Is Theosis a soteriological or anthropological doctrine?

Theosis, write Stephen Finlan and Valdimir Kharlamov, is closely related to a number of other doctrines including: soteriology, Christology, anthropology, the sacraments, personal eschatology, the imago dei, redemption, and sanctification. Despite the doctrine’s connections to a number of other theological loci, in the minds of many—especially those who find their theological bearings in the West—the doctrine of theosis (if it is actually developed) is typically located within the loci of soteriology. Calvin’s own words himself confirm the soteriological approach. He explains that “we should notice that it is the purpose of the Gospel to make us sooner or later like God; indeed it is, so to speak, a kind of deification.” Yet, unlike the soteriological focus on theosis that marks the works of a number of Western theologians, Slavko Eždenci notices that the Orthodox have a robust anthropological element in their doctrine of theosis. He explains that the Orthodox position is that “even before the fall, deification was the end and final fulfillment not just of humanity but of all created beings.”A number of contemporary Orthodox theologians demonstrate Eždenci’s point. For example, Vladimir Lossky describes the connection between theosis and creation saying, “Finally, the cosmic Adam by giving himself without return to God, would give Him back all His creation… Thus in the overcoming of the primordial separation of the created and uncreated, there would be accomplished man’s deification, and by him of the whole universe.” G.I. Mantzardis, similarly writes that theosis is the ultimate goal of human existence. He states,

It is that which from the beginning has constituted the innermost longing of man’s existence. Adam, in attempting to appropriated it by transgressing God’s command, failed, and in the place of deification, met with corruption and death. The love of God, however, through His Son’s incarnation, restored to man the possibility of deification.

Finally, Panayiotis Nellas argues at length that “the real anthropological meaning of deification is Christification,” explaining that “Christ accomplishes the salvation of man not only in a negative way, liberating him from the consequences of original sin, but also in a positive way, completing his iconic, prelapsarian ‘being.’”

So, is theosis a soteriological or anthropological doctrine?



Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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