Sunday, February 12, 2006

Talking Theosis with the JWs

I was visiting with a couple of Jehovah Witnesses a couple of days ago (they struck on Sunday morning, figuring, I presume, that anyone home on a Sunday morning must be a pagan—little could they know that we are Saturday night service type folks). Very nice people. The conversation took the usual turns and once I got through the initial sales pitch I brought up the nature of Jesus—is he God or a demi-god? JWs believe the latter.

This question ultimately has soteriological implications, and that was how I raised the issue. I don’t think it does any good to debate the deity of Christ in a way that is disconnected from his role as Savior. Soteriology flows out of theology proper, and if we get the Trinity wrong we are ultimately going to get our soteriology wrong. In many respects the JW theology is simply a modern form of Arianism. The great fourth century theologian Athanasius, when contending against Arius regarding the deity of Christ, eventually won the field by arguing that the one who would bridge the gap between theos and anthropos must posses the natures of both in fullness. Aside from passages such as John 1, Hebrews 1, etc., which explicitly teach the deity of the Son, Athanasius’ theological reasoning was (and is) deemed sound by the church. Such logic also works particularly well in light of the strong—yet oft forgotten—emphasis that the Church and Scriptures frequently give to the concept of theosis.

Within the framework of theosis we find a strong connection between Trinitarian thought and soteriology. Without such a connection, we can very quickly end up embracing a completely forensic understanding of the atonement that differs very little from the JWs. For JWs, a perfect sacrifice must be made in order to make payment for the sins of Adam and his descendants. Christ, as the perfect and highest creature of God, offers himself as a substitute, his blood making payment for sins and thus satisfying the justice of God. Why should it matter if such a sacrifice is accomplished by a God or demi-god? In both cases, the sacrifice of either would be worth more than the sins of man and thus presumably worthy of making atonement. So when one of these nice folk asked me about my view of sacrifice and atonement, I drew upon the connection between theosis and atonement and offered the following:

“Because we are born into sin and death, we need more than forgiveness—we need new life. But the only life than can infallibly overcome death is the divine life. So it is through our participation in Christ’s divine nature via the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that we overcome the death that separates us from God. Thus if Jesus is not “God of God, begotten, not made” (as the Creed says) than the life he shares with us is incapable of raising us from our state of spiritual death. Only God can merit God, and thus we are in need of a savior who is both human and divine.”

I don’t think they bought it, but hopefully it made them think.


Scottie P said...

I buy it... but then again, I'm not a JW. Is that last quote yours?

Gerald said...

Indeed it is. Good to hear from you, my man.

David said...

I was just accosted by JW's on the walk home from work. I wish I'd read your post better before! Oh, well. I tried to focus on being "nice" and treating them as individuals and not as evil floating souls. They were two early 20-somethings. Cripes, these kids are getting younger and younger. I think there's something to the notion of loving our enemies in ways other than pounding them with our properly translated bibles, which was the only interaction I thought was acceptable to have with Mor'ons. I'm hoping I bump into them again and can invite them for coffee and some smack-down, Hiestand style.