Torrance on theosis

Early church theologians often mentioned a belief in the concept of theosis, (from apotheosis in Greek, sometimes referred to as deification or divinization from deificatio in Latin). The concept flows from the biblical teaching that humans, in union with Christ and through the enablement of the Spirit, may participate in the divine nature (see, for example, 2Pet 1:4).

As noted by Mark Habets in Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance, T.F. frequently made reference to the idea of theosis. Here is a quote from Habet's book:
Torrance’s earliest mention of theosis occurs amidst a discussion of Christology, when, commenting on the relevance of the hypostatic union for men and women he writes, "And in this God-Man we partake in grace, as members of his body, reconciled to God through him and in him, and even it is said, are incomprehensibly partakers of Divine nature!" Here as early as 1938-39 we have a bold statement on the orthodoxy of theosis and how it functions within Torrance’s theology. As Yeung observes: "When God became man He was no less God, for He was not diminished by the development of the body, but rather ‘deified’ the body and rendered it immortal. ‘Deification’ did not mean any change of human essence, but that without being less human we are by grace made to participate in divine Sonship" (Jason Yeung, Being and Knowing, p113).
Because of Christ’s hypostatic union a trinitarian movement is accomplished in his life from the Father through the Son in the Spirit, along with a doxological ‘return’ in the Spirit through the Son to the Father. This movement takes place first in the Son and then in believers by the Spirit of the Son. We share in the love of God through the grace of Christ in the communion of the Holy Spirit. This is what Torrance calls the evangelical, doxological theology the trinitarian life and love that God is. This constitutes an internal relation as the Son is homoousios with the Father and the Spirit and hence this trinitarian structure is at the same time christocentric, ‘for it is only through Jesus Christ that we know the Father and only through him that we receive the Holy Spirit. Everything depends on the indivisible inner relation in being of the Son and the Spirit to the Father …’ (pp62-63).
Some Christian teachers erroneously assert that the destiny of humans is to "become God as God is God." But that is NOT what the orthodox Christian doctrine of theosis proclaims, for humans will never cease being human - they always will be created beings and thus can't become God, who by definition, 1) has no beginning (is unoriginate) and 2) depends on nothing outside himself for existence (is self-existant). However, to share in God's divine nature, through Christ, is to be exalted to a very high place (Ephesians 2:6). It's as close to becoming God, while remaining God's creation, as is possible.

Torrance and Barth spoke of theosis as becoming "fully human" - finally experiencing in all its fullness the glorified humanity possessed already by Jesus, who in his humanity is fully and perfectly in the image of God. Thankfully, through Christ, we already "see" (and thus experience) something of that fullness, though we see only "through a glass darkly." And so we look forward with faith, in hope to our coming glorification.

To read additional excerpts from Habets' helpful book, click here.

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