

16 Ibid., 155.

17 In light of space restrictions, the broad claims developed here build upon my detailed exposition in Jonathan Edwards's Theology: A Reinterpretation (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013) 23–71. The argument advanced there, in short, is that Edwards's doctrine of the Trinity has been misconstrued, and Edwards changed his doctrine of the Trinity as he wrote his infamous “Discourse on the Trinity.” What follows is a reading of Edwards based on this analysis.

18 Edwards, Jonathan, “Discourse on the Trinity,” in Writings on the Trinity, Grace, and Faith (ed. Lee, Sang Hyun; vol. 21 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003) 109–44, at 133.

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid.

21 This point is controversial. See my Jonathan Edwards's Theology, 23–72, for a more developed account. Furthermore, and more poignantly, see my appendix addressing the debate between Oliver Crisp and Stephen Holmes concerning the divine persons and essence (Ibid., 234–242). There, I argue for a via media between Crisp and Holmes, where the divine essence is maintained, contra Holmes, and where personhood is read through perichoresis, contra Crisp. For the key primary literature, see Crisp, Oliver, “Jonathan Edwards's God: Trinity, Individuation, and Divine Simplicity,” in Engaging the Doctrine of God: Contemporary Protestant Perspectives (ed. McCormack, Bruce; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008) 83103 ; and Holmes, Stephen, God of Grace and God of Glory: An Account of the Theology of Jonathan Edwards (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001) 6971 . For Oliver Crisp's revised account, see Crisp, Oliver, “Jonathan Edwards on the Trinity,” Jonathan Edwards Studies 4 (2014) 2141, esp. 32–39.

22 Edwards, “Discourse on the Trinity,” 134.

23 This point is often missed, but is intricately related to Edwards's development of the divine essence and the polemical background to Edwards's doctrine of the Trinity. The reason this point is often missed is that most interpreters fail to recognize that Edwards changes his view of the Trinity on this point specifically. See my Jonathan Edwards's Theology, 40–51.

24 See Edwards, “Discourse on the Trinity,” 124.

25 John 14:9 NASB.

26 Holmes, God of Grace and God of Glory, 71. For Edwards's comments on this, see Edwards, “Discourse on the Trinity,” 120.

27 For the polemical issues behind Edwards's doctrine of theosis and the specific way he navigates radical accounts of the doctrine, see my “Jonathan Edwards and the Polemics of Theosis.”

28 Edwards, Jonathan, “Unpublished Letter on Assurance and Participation in the Divine Nature,” in Ethical Writings (ed. Ramsey, Paul; vol. 8 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989) 639 [italics added].

29 See Edwards, “Discourse on the Trinity,” 122. Often, Edwards's metaphysical language refers to “character” rather than making metaphysical claims. See my Jonathan Edwards's Theology, 198–202, for a description of the term “principle” along these same lines.

30 Edwards uses the image of the sun giving its light and heat to illustrate God giving himself in Son and Spirit. He states, “Light and heat may in a special manner be said to be the proper nature of the sun; and yet none will say that everything to which the sun communicates a little of its light and heat has therefore communicated to it the essence of the sun, and is sunned with the sun, or becomes the same being with the sun, or becomes equal to that immense fountain of light and heat. A diamond or crystal that is held forth in the sun's beams may properly be said to have some of the sun's brightness communicated to it; for though it hasn't the same individual brightness with that which is inherent in the sun, and be immensely less in degree, yet it is something of the same nature” (“Unpublished Letter on Assurance and Participation in the Divine Nature,” 640).

31 Roger Olson argues that constructive accounts of deification (or theosis) must necessarily utilize the essence/energies distinction. Olson, Roger, “Deification in Contemporary Theology,” Theology Today 64 (2007) 186200 , especially 199–200. This seems overstated. Rather, one must outline an account that allows for participation with God that does not somehow blur the Creator/creature distinction. The Palamite essence/energies distinction is one way to do that, but by no means the only way to do so. Edwards scholars have noted the interesting overlap of Edwards with Palamas (and other Eastern Orthodox figures, both ancient and modern). Most importantly, see McClymond, “Salvation as Divinization,” 139–60; and McClymond, Michael J. and McDermott, Gerald R., The Theology of Jonathan Edwards (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012) 416–19. McClymond is right to point out the overlap between Edwards and Palamas on this point, and there seems to be no doubt that Edwards's use of the phrase “divine light” (among other terms) is doing the same work, so to speak, that Palamas is doing with the divine energies. That said, it is not unimportant that Edwards refuses to allow for a participation in the divine nature outside of the economic activity of the divine persons. This seems essential to a distinctively Protestant account of theosis. See McClymond, “Salvation as Divinization,” 146–47.

32 Edwards's analysis allows for a participation in the nature of God, following 2 Pet 1:4. By doing so, he removes the need to create another aspect of God's life that is communicable (i.e., the divine energies) and can utilize the biblical material more fruitfully. Palamas's distinction protects against a participation in the divine essence, but does so by positing an extra-biblical distinction that Edwards would have found unnecessary.

33 The standard example is Athanasius, De Incarnatione, 54.

34 There seems to be a growing consensus (broadly speaking) on Edwards's doctrine of the incarnation (and maybe more specifically, the nature of his Spirit-Christology). For the most helpful analyses, see Caldwell, Robert W., Communion in the Spirit: The Holy Spirit as the Bond of Union in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards (Studies in Evangelical History and Thought; Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2006) 7497 ; Jenson, Robert W., “Christology” in The Princeton Companion to Jonathan Edwards (ed. Lee, Sang Hyun; Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005) 7286 ; McClymond and McDermott, Theology of Jonathan Edwards, 244–61; Tan, Seng-Kong, “Trinitarian Action in the Incarnation” in Jonathan Edwards as Contemporary (ed. Schweitzer, Don; New York: Peter Lang, 2010) 127–50; and Withrow, Brandon G., Becoming Divine: Jonathan Edwards's Incarnational Spirituality within the Christian Tradition (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011) 126–35.

35 Edwards, Jonathan, The Blessing of God: Previously Unpublished Sermons of Jonathan Edwards (ed. McMullen, Michael D.; Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2003) 177 . Furthermore, Edwards states, “For there is doubtless an infinite intimacy between the Father and the Son. . . And saints being in him, shall, in their measure and manner, partake with him in it, and the blessedness of it” (“The Excellency of Christ,” in Sermons and Discourses, 1734–1738 [ed. M. X. Lesser; vol. 19 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001] 560–94, at 593).

36 Edwards, “The Excellency of Christ,” 593.

37 One of the potential links between Edwards's Christology and Patristic Christology is Didymus of Alexandria as interpreted by John Owen. This is an interesting link between Edwards and Patristic material that may help to account for his robust doctrine of theosis. See Withrow, Becoming Divine, 126–34. Crisp, Oliver has a helpful overview and critical appropriation of Owen's Spirit-Christology in his Revisioning Christology: Theology in the Reformed Tradition (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Publishing, 2011) 168–98.

38 Edwards, Jonathan, “ Miscellanies 487,” in The “Miscellanies”: A–500 (ed. Schafer, Thomas A.; vol. 13 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994) 528–31, at 529.

39 Ibid.

40 It is beyond the scope of this article to address the many questions which concern this view. Seng-Kong Tan has addressed these in detail in his “Trinitarian Action in the Incarnation,” 127–39.

41 Edwards, “Miscellanies 487,” 530.

42 Ibid., 531.

43 Ibid., 532.

44 Ibid. [italics added].

45 Ibid., 528.

46 Caldwell, Communion in the Spirit, 87.

47 Edwards, The Blessing of God, 322–23. See also Edwards, Jonathan, “ Miscellanies 772,” in The “Miscellanies”: Entry Nos. 501–832 (ed. Chamberlain, Ava; vol. 18 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000) 422 .

48 Ibid.

49 Jonathan Edwards, Romans 2:10 (Unpublished Sermon), Jonathan Edwards Center Transcriptions #373 [L.44v] [italics added]; hereafter Romans 2:10 with leaf number.

50 Ibid., [L.44v-L.45r].

51 Edwards, Jonathan, “Striving After Perfection,” in Sermons and Discourses, 1734-1738 (ed. Lesser, M. X.; vol. 19 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001) 683703 , at 692.

52 “The soul shall not be an inactive spectator but shall be most active, shall be in the most ardent exercise of love towards the object seen. The soul shall be, as it were, all eye to behold, and yet all act to love.” Edwards, Romans 2:10 [L.45v].

53 Pseudo-Dionysius’ declaration that “divinization consists of being as much as possible like and in union with God” is a helpful parallel here. Pseudo-Dionysius, The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy in Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works (trans. Paul Rorem; Classics of Western Spirituality; New York: Paulist Press, 1987) 193–260, at 198.

54 Edwards, Jonathan, “True Saints, When Absent from the Body, Are Present with the Lord,” in Sermons and Discourses, 1743–1758 (ed. Kimnach, Wilson H.; vol. 25 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006) 222–56, at 233.

55 Edwards, Jonathan, “Honey from the Rock,” in Sermons and Discourses, 1730–1733 (ed. Valeri, Mark; vol. 17 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999) 123–38, at 136.

56 Edwards, Jonathan, Religious Affections (ed. Smith, John E.; vol. 2 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959) 91462 , at 343.

57 Edwards, Jonathan, Charity and Its Fruits (ed. Ramsey, Paul; vol. 8 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989) 129397 , at 374–75.

58 Edwards, Jonathan, “Serving God in Heaven,” in Sermons and Discourses, 1730-1733 (ed. Valeri, Mark; vol. 17 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999) 253–61, at 259 [italics added].

59 Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits, 386.

60 Edwards, “Miscellanies 681,” 241 [italics added].

61 Ibid., 241–42.

62 Ibid., 241.

63 Gannon Murphy's exposition of a Reformed doctrine of theosis is helpful in this regard: “Thus, my understanding of the doctrine acknowledges that God's elect do literally share or become ‘partakers’ in the divine, but their creaturely status and individual personality are not distorted or erased. On the contrary, the theotic aspect of Christus in nobis and unio mystica does not entail the erasure of the human person but the actualization of it. Our entire person—mind, body, soul—is designed to be in communion with the Trinity, to be totally embraced by God and enveloped by the glory of the Lord.” Murphy, Gannon, “Reformed Theosis?ThTo 65 (2008) 191212 , at 200 [italics in original].

64 I am following the broad argument laid out in Jonathan Edwards and Justification (ed. Josh Moody; Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), and more specifically my chapter, “By Word and Spirit: Jonathan Edwards on Redemption, Justification, and Regeneration,” 45–69. This view is, furthermore, in broad agreement with John Bombaro and Jeffrey Waddington. See Bombaro, John J., “Jonathan Edwards's Vision of Salvation,” Westminster Theological Journal 65 (2003) 4567 ; and Waddington, Jeffrey C., “Jonathan Edwards's ‘Ambiguous and Somewhat Precarious’ Doctrine of Justification,” Westminster Theological Journal 66 (2004) 357372 . For an alternative view, see McDermott, Gerald, “Jonathan Edwards on Justification by Faith–More Protestant or Catholic?Pro Ecclesia 27 (2008) 92111 .

65 When Russell articulates the emphasis on participation in the tradition, he narrates what partaking in holiness entailed: “To say that the holy person ‘participates’ in holiness conveys a relationship which is (a) substantial, not just a matter of appearance, and (b) asymmetrical, not a relationship between equals.” Russell, The Doctrine of Deification, 2. This is exactly what we see in Edwards.

66 “The Holy Spirit is the great purchase of Christ. God the Father is the person of whom the purchase is made; God the Son is the person who makes the purchase, and the Holy Spirit is the gift purchased.” Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits, 353.

67 Edwards states, “And thus the Father sanctified him when he sent him into the world, and sanctified him in sending him into the world; incarnated him by sanctification.” Jonathan Edwards, “Miscellanies 709,” in The “Miscellanies”: Entry Nos. 501-832, 333-35, at 334 [italics added].

68 Edwards, Jonathan, Original Sin (ed. Holbrook, Clyde A.; vol. 3 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970) 363 .

69 “God's Spirit, or his love, doth but as it were come and dwell in our hearts and act there as a vital principle, and we become the living temples of the Holy Ghost; and when men are regenerated and sanctified, God pours forth of his Spirit upon them, and they have fellowship or, which is the same thing, are made partakers with the Father and Son of their good, i.e. of their love, joy and beauty.” Edwards, “Discourse on the Trinity,” 124.

70 See my “By Word and Spirit,” 54–59.

71 Edwards, Jonathan, “Justification by Faith Alone,” in Sermons and Discourses, 1734–1738 (ed. Lesser, M. X.; vol. 19 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001) 147242 , at 188.

72 Edwards, “Justification by Faith Alone,” 158.

73 See my “By Word and Spirit,” 45–69.

74 Edwards, “Justification by Faith Alone,” 150.

75 Ibid., 151 [italics added]. In Edwards's words, “therefore saving, justifying faith in Christ, don't consist merely in the assent of the understanding, nor only in the consent of the will; but ’tis harmonizing of the whole soul with Jesus Christ, as he is revealed and held forth in the gospel. . . . Faith is no other than that harmony in the soul towards Christ that has been spoken of in its most direct act. And it may be defined [as] the soul's entirely uniting and closing with Christ for his Savior, acquiescing in his reality and goodness as a Savior, as the gospel reveals him. And hence it is that by faith that we are justified, not as commending us to God by its excellency as a qualification in us, but as uniting us to Christ” (“The Sweet Harmony of Christ,” in Sermons and Discourses, 1734–1738 [ed. M. X. Lesser; vol. 19 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001] 437–50, at 448). It is at this point that McClymond argues that Edwards's theology shares an affinity with Catholic and Eastern Orthodox accounts, claiming, “The stress on actual union rather than legal imputation, the relative de-emphasis on faith per se, and the presentation of love and obedience as intrinsic to faith, establish an affinity between Edwards's teaching on justification and what is generally found in Roman Catholic and Orthodox theologies” (“Salvation and Divinization,” 140). This claim is no longer taken for granted. Edwards's account of justification, while unique, is well within the bounds of what one would find in Reformed High Orthodox accounts of justification. See Jonathan Edwards and Justification (ed. Moody), and more specifically my chapter, “By Word and Spirit,” 45–69.

76 Edwards, “Discourse on the Trinity,” 130.

77 For more on infusion and a physical act of the Spirit in regeneration, see Edwards, Jonathan, “Born Again,” in Sermons and Discourses, 1730-1733 (ed. Valeri, Mark R.; vol. 17 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999) 186–95, at 187; Edwards, “Treatise on Grace,” 165; and Edwards, “Efficacious Grace, Book I,” 202, 207-208. In utilizing this language Edwards is simply following the standard terminology in the “High Orthodox” period of Reformed theology. See van Mastricht, Peter, A Treatise on Regeneration (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 2002) 17 ; and Turretin, Francis, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (ed. Dennison, James T., trans. Giger, George Musgrave; 3 vols.; Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1992) 2: 524 .

78 Edwards, Jonathan, “A Divine and Supernatural Light,” in Sermons and Discourses, 1730–1733 (ed. Valeri, Mark R.; vol. 17 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999) 408–26, at 411.

79 Ibid.

80 Edwards, Religious Affections, 203. For more on the language of this passage, particularly Edwards's concern that believers are not “Godded with God” nor “Christed with Christ,” see my, “Jonathan Edwards and the Polemics of Theosis,” 259–79.

81 Pastorally, Edwards often called his people to live in such a way as to anticipate God's gift of infusion: “Practicing according to the light we have, has a natural tendency to prepare the mind for the infusion of spiritual knowledge.” Edwards, “A Spiritual Understanding,” 94. Or, in terms of the means of grace, “The means of grace, such as the Word and sacraments, supply the mind with notions, or speculative ideas, of the things of religion, and thus give an opportunity for grace to act in the soul; for hereby the soul is supplied with matter for grace to act upon, when God shall be pleased to infuse it.” Edwards, “Miscellanies 539,” 85 [italics added].

82 See my, “Jonathan Edwards's Reformed Doctrine of the Beatific Vision,” in Jonathan Edwards and Scotland (ed. Ken Minkema, Adriaan Neale and Kelly van Andel; Edinburgh: Dunedin Academic Press, 2011) 237–65.

83 Panayiotis Nellas, summarizing the teaching of the Fathers, states, “Having been made in the image of God, man has a theological structure. And to be a true man he must at every moment exist and live theocentrically. When he denies God he denies himself and destroys himself. When he lives theocentrically he realizes himself by reaching out into infinity; he attains his true fulfilment by extending into eternity” ( Nellas, Panayiotis, Deification in Christ: Orthodox Perspectives on the Nature of the Human Person (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1987) 42 .

84 It is noteworthy that this move is possible because Edwards reworks the divine attributes in a trinitarian (and personal) manner, linking the attributes to the Son and Spirit. For further discussion of this move, and some of the polemical intent behind it, see my Jonathan Edwards's Theology: A Reinterpretation, 40–65; 234–42.

85 It is instructive to attend to Edwards's language concerning the nature of partaking. In certain instances he will speak to the believers partaking “of” God's holiness (e.g., Edwards, “Unpublished Letter on Assurance, 639) or partaking “of” Christ's relation to the Father (e.g., Edwards, The Blessing of God, 177), and in other instance he says that believers partake “with” Christ (e.g., Edwards, Rom 2:10, [L.44v]). When Edwards is focusing on an aspect of God's communicable nature, he uses “of, and when he is focusing on the relational aspect of his account he uses “with.”

86 One of the themes found in the literature is that a Reformed theological system undermines a doctrine of theosis because the doctrine of depravity makes this kind of trajectory impossible. See, for instance, Long, D. Stephen, Christian Ethics: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010) 66 . But this critique assumes that theosis entails a synergistic account of salvation. In contrast, Edwards's doctrine of theosis, utilizing his Reformed theological system, focuses on God as all in all. Theosis, as a doctrine, does not depend on specific notions of creatively freedom and ascetical activity, even though these are often included. Gannon Murphy argues similarly, stating, “A Reformed understanding must ground theosis and its fruits in the unilateral operation of God in the believer in both ends and means. As such, theosis is certainly in a sense ‘acquired’ through praxis, but never autonomously. It is rather the processive product of God working in, through, and for the believer to his own eternal glory” (Murphy, “Reformed Theosis?,” 200). By focusing on God's activity and self-giving, there is nothing contrary to total depravity. The creature does not earn theosis, but receives it as grace.

87 Mosser, Carl, “The Greatest Possible Blessing: Calvin and Deification,” SJT 55 (2002) 3657 ; Murphy, “Reformed Theosis?,” 191–212; Billings, J. Todd, “John Calvin: United to God through Christ,” in Partakers of the Divine Nature, 200–18; idem, “United to God through Christ: Assessing Calvin on the Question of Deification,” HTR 98:3 (2005) 315–334; Habets, Myk, “Reforming Theosis,” in Theosis: Deification in Christian Theology (ed. Finlan, Stephen and Kharlamov, Vladimir; Cambridge, UK: James Clarke, 2006) 146–67; idem, Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance (Ashgate New Critical Thinking in Religion, Theology and Biblical Studies Series; Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2009); idem, “Theosis, Yes; Deification, No,” 124–149; Lee, Yang-Ho, “Calvin on Deification: A Reply to Carl Mosser and Jonathan Slater,” SJT 63 (2010) 272–84.

88 McCormack develops his critique in conversation with several key Calvin scholars, such as Mosser, “The Greatest Possible Blessing;” Billings, “John Calvin: United to God through Christ;” and Canlis, Julie, “Calvin, Osiander and Participation in God,” IJST 6 (2004) 169184 . While McCormack addresses other scholars, these three are the focus of his critique of theosis and the assumptions surrounding such a view. While it is beyond the scope of this article to assess McCormack's claims or the accuracy of his interpretation of these sources, we will call into question some of his assumptions concerning necessary features of theosis. Specifically, we argue that McCormack's critique only works against one strand of the theosis tradition, and that the Reformed followed the relational strand instead.

89 In the secondary literature one sometimes runs across the notion that a Reformed doctrine of theosis is impossible because it is assumed that a doctrine of theosis can only be developed within Eastern Orthodox doctrinal systems. This is an unusual claim. For instance, Gösta Hallonsten states, “A real doctrine of theosis, however, is to be found only in the East” (“Theosis in Recent Research,” 292 n.43). Likewise, Andrew Louth has said, “It [theosis] is no longer part of the pattern of either contemporary Catholic or Protestant theology; Western attempts to understand it have consequently assimilated it to an alien framework, and not surprisingly, it fits very awkwardly” (“The Place of Theosis in Orthodox Theology,” in Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Traditions [eds. Michael J. Christensen and Jeffery A. Wittung; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007] 32–46, at 33). There are two important points here. First, when it comes to doctrine, it is unclear to me what it would take to argue this claim. In other words, even if the Eastern Orthodox were the only group ever to talk about theosis, that says nothing about whether the doctrine could exist within other theological systems. Western developments would, no doubt, be unique compared to Eastern accounts, but that does not raise into question if a Western account is possible. Second, a doctrine of theosis has always been found in the West. Carl Mosser is helpful in this regard, narrating the development of modern assumptions that theosis is an Eastern doctrine. See Mosser, “An Exotic Flower?,” 38–56. The assumption that theosis uniquely resides within Eastern Orthodoxy is unfounded, and, importantly, widely rejected among Eastern Orthodox scholars themselves. For instance, Norman Russell includes an appendix on Latin and Syriac traditions of theosis in his major work on the history of the doctrine of deification (Russell, The Doctrine of Deification,” 321–32). Furthermore, Russell, in another work on theosis, states, “The recovery of the notion of theosis has spread even beyond the bounds of the Orthodox communion. One of the most remarkable of these developments is the claim made by some Finnish Lutheran theologians that Luther himself accepted the idea of the deification of the Christian. Under this influence work has been done recently in the United States on various aspects of theosis in order to illuminate Protestant teaching on salvation”(Fellow Workers With God: Orthodox Thinking on Theosis [Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2009] 18–19). The idea that theosis is somehow an “Eastern doctrine” cannot be assumed, but would entail robust argumentation (but again, it is unclear what kind of argumentation it would take to even make this kind of argument). When this assumption is asserted, what is really suggested is that an Eastern Orthodox doctrine of theosis is not found outside Eastern Orthodoxy. This is surely correct, but it does not say anything about other accounts. See, for instance, Andrew Louth, “The Place of Theosis in Orthodox Theology,” 33. It is noteworthy that Louth's chapter focuses on the place of theosis within Eastern Orthodox theology and uses that development to argue against Western accounts. Assuming his argument is accurate, all Louth can argue for in his chapter is that Eastern doctrines of theosis have developed differently than Western ones.

90 McCormack, Bruce L., “Union with Christ in Calvin's Theology: Grounds for a Divinization Theory?,” in Tributes to John Calvin: A Celebration of His Quincentenary (ed. Hall, David W.; The Calvin 500 Series; Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2010) 504529 , at 516 [italics in original].

91 Ibid.

92 Ibid., 505 [italics in original].

93 Edwards, “Discourse on the Trinity,” 132.

94 This point is not without detractors. Oliver Crisp argues differently, suggesting that these are not extrinsic attributes but attributes in the divine essence (and not “real,” in the sense that they call out one of the divine persons). For this debate, see my Jonathan Edwards's Theology: A Reinterpretation, 234–242; Crisp, Oliver D., “Jonathan Edwards's God: Trinity, Individuation, and Divine Simplicity (ed. McCormack, Bruce L.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008) 83103 ; and Crisp, Oliver, “Jonathan Edwards on the Trinity,” Jonathan Edwards Studies 4 (2014) 2141 . The argument developed here should, indirectly, add further justification to my argument. This is indirect because it does not undermine Crisp's position, but it shows further continuity with what I have argued concerning the divine attributes.

95 Ibid., 118–131.

96 For Edwards on speculative knowledge, see Edwards, JonathanThe Pure in Heart Blessed,” in Sermons and Discourses, 1730–1733 (ed. Valeri, Mark; vol. 17 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999) 5986 , at 63.

97 Ibid., 124.

98 Ibid., 132.

99 Gannon Murphy makes a similar claim about Reformed theosis in general, stating, “Moreover, the ‘glory’ that God's elect are to reflect in the eschaton is always theologically centered and, in this sense, not autonomously generated phenomenon but a finite reflection and enjoyment of infinite glory” (Murphy, “Reformed Theosis?,” 200 [italics in original]).

100 Edwards explains how he utilizes immediate and mediate: “When it is said that this light is given immediately by God, and not obtained by natural means, hereby is intended, that ’tis given by God without making use of any means that operate by their own power, or a natural force. God makes use of means; but ’tis not as mediate causes to produce this effect.” Edwards, “A Divine and Supernatural Light,” 416. Edwards notes the problem if a creature was able to have an immediate sight of God: “Therefore, there is no creature can thus have an immediate sight of God, but only Jesus Christ, who is in the bosom of God: for no creature can have such an immediate view of another created spirit, for if they could they could search the heart and try the reins. But to see and SEARCH THE HEART is often spoken of as GOD'S PREROGATIVE, and as one thing [where] God's divinity and infinite exaltation above all creatures appears.” Edwards, “Miscellanies 777,” in The “Miscellanies”: Entry Nos. 501–832, 427-434, at 428.

101 Edwards has different “eras” of the beatific vision, so the vision I describe here is the final vision of Glory.

102 Edwards, Romans 2:10 [Ll. 39r., 41r.].

103 Because Edwards addresses the beatific vision in different eras of heaven's history, it is important to delineate which era he is speaking about. Furthermore, because the sight of God, and necessarily parallel to that, the saints’ participation in God's life, is a mediated immediacy, Edwards can sound contradictory. For instance, in 1747 Edwards preached a funeral sermon for David Brainerd looking at 2 Cor 5:8. There, he states: “None sees God the Father immediately, who is ‘the King eternal, immortal, invisible’: Christ is the ‘image of that invisible God,’ by which he is seen by all elect creatures. ‘The only begotten Son that is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him,’ and manifested him. ‘None has ever immediately seen the Father, but the Son’; and none else sees the Father any other way, than by ‘the Son's revealing him.’” Edwards, ‘True Saints, When Absent from the Body,” 230. Compare that with the statement, “their [saints in heaven] souls will see the spiritual nature of God itself immediately. They shall behold his attributes and disposition towards them more immediately” (Edwards ‘The Pure in Heart Blessed,” 66). Likewise, “But to see God is this: it is to have an immediate and certain understanding of God's glorious excellency and love” (Ibid., 64). This sight is immediate, Edwards explains, “to distinguish from a mere acknowledging that God is glorious and excellent by ratiocination, which is a more indirect and mediate way of apprehending things than intuitive knowledge” (Ibid).

104 Jonathan Edwards, “Miscellanies 742,” in The “Miscellanies”: Entry Nos. 501–832, 373-376, at 375.

105 Jonathan Edwards, “Miscellanies 741,” in The “Miscellanies”: Entry Nos. 501–832, 366-373, at 367.

106 Edwards, Romans 2:10 Ibid., [L.43r–L.43v].

107 Edwards states, “For there is doubtless an infinite intimacy between the Father and the Son. . . . And saints being in him, shall, in their measure and manner, partake with him in it, and the blessedness of it.” Edwards, “The Excellency of Christ,” 593. The key words here are “measure” and “manner.”

108 “As the creature's good was viewed in this manner when God made the world for it, viz. with respect to the whole of the eternal duration of it, and the eternally progressive union and communion with him; so the creature must be viewed as in infinite strict union with himself. In this view it appears that God's respect to the creature, in the whole, unites with his respect to himself. Both regards are like two lines which seem at the beginning to be separate, but aim finally to meet in one, both being directed to the same center. And as to the good of the creature itself, if viewed in its whole duration, and infinite progression, it must be viewed as infinite; and so not only being some communication of God's glory, but as coming nearer and nearer to the same thing in its infinite fullness. The nearer anything comes to infinite, the nearer it comes to an identity with God. And if any good, as viewed by God, is beheld as infinite, it can't be viewed as a distinct thing from God's own infinite glory.” Edwards, Jonathan, Dissertation I: Concerning the End for Which God Created the World in Ethical Writings (ed. Ramsey, Paul; vol. 8 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989) 459 .

109 Jonathan Edwards, “Miscellanies 184,” in The “Miscellanies”: A-500, 330.

110 Calvin, John, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (ed. and trans. Owen, John; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1993) 371 .

111 There is an important parallel to my point here in Julie Canlis's work on Calvin's theology of ascent. In a comparison of Irenaeus and Calvin, she notes, “But in disciplining ascent specifically to the Son, both Irenaeus and Calvin preserve the Creator-creature distinction vital to their conceptions of participation. Ascent is into sonship, but never as the Son.” She continues by noting, “Yet it is clear that for neither theologian is this adoptive ascent something that has to do with some abstract divinization of nature; rather, it is ascent into deeper koinōnia with God and his benefits. Everything depends on their theology of the Spirit, as both the one who preserves the contingency of creation and the one who ensures that this is the personal activity of God on and within humanity.” Canlis, Julie, Calvin's Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010) 237238 [italics in original]. Similarly, in a comment that could easily be made about Edwards as well, Canlis claims, “In subtly shifting Aquinas's exitus-reditus scheme from anthropology to Christ, Calvin challenges Aquinas's attempt at theocentrism as not going far enough. It is not Christ who fits into the procrustean bed of anthropology but we who are fitted to Christ and his ascent. In him and by his Spirit, we ascend to the Father” (Ibid., 44). Canlis's discussion gives further weight to our claims here concerning a “Reformed” account of theosis. Helpfully, she notes, “The mystical ascent is this deeper and deeper burrowing into Christ (always pneumatologically conceived), not our effort to do so. His ascent is our path and goal. His narrative has become our own” (Ibid., 51).

112 The secondary literature on Reformed doctrines of theosis reinforce my conclusions. This is not to say that there is a uniform theological framework or clear-cut Reformed position of theosis, but only that Reformed accounts function within the relational strand of the tradition. Along these lines, it is not irrelevant that Gannon Murphy ends his essay developing a Reformed doctrine of theosis with a section called “The Means of Theotic Relationality.” Furthermore, as noted above, he claims, “Our entire person—mind, body, soul—is designed to be in communion with the Trinity, to be totally embraced by God and enveloped by the glory of the Lord.” Murphy, “Reformed Theosis?,” 200. The focus on communion and being embraced by God follows this relational strand I am articulating here. Similarly, in explaining Calvin's account of participation, Todd Billings claims that Calvin “uses strong, extra-biblical language to emphasize the reality of the oneness that believers share with God through participation in Christ by the Spirit; yet Calvin never suggests that humanity is assimiliated into the divine. Calvin is willing to speak of the way in which believers are deified in redemption; yet this hyperbolic language does not imply, for Calvin, that distinctively divine attributes overwhelm human attributes in glorified believers” (Calvin, Participation, and the Gift: The Activity of Believers in Union with Christ [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007] 65–66). Likewise, in his affirmation and response to Gannon Murphy, Myk Habets outlines a Reformed account of theosis where “we enter into the triune communion of God's intra-trinitarian life” (“Reformed Theosis?”, 491). Furthermore, Habets goes on to state explicitly, “Working within a Reformed understanding of theosis, we may say that humans can participate in the divine nature, but this is a thoroughly personal and relational experiencing of the triune relations” (Ibid., 494). Carl Mosser, outlining Calvin's doctrine of theosis, claims, “Christ unites believers with himself in order that they may participate, as members of his body, in the inner life and love of the Trinity which he has eternally known” (“The Greatest Possible Blessing,” 46). Julie Canlis's work on Calvin follows these lines as well, focusing on a relational view of ascent, participation and communion that buttress the claims made here (Canlis, Calvin's Ladder). As these works affirm, the focus on participating in the life of God is the distinctively relational feature of a Reformed account. While each Reformed thinker will address what that participation and union entail, the overall contours of the account land on the side of the relational tradition.

113 There are, of course, further questions that need to be addressed that are beyond the scope of this essay. Norman Russell, for instance, in narrating the two strands of the theosis tradition, argues that one of the strands depends upon an ascent of the soul through an ascetic lifestyle. Russell, The Doctrine of Deification, 14. One might ask if Edwards's view requires or depends upon such an account. This is particularly interesting in light of Edwards's own ascetic lifestyle and his explication of the “means of grace.” “Ascent,” in this kind of account, is a relational giving over of one's life through means of communion. Discipline cannot lead to holiness, because holiness is only properly an attribute of God; spiritual discipline provides the opportunity to commune in that holiness. To explore a Reformed spirituality of theosis based on this account could lead to some interesting comparisons and contrasts with the patristic and Eastern Orthodox counterparts. This is precisely where McClymond's essay is so helpful.

114 It is noteworthy that Edwards's form of monergism does not undermine creaturely willing (and, according to his view, freedom). In a discussion on efficacious grace Edwards argues that “God does all and we do all. God produces all and we act all.” (“Efficacious Grace. Book III,” in Writings on the Trinity, Grace, and Faith [ed. Sang Hyun Lee; vol. 21 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003]) 239–290, at 251). Nonetheless, based on Edwards's anthropology and his understanding of freedom, our action is bound up within God's action in such a way as to radicalize the standard Reformed view and push to an account of determinism, and within that, monergism. See Richard Muller, “Jonathan Edwards and the Absence of Free Choice,”

115 Murphy, “Reformed Theosis?,” 200.

* Oliver Crisp, Myk Habets, Ken Minkema, Kent Eilers, Jim Salladin, Donald Fairbairn, Carl Mosser, and Ty Kieser all provided helpful feedback for this article. It is significantly sharper because of their input.

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