Theosis and Participation in Christ
Recently I have been thinking about Michael Gorman’s claim that Paul’s account of human participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus amounts to theosis. Basically the claim is fairly simple (grounded in his reading of Philipians 2, Galatians and Romans). If this kenotic existence is truly the life of God in history then to participate in it is to participate in the life of God – ie theosis. In the light of this claim I was reading Bruce McCormack’s article. “Participation in God, Yes; Deification, No”. Basically it is an attempt to show how the ontologies of both Jungel and Barth allow for an important distinction between creator and creature, human and divine being, while acknowledging a real participation of humans in divine being. I came across this statement, which provoked some thought.
“Participation in God is, for Jungel, participation in the relation of the Son to the Father. It is not participation in the relation of the Father to the Son which constitutes the life of God.”
It seems to me that this implies that the way to establish the distinction between human and divine is to acknowledge that the (Father-Son) relationship is constituted by at least two relations. The Father relates to the Son (relation 1) and the Son’s relates to the Father (relation 2). This in turn presupposes two perspectives, that of the Father and that of the human Son Jesus.
A further question then arises, this time not so much about relationship as about identity. What constitutes the Son’s identity? The Son is not merely a perspective, but an agent in history (who has a perspective). The identity of the Son is that of a history constituted by both relations. And the relationship that these relations conjointly constitute is one of mutual love, or the confluence of the love of Father for Son and Son for Father. This is expressed biblically as the Son doing the will of the Father so that the theoretical possibility of a divergence of wills (my will and not thine be done) is overcome in the history (of the Spirit’s empowerment of Jesus) whereby the wills in fact converge (not my will but thine be done = my will is to do thy will) according to a logic of persuasion rather than necessity or causality.
If this distinction is valid then we could qualify Gorman’s kenotic paulinism by saying that to participate in the life of the Son is to participate (humanly, partially, historically) in a relationship from one of its poles as a result of being conformed to the Son by the Spirit
McCormack summarises the Jungel-Barth view thus:
“These differences notwithstanding, Barth and Jungel have arrived at a very similar conception of participation in God. For both, participation is an eschatological reality whose ground is to be found in Jesus’ relation to the Father. For both, participation in god is mediated by participation in the humanity of Jesus – a participation which takes place in this world only actualistically and by way of anticipation of the realization of eschatological humanity. In both cases, the older metaphysics has been set aside in order to achieve a relational and historical understanding.” [emphasis mine]
I have one remaining question: Why only?