Jesus and the Spirit: Interviews With Myk Habets



Jesus and the Spirit[
**]Interviews With Myk Habets


Copyright 2016 Grace Communion International


Published by Grace Communion International



Table of Contents

Jesus the Anointed Son

Jesus and the Spirit

The Creeds and the Trinity

Theosis: Participation in the Divine Nature

About the Publisher…

Grace Communion Seminary

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This is a transcript of interviews conducted as part of the You’re Included series, sponsored by Grace Communion International. We have more than 120 interviews available. You may watch them or download video or audio at www.gci.org/YI.

In ordinary conversations, thoughts are not always put into well-formed sentences, and sometimes thoughts are not completed. In the following transcripts, we have removed occasional words that did not seem to contribute any meaning to the sentence. In some cases we could not figure out what word was intended. We apologize for any transcription errors, and if you notice any, we welcome your assistance.

Grace Communion International is in broad agreement with the theology of the people we interview, but GCI does not endorse every detail of every interview. The opinions expressed are those of the interviewees. We thank them for their time and their willingness to participate.

We incur substantial production costs for these interviews and transcripts. Donations in support of this ministry may be made at www.gci.org/donate.

Our guest in these interviews is Dr. Myk Habets, head of Carey Graduate School, part of Carey Baptist College in New Zealand. He received his PhD from the University of Otago in 2006. His books include:

p<>{color:#000;}. Ecumenical Perspectives on the Filioque for the 21st Century

p)))<>{color:#000;}. Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church (with Bobby Grow)

p<>{color:#000;}. Gospel, Truth, and Interpretation: Evangelical Identity in Aotearoa New Zealand

p<>{color:#000;}. Kiwimade Narrative Sermons

p)))<>{color:#000;}. Reconsidering Gender: Evangelical Perspectives (with Beulah Wood)

p<>{color:#000;}. The Anointed Son: A Trinitarian Spirit Christology

p<>{color:#000;}. The Spirit of Truth: Reading Scripture and Constructing Theology with the Holy Spirit

p)))<>{color:#000;}. Theology and the Experience of Disability: Interdisciplinary Perspectives from Voices Down Under (with Andrew Picard)

p<>{color:#000;}. Theology in Transposition: A Constructive Appraisal of T. F. Torrance

p<>{color:#000;}. Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance

p)))<>{color:#000;}. Trinitarian Theology after Barth (edited with Philip Tolladay)

The interviews were conducted in New Zealand by Dr. Michael Morrison, Dean of Faculty at Grace Communion Seminary.

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[]Jesus the Anointed Son

Michael Morrison: We’re talking today with Myk Habets, head of Carey Graduate School, part of Carey Baptist College in New Zealand. Myk, it’s a pleasure to have you with us [Myk Habets: Thank you] – or for me to be with you, since we are in New Zealand on your turf.

MH: Welcome!

MM: Thanks. You’ve done a number of interesting studies and research. I was particularly interested in what you wrote in your book The Anointed Son: A Trinitarian Spirit Christology. You had some interesting things to say about how we understand who Jesus is. Jesus is very important to Christians. How do we go about learning who this person is?

MH: Good question. I wrote the book partly to present to the academic community, in the hope that that will filter down into classrooms, pulpits, proclamation, that when we start, we start with Jesus himself (that’s a no-brainer) Jesus is risen, ascended to the right hand of the Father. So if we return to Scripture, the Gospels, the epistles, again and again, and what we see there is a number of perspectives on who Jesus is that are utterly complementary, but if we don’t see them in their different perspectives (if you like, stereoscopically), then we just see them myopically, then we get a distorted view of Christ. So I wrote this book from one perspective, which I think has been eclipsed, and we need to hear that message again. Christ’s relationship to the Spirit, a Christology that starts from below, these sorts of approaches.

MM: What you mean by “from below”?

MH: When we go to the Gospels, we see in John that he starts with this wonderful prologue – John 1:1-8 – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” So it starts, if you like, up in the heavenlies. It’s this insider’s view. Here’s the Logos, the second person, who condescends and becomes – verse 14 – takes to himself human flesh. Brilliant – wonderful – orthodox.

But the rest of that Gospel and the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke) don’t start above at all – they start with “here is a person, Jesus of Nazareth.” Here is someone born to Mary (in a particular way, nonetheless). He’s walking along and he calls people to “Follow me. Leave your nets and come follow me.” They’re not following God – that’s not their self-consciousness – they’re following a rabbi. They’d been passed over or they hadn’t wanted to go into the priesthood. They were fishermen and tax collectors and various disciplines, and this Jewish rabbi, this Jewish man who they see, who they sense, they hear something (I don’t know) authoritative, attractive, compelling. In some sense he’s what they’re looking for before they knew what they were looking for, I think that’s the sense we get.

As they journey with Christ, as he teaches them, as they watch him, and they hear, as they see the conflict and the fray, both the positive and the negative, they come to realizations. So in the middle of that ministry, Peter confesses, You are the Lord. And he almost is rebuked for it. You’re right, says Jesus, but you don’t really know that – that was revealed to you by the Spirit. Give him as least a pass, you know! It’s not until after the cross and resurrection where they fully understand, this Jesus is the Messiah.

So we think of the two disciples walking home on the road to Emmaus. Jesus has died. He’s been buried, he’s in the ground. They don’t know of the resurrection. For them, it’s finished. They had invested three years in following a rabbi who turns out to be a hoax, who turns out to say things like, Worship me. Pray to me. I and the Father are one. I share the divine identity. And they start to believe him. Jews.

MM: They said, We had hoped he would be the Messiah.

MH: That’s right – and now he’s dead. God doesn’t die. Messiah’s don’t die. “That’s it. Sorry.” I think they’re walking home embarrassed, they’re walking home ashamed, going back to their old communities, their old jobs, their old life, and they’re looking back to a community that’s going to say, “You got it wrong.” More than that, “You’ve probably betrayed your entire Jewish heritage. You’re idolaters.” This is probably where they’re starting, and they’re walking back depressed, and this one journeys with them: “Why are you so sad?” I love God’s irony. There is humor there. “Have you not heard? Are you the only one in Israel who doesn’t know?”

Then he explains to them who he is from the Old Testament, and they come to know as they meet in the house, sort of a (many would say; I think it’s right) a Communion meal, and he is revealed to them, and they come to an understanding.

That would be a Christology from below, that works its way to above. An understanding of the humanity of Jesus, and who he is as a historical person; then it quickly moves to an expression, “You are the Son of God. You are that Word that John talks about.” A Christology from below, to above, has to complement a Christology from above (John’s stuff), to below. That’s the plan.

MM: Some modern theologians also struggle with this – Christology from below and above. Scripture has both – why don’t they have both?

MH: What’s happened in modern theology from the Enlightenment, the historical-critical method kicks in, and there’s a hermeneutic, a reading that’s suspicious, so that the miracles go out the window, the supernatural is out, Rudolf Bultmann’s demythologization, trying to take the myth out. So what’s happened is a Christology that starts below never got anywhere but below. So we end up with a holy man, a great prophet, an inspired Jew, but he’s just a man.

For that reason, evangelicals, conservative Christians, orthodox Christians – Protestant, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox alike – said, “well, that’s not Christianity. That’s not the God-man.” In reaction, but an over-reaction, to throw the baby out with the bathwater, now Jesus is almost only divine for many people in our churches. The humanity becomes affirmed doctrinally (I’ll pass my exam – tick – he was fully human) but we don’t actually believe it in our practical day-to-day life. I think we doubt that Jesus is as human as you and I are.

MM: So we imagine a Jesus who’s going throughout life in kind of an unreal way.

MH: Not human-like, yeah. In the early church (this is just repeating early church problems), I think for a number of Western Christians (maybe in the East as well) conservative, orthodox, well-meaning (I’m not saying that they did it deliberately), but the way they preach and proclaim and read Scripture, all we are seeing is God with a meat suit on – eyebrows and legs and arms – the flesh is instrumental.

At its worst, it’s Monty Python’s Life of Brian. When Jesus is on the cross, he starts whistling. “It’s OK – don’t worry. I’m God. This is easy-peasy stuff.” When that happens, we go back to the Scriptures and we see Jesus is tempted in every way as we are, but [in the thinking of many people] he’s not. He’s Superman. He’s Clark Kent, he pulls his shirt back, and he’s Superman – he’s the Logos. So we have instrumentalized the human flesh.

The early church has names for that. It’s Apollinarianism, where the human mind of Christ, the human will of Christ, is gone, and in its place is the Logos, so God directly acts on the flesh of Jesus. It’s purely mechanical, instrumental. We don’t teach that directly, but we teach that indirectly in many of our churches.

MM: Because we are too interested in worshipping Jesus?

MH: We get to the divinity too quickly, if I can put it that way. We should get to the divinity, but we’re not holding the full humanity of Christ at the same time. The rub is: when things don’t go well for me, when I’m tempted, when people around me are sinners (as I am), when stuff happens in life, and I come to God, where is my sympathetic high priest, as Hebrews talks about? “Yes, Jesus, I know you became human, but not really. It was easy for you. Yes, you were tempted, but not internally – only externally. It was easy for you.”

When that starts to happen, we have a cleavage between Jesus and me, between his humanity and my humanity, and when that happens, the Father is so far behind the back of Jesus that we lose sight of him. I think that’s what people are saying when they say, I lost my faith. (Not all of them, but many of them.) I would say, I’m not sure you had faith to begin with. I’m not sure it was ultimately there – I think something was missing. That could be turned into an evangelistic tool.

MM: It’s like, What kind of God don’t you believe in, if you lack faith?

MH: What kind of God are they believing in? They are believing in a God who is different from Jesus, a God who is so far behind the back of Jesus, as Tom Torrance might say, that they can’t actually see the real God. He’s a monad, he’s a thing, he’s – to be blunt – he’s an idea [MM: an abstraction], an idol. And when you’re tempted, when you’re struggling, when you’re in situations where you need God, that sort of a God cannot help.

Whereas Jesus shows, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” If we follow that logic, “if you have heard my pronouncement of forgiveness, you have been forgiven by God. If I love you, the Father loves you. If you are united to me, you are united to the Father – you’ve become his children. Our Father, our God.”

MM: You’re weaving themes from John in there. Earlier you said that Matthew, Mark and Luke started with a Christology from below, with an ordinary human, but John has helped in completing…

MH: Absolutely. John starts from above, but after the prologue, after verse 18, he comes back below. Because how do you speak of a real, genuine, historical Jesus unless you do the below?

MM: John is the one who tells us that, even after the resurrection, Jesus ate fish.

MH: Barbeque on the beach. Wonderful. “I’m not a ghost. I’m real.” Wonderful stuff. It’s utterly complementary; there’s no sense that from below and from above are different Christologies – they are different methodologies to get at the same thing. You can look at any thing from a multiple perspective, and it’s the same thing you’re looking at. I think that’s why we have four Gospels: multiple perspectives which are utterly complementary. I think what we’ve done in part of our wisdom tradition is that we have muted part of that discussion – the humanity part. “Yes, we’ll affirm it, we’ll affirm it.”

In the early church, Athanasius – one of the heroes of theology – who says that Jesus is homoousios – the same stuff, substance, essence as the Father and the Spirit, of the same stuff homoousios with you and I in our humanity. The great Athanasius – you read in [his book] The Incarnation and he comes to those texts where Jesus hungers and thirsts (and I don’t know that God eternal, the Father does), and he begins to equivocate: “This is Jesus’ humanity, it’s not Jesus’ divinity talking.” That’s Nestorian!

MM: It’s like splitting…

MH: Yeah. He wasn’t a Nestorian – he fought against them – but on a practical level, he was struggling with “Jesus is too human. It feels like we are dragging him down.” Whereas I would go to the Scriptures. We’re not dragging him down – he’s giving himself to us. The great Colossians, Philippians stuff. “Have this attitude in yourselves that was in Christ, who humbled himself, did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped.” We’re not dragging him – God is – to the point of a servant, a slave, a dead slave.

MM: We’re not doing that to him – he initiated it himself.

MH: The Father in Christ was doing it, the Spirit with Christ – it’s genuinely Trinitarian. If we know Jesus we know the Father and the Son, but we only know Jesus as this God-man – not just God, not just man, but the great God-man. And having divinity and humanity together, as the Scriptures do, gives us a holistic Christianity. I think it’s utterly practical, even though you start off abstract, highly theological, some would say esoteric, John 1:1, “in the beginning was the Word” – how does he know? Well, he does know, because that’s what Jesus reveals.

MM: Jesus’ death on the cross is very important as part of Christianity. What he did for us is very important. Is that the best focus for us to have, in thinking of what Jesus did for our salvation?

MH: In a world of sin and the fall, the cross was necessary – otherwise why did God do it? So yes it is, but the cross is not what saves us. The blood of Christ is not what saves us. It’s Christ of the cross, it’s Christ who has blood, it’s Christ who is the point. The cross makes very little sense without the incarnation, without a holy life, without a life lived up to and beyond that point. We’re not diminishing the role of the cross, but as Paul said, “If Christ hasn’t been resurrected, your faith is in vain.”

So even though Christ says on the cross “It is finished,” it is a reference to the whole work. It’s not trying to atomize it, itemize it. (“It’s now finished, so I don’t have to die” – since he said that before he died – I’ve heard that from some students, who are asking good questions.) It’s the whole package: the life, the death, the resurrection. The death is important, the cross is important, the payment of sins, the substitution, but if we return to our Scriptures, it’s the life of this Jesus Christ – the whole life, so the incarnation itself is atoning – that’s where I think we need to be.

MM: By incarnation, you don’t just mean the birth?

MH: No – the whole life as a man. So if the Logos, the eternal Son, takes to himself a human nature, as Chalcedon and the other creeds affirm and as Scripture tells us, if he takes to himself a complete humanity, a humanity like yours and mine, he has human will, human mind, human emotions. He also has divine will, mind and emotions, because he is divine, but in one person. Technically we call that a hypostatic union: divine and human natures “glued” together (crudely speaking – that’s not right, but it will do) existing together, but one person.

Now, if we follow that logic, from the moment of Jesus’ conception, he lives the human predicament, the human life. He himself is sinless, and never sins, but he inhabits a humanity that can sin, that can feel sin, that can feel temptation. He inhabits a humanity can we say, post Genesis 3 – your humanity, my humanity. And step by step (in the early church the term was prokopē – to beat one’s way against the wind, like a boat going into the wind has to tack, tack, tack, or a woodchopper chopping) – to tack, prokopē, to cut one’s way forward – this is Jesus’ incarnation. Every temptation common to man, he’s felt. And what’s he done? He’s resisted.

I like the image that many writers will talk about in the early church where he inhabits a sin nature that has (we would say) a bias, a compulsion away from God. Genesis 3. But this is the perfect Son of God as a man. So each decision, each temptation, every moment of his existence from his conception, he’s turning that will back to the Father. Right up till Gethsemane: “Not my will but yours be done.”

Sweating as if drops of blood [Luke 22:44]. Is he play-acting? They wouldn’t say he is, but I think many people think he is. “He’s doing that for our benefit. He’s doing that to show us, This is what a human looks like, but it’s not real.” That’s not just what we read in that narrative. For all the faults of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, it does get that right, the genuine anguish of Jesus in the Garden. But he does not give in to Satan, he does not give in to temptation. He overcomes as a human.

That’s what I mean by saying that the entire life of Christ is as important as the death of Christ, because it’s not Christ’s death which is important – it’s Christ that dies. So it’s a matter of emphasis.

MM: Other people died on crosses, too.

MH: If there was another person, for argument’s sake, who lived a holy life, but they had maybe told a lie, sinned once, their death is for themselves. At the very best, they could exchange their life for another. Our courts wouldn’t allow that, but you could say, yeah, one life for another.

What makes Jesus’ life and death, his sacrifice, his substitution, infinite? Something else is going on. It’s not just a perfect life – here is a humanity now completely conformed to God, and then on the cross, substituting himself for us (you know, those haunting words of Paul, Christ became sin [2 Cor. 5:21] – whatever the depths of that meaning), he exchanges his righteousness for our fallenness. We get his righteousness; he gets our fallenness, and he comes and defeats it.

MM: You commented that our courts of law don’t allow substitution. Why does God’s “court of law” allow it?

MH: Thank goodness it does! If we take a long view, we need to approach the Old Testament: What’s the role of Israel? I think this stumps many people, particularly Protestants who either never teach from the Old Testament because “it’s done away with” (I think you can understand that) – we’re not under the law but under grace. I think if we read the Old Testament, it’s all figuring and types prefiguring the coming of Jesus Christ.

This is how Paul talks about the law is a wonderful schoolmistress to bring us to Christ. So in that sense, through Israel God has formed a community (not taken a pre-existing one and “you’ll be mine”); he creates a community of people through individuals, gives them a blessing, enters into a covenant with them: “I’ll be your God, you’ll be my people; I’ll give you blessings if you do these things, curses if you do these things.”

He’s forming them through giving them the law, funny handwashing, don’t eat this animal, do eat that, the most religious elaborate cult the world has ever known. God is forming a people to know what it means to come into the presence of someone who is not an idol – someone who is not human – someone who is “our greatest aspirations”: God. “I’m holy – take off your shoes. I’m holy – prepare yourself. I’m holy – think different ways, act differently.”

All of that is in preparation for Jesus Christ, so that he comes, he is the fulfillment of Israel. He is all Israel. So he represents, he substitutes for all Israel. Time and time again, the Gospels are alluding to this, where Jesus re-enacts the story of Israel. Then we get the climax – not only is this for Israel, Israel (Jesus now) is the porthole through which all humanity will be saved. All humanity will have the Spirit, all humanity can have the promise, the ingrafting that Paul and others talk about.

So if we read the Old Testament, particularly Israel, as this long preparation for the coming of Christ, it makes a whole lot more sense of it.

MM: That gives us a context in which to understand this rabbi.

MH: That’s right, from page 1.

MM: We see that Jesus’ death was effective because of who he was. How else do we know it is effective, if we don’t already start by knowing who he was.

MH: In some ways you can’t. It’s in some ways circular. If we return to the Gospels, the Gospels were written last, and they were written after the events, after the resurrection, they were written after, when they had full understanding. The Gospel writers come back and they write Gospels – they write the story of Christ. Not biography, but a bit of that; not history, but a bit of that – this unique genre: Gospel.

They’re doing what I call a retroactive reading. It’s retro – it’s looking back – but it’s active, because it’s dynamic. They take this understanding of who Jesus is and they come back and write, theologically, his life. It’s real – it’s historical – it’s true, but nonetheless it’s a theological reading.

MM: All histories are written after the fact. We understand how the war turned out, so we can see what developed.

MH: So history is, in part, interpretation. So there is this circularity. The early church, and the medieval, would say this is faith seeking understanding. “I believe; help my unbelief.” [Mark 9:24] I understand I’m united to Christ; now I want more knowledge, more content, so I believe; now I want to understand. (It’s not “I won’t believe until I understand.”) It’s the mode of a disciple.

MM: Or they understand a little bit, they believe that much, and now they want to understand more.

MH: Absolutely. To increase their faith.

MM: You talked about how Jesus dealt with temptation, and how his experience is somewhat similar to ours. Could you elaborate a little more on that. We’re not God. How does this work?

MH: If we follow the Scriptures and then the tradition, if we look at the early councils – Nicea and Chalcedon and Constantinople and Ephesus, etc. – they’re ruling out options, largely. They’re very clever, in the sense that they’re not trying to say too much (it’s always good to try not to say too much). They are ruling out false options: Don’t think of Christ like this, like this. Through that they are building up a broad central conviction that this is how we should think about who Jesus is.

Some of the key elements of that: Jesus is one person; he’s the Logos. He doesn’t cease to be the Logos, doesn’t cease to be God, doesn’t even leave the presence of God in some sense, because he is God. So as the Trinity continues. In some sense the second person assumes to himself a human nature and is still one person, with a divine and a human nature. They say that the human nature remains intact, with all of its attributes, and so also the divine nature remains intact with all of its attributes. That’s hard to get our minds around, because there’s nothing else, no one else that we can say “that’s like him” or “her,” or “it.” It’s utterly unique.

To quote Athanasius, who kept saying this phrase: It’s God as a man, not God in a man. It’s God as a man who is tender, it’s God as a man who forgives sins, it’s God as a man who eats fish by the sea after his resurrection. It’s not God in a man – it’s not alien possession. So if it is generally God as a man as we read in the Scriptures, then when he’s tempted, the Logos is tempted through his humanity, and that’s the key, I think.

Through what humanity? We need to make a decision. It’s either a pristine humanity out here, like nothing we’ve seen anywhere before (and a big part of the tradition would say that – I don’t), or it’s a humanity like yours and mine – my condition, with this (Paul would say) sinful nature. Now, he’s not sinful, because he’s the Logos, but he takes a human nature which is (can we say) defective – faulty – and he redeems it. He perfects it.

MM: Physically, it was faulty: he was mortal.

MH: Absolutely. We can’t say a lot more about it, because it becomes rather abstract, but the fact that he was tempted, that he was like us, the fact that he is our redeemer, our substitute, that he lives the human life and he perfects it. It gives a lot of coherence to that.

The Spirit needs to come into that, which is a big theme in my work. What’s the role of the Spirit alongside Christ that is in some sense similar to the role of the Spirit in the Trinity? That needs to be articulated to get a fuller sense as well.

MM: I’m glad you mentioned the Spirit. In your book, your subtitle is A Spirit Christology. You’re looking at the relationship between the Spirit and Christ. You commented that we often overlook the role of the Spirit. How does that happen?

MH: This is one of the exciting things if we go back to the Gospels, and we re-read them and ask this question. Let’s look at each of the episodes, each of the chapters, each of the movements, the scenes. Let’s ask, Where’s the Holy Spirit? Whether he is expressly mentioned, or we know that the Spirit does this sort of stuff and so we can assume it rightly that he’s there. So where do we see the Spirit in the life of Christ? Why don’t we ask that question more often? You could say the same, Where is the Father? Let’s just deal with the Son and the Spirit.

How does Jesus come into the world? The miraculous conception of Mary. The Holy Spirit overshadows Mary and she is with child. Curious fact? Not just curious fact – this is an indicator to a Jewish audience steeped in what we call the Old Testament, that this One has the Spirit from conception. This one was conceived by the Spirit (whatever that means), and there’s a deliberate contrast in the Gospels with his cousin John the Baptist. John was unique. In utero, he is in sense baptized in the Spirit. He leaps for joy by the Spirit. That is utterly unique. Jesus calls him the greatest prophet in Israel – the greatest, and yet he’s not worthy to stoop down and untie the sandals of his cousin Jesus. John, in utero, filled with the Spirit; Jesus conceived with the Spirit.

What does a Jew hear? A Jew hears, here is one that’s anointed. Here’s one who is saturated (smeared, literal translation of “anointed”) with the Spirit. But in the Old Testament, who has Spirit? Prophets, priests, judges, kings (and not even all of them). King David is sort of a paradigm. He is anointed with oil, a symbol of the Spirit; the Spirit of the Lord rushes upon him. And the Spirit comes upon even panelbeaters – Bezalel, early on, he’s the guy that beats these big bronze shields for the tabernacle [Exodus 31]. The Spirit comes upon him. The Spirit rushes upon these people and sets them apart for ministry, for service, for something which they maybe could have done but not to the degree and not to the extent, not with the quality that God wants. A panelbeater can panelbeat, and not even be a Christian, but to produce stuff which is worthy to be in the tabernacle, you need God’s Spirit upon you.

The Jews read the conception narrative of Jesus (or they should, and so should Christians) and ask: “Here is one conceived… What is this saying?” It’s saying he is unlike any individual you have ever seen in history before, but we know about him. These allusions, these echoes in the Old Testament: I will give you Spirit-filled people, I will pour my Spirit out upon all flesh… There is one coming, there is the coming one, there is one greater than Moses, there is the greatest prophet, the greatest priest, the greatest king.

We’ve got all these things. What are we seeing in Jesus? Is he a great prophet? Could be. Will he be a great priest? Could be. Will he be a king? Could be. That’s the imagination as we go through the narrative. He’s actually all three.

So there’s the conception. We move to the baptism of Jesus, at the age of 30. At the age of 30, a Jewish man, if he is so trained and prepared to accept it, enters the priesthood. Here’s Jesus, at the age of 30, entering public ministry. He goes to John, who says, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He baptizes Jesus and three things happen: the heavens open. Again, this is not a weather report (you know, it was 30 degrees, it was a mild wind that blew that day and the heavens opened). In the Old Testament, the heavens opened, you have one of two choices: run for the hills – God is judging, or you fall flat on your face in worship because he is about to bless. The heavens opened, [second] the divine voice says, “This is my beloved Son,” and [third] the descent of the Holy Spirit.

He already had the Spirit – he was conceived in the Spirit – so why a second pouring out? Here he’s being set apart as a prophet-priest-king – all three offices in one. He’s being set apart for the ministry of the Messiah, of the Anointed One. In Mark’s Gospel (fantastic – short, punchy, immediate – everything’s “immediately”), immediate the Spirit ekballō, threw Jesus into the desert to be tempted by Satan 40 days. Desert, wilderness, 40 days. This is, to a Jew, highly symbolic. This is the Exodus rule. This is the 40 years in the desert. What did God’s son Israel do in the desert? Disobeyed. A two-big journey – 40 years? They disobeyed.

What’s Jesus going to do? That’s the tension, that’s the narrative. The Spirit pushes him after the baptism into ministry and for 40 days without eating, he defeats Satan. He resists temptation. How? The narrative sets it up. By the Spirit. Not because he’s the Logos, not because he’s God, not because there was a default option, [as if] he’s a robot with a default setting. He is a man, a God-man, who is so filled of the Spirit of God that he resists the ultimate temptation of the devil.

Mark says he comes back and in the power of the Spirit he does his ministry. His ministry is specific: he gives sight to the blind, he heals lepers, he heals paralytics. He’s doing all the things which if we read when we turn to the Old Testament, they say, this is what God will do in the last days. This is what God will do in the last days through an individual person – a prophet, a priest, a king – through someone special who has the Spirit. They begin to talk of him as the Messiah. And here Jesus does those ministries. The Gospels are telling us, by the Spirit, in the power of the Spirit, in the power of the Spirit. We are supposed to be getting the message. I think he’s this person the Old Testament talks about. I think he’s God’s fulfillment, God’s promise.

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Jesus and the Spirit

Mike Morrison: You mentioned that Jesus was the Messiah, which means “The Anointed One.” That made me think – anointed with what? The name “Messiah” is reminding us of the role of the Spirit, the importance of the Spirit and who this person is. How does this help us in our Christian walk?

Myk Habets: It makes Jesus more real – certainly for me. I go back and read any Gospel (it doesn’t matter which one) – and I read it with this understanding that Jesus is fulfilling prophecy, fulfilling all of Israel’s promises – that there is a coming one. They couldn’t conceive of how that all jelled together until the coming of Christ – as we read, the prophets wrote, but they didn’t fully understand even what they were writing about [1 Peter 1:10]. Jesus comes, and Paul talks about the mysterion, the mystery. It’s not a whodunit – it’s a mystery that we now understand more than we did – it unlocks that. So in terms of practicalities – it makes Jesus more real, more human.

That makes him no less divine – in fact it makes him more divine. A God who will go to such great lengths to redeem me, when I’m not worth it. Arguably, humanity isn’t worth it. Why would God do it? That’s the question you always get: why does God love us? Why does God want to save us? There’s no answer. Why? Because that’s who he is. That’s what Jesus reveals. That’s the magnificence of it. The more human Jesus becomes, the more magnificent he becomes as the God/man. God, who knows no sin, became sin for me. God, who knows our limitations, would choose to live as a human – through human eyes, through human mind, through human will and temptations.

I can identify with that. I can relate to that – because he has first identified with me. He’s first related to me. So when I pray, we read in Hebrews [7:25] that we have one before the Father who’s interceding for us. Someone I read recently suggested that Jesus’ very presence as a human in the presence of the Father is his intercession. It’s not a pleading, “Wrathful Father, be merciful on Myk – he’s not so bad.” No, that splits God from Jesus. His very presence as a human before the Father shows that humanity is acceptable to the Father. My humanity is now found in that Jesus Christ. Now, in the already-not yet before the resurrection, I can pray and there is a listening, there is a responsiveness, there is a sympathy, an empathetic person – the second person in the Trinity – as a human.

MM: Because Jesus knows what’s it like to be human.

MH: Yeah, he’s lived it, he’s felt it, he has conquered it.

MM: And he is able to communicate that perfectly to the Father.

MH: He says: I will not leave you orphans in the world, I won’t leave you alone [John 14:18]. I’ll be with you till the end of the age [Matthew 28:20], by my Spirit. In the great Pentecost event, he doesn’t just seem spirit to us. We read so much “spirit” story everywhere, it seems to be one of those plastic words, a hair spray word, you spray it everywhere, but it loses any sense of meaning. We have seen in this narrative the Spirit of the risen Christ, the Holy Spirit, the third person in the Trinity.

We receive the Spirit of his journey with the Son to the far country, to his humanity – he has accompanied him on that journey – has been the one who, with him, has been the power of his resisting temptation, the power of his obedience to the Father. Just as he is for you and for me. That’s the Spirit that Christ gives us – his Spirit – the Spirit enfolded and imprinted with an obedient human life. So I now have resources within me because I’m in Christ to live this life. So when I’m tempted, I can’t say, “Ah, if I stumble, the devil made me do it.” That is not an option anymore. So again, I think the practical response to your question is: Jesus becomes more real, we become closer. God becomes more holy and more loving and more attractive. He’s not just a fuzzy power. He’s not just an energy, not just some force – he’s Christ in us.

MM: He’s the Spirit who has done this, and done that.

MH: Then he commits through Christ, because the first act of Christ’s exaltation was to send the Spirit – to pour the Spirit on the church and on every believer to unite us to Christ, to himself by the Spirit so that we can participate in God. So by giving us his Spirit, by giving us his presence, he’s giving us himself. Wherever we go, Christ is there first by the Spirit, throwing us into the situation, into this conversation, into this event, into this murky fallen existence.

So it transcends a hobby-horse of mine, “What-Would-Jesus-Do.” That’s okay for five minutes. But it’s all external. As if I would know what Jesus would do. What would Jesus do if someone cuts in front of him on the motorway? Well, Jesus didn’t drive cars, did he? So unless I could think of a donkey coming in front of them… Then it gets bizarre… So if you’re a woman in certain situations… It becomes really bizarre. There’s something good about it – an imitation of Christ, but the imitation is external and effectively, what happens is that Christ becomes me to the nth degree. I’m imitating myself. I’m justifying my actions.

MM: You’re creating Christ in your image…

MH: Yeah, and justifying actions on that basis. Is that not what we see in much of the “What would Jesus do” movement? It’s a good movement, with good intention, but a lot of it is simply human justification. They say, this is what Jesus would do. I’m looking it like, “You don’t even know the Scriptures – so how would you know what Jesus would do, if you don’t even know that story?”

So this is moving beyond that to participation in Christ. I think of more of Hebrews’ idea, the biblical idea, where Christ is at the right hand of the Father. He sends us his Spirit in order that we may participate in what he did and what he is also currently doing.

MM: So it’s not us imitating an external, but the external coming into us…

MH: Yep, so that we could participate with Christ by the Spirit. It’s active, it’s dynamic, it’s internal – it’s not me controlling the situation in an external way.

MM: You seem to use Christ and God and the Spirit sometimes interchangeably. I’ve often thought of God being Christ-like, but as you were talking there, it seems that you think that the Spirit is Christ-like. Is that accurate?

MH: Yeah, I think so. Over 200 times in the Pauline epistles we find “in Christ” and “in the Spirit.” Two hundred times – that is pervasive, and they seem to be utterly synonymous. If you’re in the Spirit, you’re in Christ, or if in Christ, then in the Spirit. The same dynamic, the same power – the Spirit and the risen Christ are identified. They’re not collapsed into each other (so it’s not what we would say ontological, that now Christ ceases to be and he’s just Spirit), and yet their functions now overlap. “I will not leave you as orphans, I’ll send my Spirit” [John 14:18] so it’s how you define form, conform, sanctification, etc.

MM: The Spirit represents Jesus and his ongoing presence with us.

MH: Yes, without collapsing Jesus as also being a person of the Trinity. So the Spirit is like Jesus and Jesus is like the Spirit.

MM: Jesus called him “another comforter” [John 14:16].

MH: Yea, another of the same kind, the same quality. We could add the Father into that discussion as well, and do it three ways. If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father [John 14:9]. The idea is that “if you’re in me, you’re in the Father.” The great John 17 prayer, that you will be one with me, as I am with the Father [John 17:21]. Really? Now, if that’s the Logos, you’ll be one with the Father as the Logos is – that means I become God. I’m the fourth member of the Holy Trinity – so now it’s a Quadtinity, you know. But Jesus is speaking to God as man: as I’m accepted by the Father, as I’m a beloved Son, now that you are in me, you are also accepted – it’s a relational oneness, and that’s profound.

MM: Just as Jesus is in the throne room – to use that metaphor – with God, all humanity is brought there…

MH: Yeah, you remind me of Paul: we are seated in Christ Jesus in the heavenly realm [Ephesians 2:6].

MM: Already.

MH: So this is the sense in which we are found in Christ – we come into him, we live and breathe and have our being – while at the same time there is this other reality.

MM: But then that is done by the Spirit.

MH: Absolutely: Church, communion, baptism, mission, worship, witness…

MM: The three persons of the Trinity are all together in that somehow… We can’t separate, but we can distinguish…

MH: Augustine says (and theology has largely followed) that everything God does, he does as one – because he’s one being: Father, Son, and Spirit. But it’s appropriate to talk about the Father doing stuff, the Son doing stuff and the Spirit… As long as we’re not thinking three Gods. We need to constantly remind ourselves of one and three – divine and human – all the tensions in Scripture.

MM: Jesus is our Savior, but the Spirit is also involved in our salvation.

MH: Yea, and the Father in Christ is reconciling, the Father equally. It’s not the Father saying, “Look, I’ll have none of these primordial pests – that’s your job.” And Jesus, the Logos: “What if I don’t want to go,” you know. “Well, too bad. I’m the Father, you’re off.” That would deny the one being. Thomas Torrance has the phrase, “There is no God behind the back of Jesus.” I think it’s a useful phrase. If Jesus loves us, the Trinity loves us. If Jesus accepts us, the Trinity accepts us. If we know Jesus, we know the Trinity.

MM: So what we see is what we get?

MH: Yeah, there’s far more, but what we will get is not other than what we see in Jesus. So I will stand before the judgment seat of Christ I have an assurance that I will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant” because that’s what Jesus says now and that’s what the Trinity will say then.

MM: If Jesus was of such a mind as to becoming human, to condescend to our level, then that means the Father has that kind of humility as well?

MH: Yes, because they’re one being. Homoousios, of the same stuff – the Father, the Son, the Spirit equally work together in all things – for creation, for salvation, for redemption, for renewal.

MM: So the judge comes down to us.

MH: Yeah, the judge is judged our place…

There is this temptation to think of the Father as a bit of a tyrant, the Old Testament God versus the New Testament Jesus, the Law versus Sermon on the Mount. That’s a false dichotomy that Christians intuitively know is false. God loves us in Christ Jesus.

MM: You say intuitively and yet some people still fear…

MH: Sure… Sunday-school child-like faith gets swamped as we get older – we start listening to voices we should not, some of the people from within the church. Doubts creep in, and we need to do good theology, good Bible reading to correct us. “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” is good enough for me. Now I’m adding to that understanding — what does that mean? How do you unpack that? That’s not to base my salvation on. I have salvation, I have faith as a gift, it’s grace; now I’m adding to that knowledge. Theology is worship, worship is theology – at least that’s how it should be. When it’s turned into a philosophy, well…

MM: Seeking more understanding is worship.

MH: Yeah – having the mind of Christ, following after with our entire mind, body, and soul, spirit.

MM: Whereas some even in the church, as you said, would turn that, “Jesus loves me, this I know, but the Father, I’m not so sure about…”

MH: Yeah. Christ would be horrified. “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father. You’re not getting it.” The disciples come sort of mid ministry, they’re following Jesus, they’re seeing what he’s doing, but they’re Jews. “We worship Yahweh.” The Shema says, “Behold, the Lord your God the Lord is one.” They say it repeatedly, they say it every day, but here’s this Jesus who’s doing God stuff, Yahweh stuff. He can’t be Yahweh, it’s incomprehensible. Yahweh’s Yahweh. You’re you… So they come to him, they have that wonderful narrative of Jesus…

You can just see, you know, they’re discussing who’s gonna ask: “no, you ask”; “no, you ask”; “you’re the one – ok, you’re gonna ask.” “Ok, I’ll go.” “Ah, sorry, Jesus, now look, we know we’re Jewish, we know for several millennia that Yahweh’s taught us how to pray, how to approach him, how to think of him, how to ready and prepare ourselves and how to worship. Uh, how do we pray?” They’re asking “who can we address?” “We pray to Yahweh, is that ignoring you? Do we pray to you? Is that ignoring Yahweh? We don’t want to be idolaters.” And Jesus says, “this is how you should pray.”

MM: Kind of odd, why Jews who have been praying all their life would ask how to pray.

MH: Staggering. And he says, even more staggering, “This is how you pray: Our Father…”

MM: They realize that Jesus has completely transformed (or at least that’s the potential) their understanding of God and their relationship with him.

MH: So it is not other than the God of the Jews. It is the same. Richard Bauckham talks about Jesus sharing the divine identity. Jesus shows us what that identity really means. When he says, Our Father – they’re thinking, “Our Father? I know with whom you [Jesus] talk about him as your Father, even at the baptism, ‘This is my beloved Son’ [Matthew 3:17]. Therefore he’s his beloved Father. I know there’s this unique and utter relationship between you two.” He said you should pray, Our Father.

MM: But they have the potential to have the same kind of relationship.

MH: And so it’s working that out. “Our Father” because he’s your Father because I’m related to you. You’re saying you are God. You’re saying you are equal to the Father. You’re saying, in the later language, a homoousios, a one, a perichoretic, all these terms, this is the language of prayer: Our Father, Abba. What Jesus prays, what Jesus reveals, the unique relationship Jesus has with his Father, he’s saying yes you have that too. Only because of me and only in me. And you just see them with more questions, after mid ministry, and still, after that, “we really don’t know who you are.” After the resurrection – ah, “you were who you say you were.”

MM: Several aha moments.

MH: Whether you’re a Thomas, or whoever… “Ah, you are who you said you were.” So we can take you at face value, we can take your word as gospel, literally. You are the way the truth and the life. Ah, you meant it.

MM: And then at Pentecost there was a deepening of their understanding.

MH: The internalization that talks about this new covenant. The Spirit of John 2:28, Ezekiel and Isaiah and all these prophecies, that in those last days you will have this Spirit, too. Well, Jesus was conceived, baptized, lived, empowered and now he gives – he’s Lord of the Spirit.

MM: The same Spirit in them.

MH: But under now his lordship. So we’re not messiahs, we’re not individuals doing the work of Christ. We are now under his lordship, a church, a body of which he is the head corporately and collectively. We often miss that collective – in a lone-ranger Christianity. Or someone says, “I’m the Lord’s anointed; you come to me for stuff.” No. Jesus Christ is the Lord’s anointed. We go to him for stuff and then he gives it to his church. He doesn’t give it to individuals or geographical locales or holy fountains of grace. That can be translated into church hierarchies or pseudo-prophets or any other current manifestation. There’s this collective church that we have to really wrestle with.

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The Creeds and the Trinity

MM: One of the distinctives of the Christian faith is a belief in the Trinity. The word is not found in the Bible, but it has nevertheless been an important part of Christian theology: three Persons, but only one God. The math doesn’t work, but this has been an important formulation that people have been trying to wrap their heads around, trying to understand, what does this mean? Why does Christianity have such a puzzling teaching?

MH: Augustine famously wrote at the end of his big, long treatise on the Trinity something to the effect that “It would be better to say nothing, but we have to say something, so here’s my something,” because God is more than a human mind can ever conceive. If we could fully understand God, we would get bored with God. That’s the original sin. We would turn from God to something else that is more interesting, which is the definition of idolatry.

We are all wrestling with what we rightly term a mystery, but some wrestle more than others and penetrate that mystery more. We believe that God’s a Trinity because that’s what God has revealed himself to be, is the blunt language. When Jesus came and identified himself with the Father as one and sends the Spirit, another Paraclete, another of exactly the same type [John 14:16] – and hundreds of other verses – we have this divine identity is shared by three… What? What’s the human language? We’ve settled on three “Persons” – not three individuals, but three Persons who co-exist in such a unique way that they are one God.

That’s difficult! It’s difficult in any language, any time, and yet it’s a difficulty that is a marvelous difficulty. It’s an enticing difficulty. This is why we pray and worship and sing and write poetry and do theology, because we are striving after that which we already know.

I’ve got children, a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old, and I talk to them about God. I’m talking about the Father, I’m talking about the Son, I’m talking about the Spirit – you get the odd metaphysical question, you know: Is God one or three? But they don’t have too many issues with God as one and three – they’re not dealing with mathematics. They know far more than they could articulate. (Well, I’m hoping so, anyway.) They intuitively and they relationally know, because of what their parents, my wife and I, are telling them, that God – Father, Son, Spirit (we repeat these phrases – not always talking about “God,” not always talking about “Father,” not always talking about Son or Spirit – always talking about all of them) loves you, cares for you, has created you, has a plan for you.

My hope is that they will grow up by default knowing that this Tri-Personal God (however the metaphysics works) loves them. I hope for the rest of their life they will tease out, What does that actually mean? Who is God? How can he be one and three? What is the philosophical-theological language for that? That philosophical-theological language isn’t confirming their faith – it’s merely trying to articulate what I hope as a 5 or 3-year old they already know, what me as a 6 or 7-year old (when I came to faith) implicitly knew – I’m just unpacking that in theology.

That’s what the early church did. The earliest confession in Scripture is “Jesus is Lord – Yahweh.” They believed in Yahweh, what we call the Father, and they also believed that Jesus is the same, but different. They were already doing it. For centuries the early church were worshipping, they’re breaking bread, they’re baptizing, they’re doing works of ministry, alms for the poor, they’re following the way, Jesus, and it’s all worship of a Tri-Personal God, but they don’t have that language. So they come together successively through various councils – Nicea in 325 and again in Constantinople in 381, where they devised what we call today the Nicene Creed.

There were three clauses: “We believe in God the Father, Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, very God of very God, very light of very light” – these wonderful things. The first version had “and the Holy Spirit” – a little muted. By 381 it had, “and we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord.” Significant – same as Father, same as Son – “the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life.” They unpack that. Their worship is primary; the theology is catching up with language about what they are doing in worship.

Same for my kids, same for me, same for (I think) every Christian who comes to faith. It’s by grace, through faith – it’s gift, and now we’re unpacking that. We should do it in the context of worship, not philosophy. That has a place, but it’s not philosophy. This is discipleship. This is sanctification. It’s fun, as well.

MM: Sometimes it’s difficult for us to even describe human persons, a personality. When someone calls me on the telephone, I recognize their voice. But how would I describe that voice? I cannot put it into words. There are aspects of personality even on a human level, people we know very well, and I can see that raised to a much greater level when we’re dealing with divine Persons. How do I describe this? Words… [MH: fail.] MM: yeah.

MH: They do. The Holy Spirit intercedes in his own speech and language (whatever that means); the Holy Spirit picks up where we leave off. How do we describe that? I think it’s a lot like a relationship of a man and wife, a marriage relationship, where analytical description is okay if you’ve lost your spouse and you’re trying to get a policeman to find him or her – how tall, what color eyes, what color are they wearing – it really doesn’t tell anything about them. I think a lot of Christianity is analytical description of God: God is omnipresent, omniscient and omnibenevolent (if that’s a word). God is these things. It’s all utterly abstract.

It would be true, but it’s almost meaningless, unless it becomes internalized: God is Abba, my Father. He is my Abba, Father, because I am in relationship with Jesus Christ, which he has initiated through his Holy Spirit. The tradition I have come from would be happy to talk about irresistible grace, where the Spirit irresistibly draws me to God, but it’s not an irresistible force like the Star Trek tractor beam, where regardless of what you want to do, you’re caught. This is the irresistible force of love.

If someone asks me, Why do you love your wife? I love her because she’s kind, she’s Christ-like, she’s loves me, etc. But why, why, behind that? I don’t know why I love her – I just do. It’s inexplicable. At that level, I will turn to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, or poetry (or the odd limerick, if you like), but analytics aren’t any good. It’s the language of love, the language of poetry, and then beyond that, I’ll just give her gifts. Not necessarily bought stuff, but gifts of service, attention, quality time, because language is a bit useless. It’s necessary, but a bit useless. So I’ll just give myself.

Let’s put that on its head: How does God love us? He loves us through the word, but not just through giving us a Bible. Most people who read it don’t get anything out of it. God doesn’t just give us words – he gives us himself, through the Son incarnate, ultimately and finally, and then, through Christ, the Spirit.

So from the inside out, we know God. We know God and think of God from a center in himself, the Trinity, rather than from a center in ourselves, idolatry. Those are big terms, and those are big concepts, but I think everyone who comes to faith, that’s how they come to faith. Then they look back and try to unpack: How do we know God? How do we speak of God? Well, the way God speaks to us, the way God relates to us: by self-giving.

MM: They may not have the terminology, but as long as they have the basic “God loves you.” They have a relationship even if they cannot articulate it.

MH: This is where I think the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist, Communion, whatever terminology you want), that’s why these rhythms of church life that Christ in his wisdom has given us. “You don’t have the words – I know you don’t.” Even the best theologians (that doesn’t make them the best Christians) have a lot of words, but at the end of the day, here’s these rituals. “I want you to come under the preached word, I want you to keep reciting it, keep repeating it, keep praying it. I want you to have this initiation of baptism.” Entering water, getting wet – especially as an adult, if you’re an adult convert – it’s very humbling, very humiliating. Yet this is signifying, this is symbolic, this is participating, re-enacting what Christ has done for us.

Then we gather around this table of mundane elements – simple bread and wine. We eat, we drink, we participate. This is what these rhythms are, what these sacraments are, why church becomes the focus through Scripture, from the church to the world. God is saying, “Words are good, but participation is ultimately what relationships are about.”

MM: Old Testament worship had a lot of rituals, but they were done away. The church, the New Testament has few.

MH: Two – well, maybe more than two. There’s alms-giving, good works and stuff, but yeah.

MM: There’s some puzzle there: why these? What are they conveying? You were saying they were conveying, re-enacting what Jesus has done for us…

MH: Someone said that they are acted-out parables. I like that – it works.

MM: It’s obvious how the Lord’s Supper is a re-enactment. Jesus tells us, “This is my body, this is my blood.” How would baptism be a re-enactment? Of course, Jesus was baptized…

MH: Different traditions would have different ways of articulating the details of which, that’s fine, but it’s this identification with Christ. “Believe and be baptized for the remission of your sins” [Acts 2:38]. Baptism doesn’t regenerate us. Baptism in Scripture, I would argue, is part of the one activity of coming to faith. You believe and you are baptized; they should be done close together, if at all possible. It’s two parts of one whole.

I confess with my mouth and believe in my heart that I shall be saved [cf. Romans 10:9]. It doesn’t say anything about baptism… They’re using shorthand expressions for the whole thing. I believe, and I’m baptized, and my baptism re-enacts my faith. I’m in union with Christ as I enter the water, into his death as I go down into the water, his assumption of the human flesh, his incarnation and atonement, his taking of my sins on the cross, his complete and utter identification, substitution, reconciliation, the whole dealing to the whole deal. Then coming up the other side a new creation, a new life, resurrection.

It’s this funny wet parable of the cross, of the life, the death, the resurrection of Christ. It’s saying to our community (if the world wants to watch, that’s fine), the church, the body of Christ, “I’m entering this body through Christ – no, that’s not good enough – in Christ. What he’s done can only be done once, and so I’m acting that out to show that I, while I wasn’t there 2000 years ago, I was as good as there in Christ. I’m participating in that. My sins are now his sins, on the cross. My guilt is taken by him.” It’s that utter identification. Then it’s coming out of the water, it is resurrection as well. I think that’s often overlooked.

MM: Most people, when they are baptized, have very little clue on all this symbolism, and yet it becomes a point in their lives which they can be pointed back to and say, this was done to you.

MH: We have to be careful there, and some traditions will baptize infants (Presbyterian, Anglican, Roman Catholic); that has a whole theology. A Baptist like myself has a believer’s baptism, a credo-baptism. Regardless of those dynamics (we can have those debates, and they are worth having), there is a sense in which we never know fully – we’re always catching up. That’s where the symbolic acts are important.

I was saved, but not because I was baptized. I was baptized at age 16 (1986, I think it was). I know who did it and where I was. I was baptized by my father, so it was a special occasion. It is a marker, as you were saying, but it’s a marker only if we can see through it to what it represents. It represents Christ’s unfailing love for me. As long as we don’t substitute baptism for what it symbolizes (and I think that’s what a lot of Christians are doing – “Are you saved?” “Oh, let me think…” “Did you go to Sunday School?” “Yes, I did.” “Did you hear the gospel?” “I did hear the gospel.” “And did you get baptized?” “I did.” “Then you’re OK.” I don’t know if Paul would say that.

It is a strength, it is a nourishing of our faith, but only if it points through to Christ. What have you done since baptism? What is this newness of life that baptism represents? Are you living in that baptism reality? Those are the questions we should be asking.

MM: It comes back to Christ…

MH: Always. The Spirit brings us to him. If the Spirit’s bringing us anywhere or anyone other than Christ, then it isn’t the Spirit of Christ we’re talking about.

MM: You were talking earlier about how the early church developed, began to put words into the doctrine of the Trinity – trying to phrase what they can say and what they can’t say. How was Jesus’ humanity involved in that? Jesus is not just God, one of the members of the Trinity.

MH: After Nicea in 325, Constantinople in 381, after they got to the word homoousios – Jesus is of the same stuff, substance, essence, identity as the Father and as human. Jesus is divine; Jesus is to be worshipped; Jesus is equal to God, and equal to human. Then they work out, What does that mean? We’ve got Trinity; that’s who God is, that’s what he has revealed himself to be. I’ve got a handle (only a handle) on that.

Then, what are we talking about, one person with two natures? What is that? So in 451, the Council of Chalcedon is where they knocked out what they can’t say about Jesus. What we can’t say is that he’s two people, because that would be some sort of schizophrenia. (You see that in preaching today: When Jesus is forgiving sins, it’s his divinity that’s doing it. When Jesus is eating or going to the toilet, that’s his humanity.) That’s ruled out. No, that is not an appropriate way to speak of the one God-man, Jesus Christ. That’s Nestorian. That’s two persons. Or he looks like a human, but he’s not really. His flesh is so different that he’s actually not human at all. It’s a weird Docetism, as they call it at times, and there are a lot of other heresies.

So the church is saying, that’s not true. That leaves a big middle ground for how to say what is true. That’s the beauty of the creeds, of early confessional theology, there is a big middle ground. You can have differences in your tradition, and that’s not necessarily wrong, as long as they’re not contradictory differences – you can have, for example, Arminianism and Calvinism. We can get along fine; we can have our arguments (and we should), but arguments as brothers and sisters, because there is a significant middle ground. The early church is ruling out other options: not that, not that, and it leaves this orthodox space. It’s not so constricting.

The filoque controversy

MM: You mentioned several councils – Nicea, Constantinople, Chalcedon – where they were trying to create these creeds. In each of these councils the church from east and west got together and developed what they could say, what they could not say – in Greek and in Latin. But eventually, the two halves split. [MH: sadly] They went different ways. How did that happen? What was the issue there?

MH: The doctrine of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of love, the bond of love, as we’ve often called the Holy Spirit, has been the occasion of some of the most bitter divisions in the church. So in 1054, east and west go separate ways over the doctrine of the filioque. That’s the Latin word meaning “and the Son.” The Western church started to insert it into one of the creeds without asking the east. You can’t just change a creed without asking the whole church – that was the issue. But the west does. They start altering the creed, saying that the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit.

If we take them in the best reading, they’re trying to defend that Jesus is really God. It’s not just the Father that sends the Holy Spirit – it’s the Father and the Son, because the Son is really God. They’re trying to uphold his divinity – a really good impulse.

The east objected, partly on political grounds: You can’t change a creed without asking us – who do you think you are? The theological grounds for them is that the Father is the font of divinity – the Father is the archē, the chief, the head, the ruler. The Son and the Spirit are equal, but in a coordinated way. Always first the Father, then Son and Spirit. We think you’re undermining the Father when you say “Father and Son.” If you undermine the Father, we think you’re undermining the Trinity.

It’s a complete (I think) talking past each other. What they both wanted to affirm, one by having filioque and the other by not having it, wasn’t being heard. Language was a barrier, politics was a barrier, personalities were a barrier. It’s one of the more bitter splits – the Great Schism, it was called. It’s still a schism today. We don’t want to get into ecclesiastical politics too much, but it’s complicated today by things like having a pope and a hierarchy, apostolic succession – things like that make it something of a barrier, as much as anything else.

Then there are us Protestants, who are generally stand outside of much of that today, and look on with some interest. A lot of Protestantism now is trying to speak into those situations specifically and say, Hang on, brothers and sisters. We have a shared and common sense of the Trinity, and the early church worked with Greek and Latin. They did settle on terms: this means that, etc. One being, three persons, in each of our languages, so can we get back to that Trinitarian understanding that we all share, and can we start to work backwards so that we can get behind the filioque to what you’re trying to say, and what you’re trying to say? I think you’re trying to say the same thing, so can we just put the filioque to one side and construct a language that works and see what happens.

MM: And find some new terminology.

MH: New terminology, yeah. I would say the filioque is neither right nor wrong, because they’re wanting to affirm what the east wanted to affirm, but they did it in a particular way. If the east is so disgruntled by the use of filioque, just (I think fair enough) don’t use it. It’s a barrier to ecumenical discourse. But what’s the theology behind it – that’s what we’re really wrestling with, and I think east and west agree. I think Augustine and Athanasius and Basil and Jerome all agree on the core. If we get back to that core, the Trinitarian doctrine, I think it will (I’m a bit naïve) take care of itself.

MM: They haven’t found the terminology that will achieve unity?

MH: No. There have been lots of suggestions. The one that I am happy to go with (I didn’t create it, and it has been suggested many times – right back from the Council of Nicea onwards it has been suggested): “from the Father, through the Son.” I think it solves everything.

MM: Obviously not everyone takes the same view.

MH: Right. There is political stuff involved, there is personality, there is a long tradition involved. It’s easier for me as a Protestant to make that conclusion than for a Roman Catholic or an Eastern Orthodox.

MM: The Roman Catholic church is one church, whereas the Eastern churches are plural. Even if you could get the Greek church to agree to this, there’d be the Russians, the Coptics.

MH: Yeah. It’s been tried. In 1995, the Roman Catholic Church brought in an agreed clarification of filioque. It was a result of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox dialogue. I think they went out of their way to temper the language, but at base, it’s the same, but it’s a good effort. Earlier, in 1991, the World Alliance of Reformed Theology and Churches met with a number of Eastern Orthodox representatives (Tom Torrance was the one who initiated and led that), and they worked out an “Agreed Statement on the Holy Trinity.”

They’re trying to get behind the filioque. As a result of that, they settled on language that those present (they weren’t formally representing all those churches, but informally they were) agreed: “from Father through Son by the Spirit.” The East recognized that this safeguarded what they wanted; the West recognized that it safeguarded what they wanted, and everyone was happy. I’m happy. But because it’s not an official document, it’s not binding on any actual church. Sadly, I think it’s been ignored since 1991.

MM: Even though it seems to have potential for agreement.

MH: Yeah. A bunch of us, myself included, any opportunity we get, we try to put that back into the discussion, the agenda: “Here’s a good solution that recommends itself; it has good support. Can we reconsider that, maybe? You might be able to improve on it, but can we at least….” A few of us keep putting that on the agenda, to work towards unity. That’s our job.

MM: But unity is not just in terms of formal acceptance of certain creeds; there are other things involved in church unity, too. For one, Jesus said that whether we look like it or not, we are one.

MH: Right. There’s only one church.

MM: We are all in him, so there’s a unity there.

MH: Yeah. But what it gets to on the ground, when we have our academic inter-tradition dialogue, we do the academic stuff, the sharp end of the stick is when we come to the Eucharist. I’m a Baptist, and generally, in a Baptist theology, if one is baptized and loves the Lord, the Lord’s Table is open. We don’t ask if you’re a Roman Catholic or an Eastern Orthodox or Presbyterian or Anglican – it does not matter. If you are baptized and you love the Lord, you may take. That’s not true in other traditions and communions. I’m biased. I think Baptists are uniquely placed to have perspective on that, but so is everyone else.

On the ground, theologians can do their work and come up with some nice language, but when we come back into worship proper, around the Table, if Christians are excluded, stuff stops. That’s where the challenge in ecumenical theology is, for theology to be consistent with practice, and practice consistent with theology.

George Hunsinger wrote a book recently where he unpacks a lot of that from a Reformed reading and he tries to find in the early church (before the split) common ground, common theology. He settles on this very technical term “transelementation,” which is very hard to say, let alone unpack. Whether he’s right or wrong, that sort of work represents the very best of Christians working towards the “one holy, catholic, apostolic church” that exists. Even though it doesn’t look like it, it does. I think we need more of that sort of stuff.

MM: That’s not easy.

MH: No, it’s not. You need to be in positions of authority, positions of elected representation. There’s aren’t many of those in the Baptist world. Other denominations are far better placed to do that sort of discussion: Presbyterians, Catholics, Orthodox. There are spokespeople who do represent them. That’s what we have been seeing in the last what, 13 years of ecumenical discussions: genuinely working and striving towards agreement – not at the lowest common denominator (some of the worst World Council of Churches stuff: What can we all agree on? God loves us. Don’t define God, don’t define love. Let’s just say “God loves us” and we’re all happy.) That’s thankfully not happening in ecumenical discourse much now. It’s genuinely theological, robust, scriptural, looking for common belief.

MM: In some ways theology has been the source of the division; it is now being the initiator for healing that.

MH: I’d like to think so, as a theologian. But what I’m saying is, Theologians can do their work, and we should, but it needs to be translated, if you like, into priestly work – into actual people in front of congregations of believers, where it makes an actual difference. That’s our job, to translate, but it’s also pastors, ministers; it’s also churches’ job to be interested in participating. It’s a two-way thing.

The classic distinction that there are clergy and laity, that has lots of problems, lording it over, but in its best guise you have doctors – you have people separated to learn Greek and to learn Hebrew and do the history and think of this high-faluting theology, to try to unpack it, working with and for the church. But what we’ve ended up with are academies and the university structure (not that universities are bad), where you have a university which is independent thinking, and theology is housed there, and you have churches. That’s tended to split them. We need to bring them together.

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**]Participation in the Divine Nature

MM: Myk, you wrote your dissertation that was eventually published as a book: Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance. The title itself can be a bit intimidating – that’s the way dissertations often are. We can start with the first word, theosis. What is theosis?

MH: It has been an uncommon word to the West, but over the last 20 years has become almost popular. It comes from theopoesis – theos, meaning god – and poieo – meaning to make into. “To make one a god” is the literal translation. Theosis, to become god. In Christian discourse, from the early church onwards, it of course doesn’t mean that a human can literally become God – that’s idolatry – it’s that we become God-like. That’s probably the best definition. It becomes both a theme and a doctrine, depending on who is using it and how. As a theme, it’s a weak image; as a doctrine, it’s a robust idea that coordinates an entire theology. How’s that for a start?

MM: There’s a lot packed into there. But it sounds a bit non-Christian, that we are becoming like God. How’s this to be distinguished from, say, Indian views?

MH: Yeah, Eastern pantheism and mysticism. Apotheosis is a related word. It’s the making of a human into a god. The Egyptian Pharaohs, for instance, believed that they became gods – after death, for the early ones; and then the ones that followed thought, “Why should I wait until after death? In my lifetime I can be god!” There is a pagan sense to the term which we want to rule out. There’s a conception of it which is utterly not compatible with Christian attitude.

But when Christians use the term, from very early on in the tradition, they found within it an image, a metaphor, an analogy, that was profound. When we become united to Christ, we become something different – Paul talks about us being “new creations.” So they’re trying to get at a profound sense of becoming more human, not less, but nonetheless different. How are you the same but different? Theosis was one way they described it – not the only way, but it was a significant way. The term is rhetorical – it demands a reaction.

My thesis title was actually “The Danger of Vertigo,” to get at the sense that it’s too high, it’s too lofty, we get a bit dizzy when we think about it.

MM: It seems like it has some shock value.

MH: Yes. But when the early church started using it, it wasn’t simply shock value. The term was current, and they converted the term. Like the word person – there were definitions of person; they converted the term to give it Christian meaning. There were definitions of god; they converted the term. They baptized the term with gospel meaning.

So here’s this term theosis – the Greeks are using it; it has a currency, it has a history. Like the word logos – it has a Greek and a Jewish history, and John says, “I’m not meaning the Greek idea, I’m not simply meaning the Jewish idea – I’m going to fill it with meaning, but the idea is still there.” So theosis has a bit of shock value now, but it’s good value.

MM: The Greeks had this idea of theosis. Is it found in Scripture as well?

MH: The idea arguably is found in Scripture, although the term isn’t – the term comes later. Within Scripture, we can group together categories of what Scripture talks about when we become Christians, when we become united to Christ, when we become something that we were not. We don’t cease to be human. Before I was a Christian I was still Myk, and afterwards I’m still Myk. Nonetheless, we could look at least seven areas.

p<>{color:#000;}. There’s imitation of God: Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect, says Jesus (Matthew 5:48). Really? Does he mean that? The Sermon on the Mount says, “Your righteousness should exceed that of the Pharisees” (Matthew 5:20). Whatever else you say about the Pharisees, they were righteous. So there’s a sense in which we are to imitate, we are to be like God. That’s a weak sense.

p<>{color:#000;}. Then there’s taking on God’s nature. That’s 2 Peter 1:4, where the term theosis basically gets its name from: We are promised that we can become “partakers of the divine nature.” We can become partakers of God. What does that mean, to take part in God? It’s not to cease to be what we are, yet it is to be more than we were.

p<>{color:#000;}. There’s being indwelt by God,

p<>{color:#000;}. and being re-formed by God.

p<>{color:#000;}. There’s being conformed to the image of Christ, from glory to glory, having his righteousness, having his likeness.

p<>{color:#000;}. There’s being transformed in the resurrection into a heightened state, a state above our current one. Even our physicality, our physical bodies, will resemble that of the resurrected Christ. It’s an utter transformation. We become more like God.

p<>{color:#000;}. There’s the, if you like, theosis or the divinization of the entire cosmos. Romans 8:19-21 says that all creation waits in eager anticipation for the redemption of the sons of God. I don’t know how rocks are eagerly anticipating our redemption, but in a sense all creation is, because it, too, will be conformed and transformed into something higher – new heavens, new earth, where (whatever the language means) the new Jerusalem comes down and makes its home on earth. God’s abode will be our abode; our abode will be his. It’s an utter transformation, but it still talks about trees, birds, and feasting, drinking. It talks about earthly things, but earthly things in a God-like way, humans in a God-like way. Theosis arguably is a good term to express that mystery and that reality.

MM: Is it just a synonym for transformation? What advantage is there in using this odd word?

MH: Many of my colleagues would say, “I agree with everything you’ve said but I don’t like the term theosis as a way to do that.” That’s fine, not all Christians do. Throughout the tradition, not all Christians have liked the term. I like the term because what I see in this constellation of images in Scripture, especially through the incarnation, Christ models this himself, of becoming human.

As Athanasius said in the early church, “God becomes man so that man might become god.” The early church talks about this theology of “the great exchange” – in Latin, the mirifica commutatio, the wonderful exchange. I get what’s God’s; God gets what’s mine, the great exchange. This is the incarnation. To me, that is profound and gets to the sense of Scripture which we’re reading throughout the Gospels and the epistles, that we are the same but we are so much different in Christ. The cosmos itself will be so much different.

I like the term because of its shock value, because of its rhetorical effect, because of the image, the metaphor, the analogy. It’s not just transformation – it’s an idea, a concept, a theology which encompasses the entire parts of salvation. I would use it as a doctrine, not simply as a theme. Some of my colleagues say, “I don’t want it as a doctrine (you’re going a bit overboard), but yeah, it can have a use.” They’ll replace being sanctified, or set apart or transformed, so theosis can replace that. All the normal stuff before and after, but during our transformation, they might use theosis. I think that undermines the term and doesn’t coordinate it with the rest of our theology. Far better to have all, or nothing.

Have you met Julie Canlis? She’s written a book, Calvin’s Ladder, with wonderful spiritual theology. She’s doing profound stuff. She doesn’t like theosis, but she likes “union and communion with God.” She likes “participation in the Trinity.” I mention her because she’s representative of a large part of the tradition. But I still think it has good value.

MM: You wrote your book on this doctrine in the theology of Thomas Torrance. Could you explain a little bit, who is Thomas Torrance? How did you become so interested in him in particular?

MH: Tom Torrance, Scottish Presbyterian, is credited as the chief interpreter, in the English-speaking world, of Barth’s theology. He studied with Barth for a couple of semesters. He was born in 1913, so next year will be 100 years since his birth; he died a few years ago. He was a prolific author. No one’s counted all of them, but the most comprehensive bibliography is over 650 published works. It’s a large body of literature.

He’s been described as a theologian’s theologian. He described himself, apart from being a devoted Christian, as a missionary and an evangelist to academics. A large part of his work was, How do we think rightly? How do we know what we know? It’s in the domain of epistemology. He’s trying to clear the ground for a Christian conception of reality and truth, and it’s Christ-centered. We only know reality by knowing Christ who is the real, who is the way, the truth and the life.

The rest of his work was unpacking a corollary of that – a Trinitarian theology – and teasing apart, What does the Trinity mean when we apply that to Christology, when we apply that to the Holy Spirit, to the church, when we apply that to science (it was a big fascination for him), when we apply that to creation? It’s a large body of work from a profound thinker, a dense writer (not for the faint of heart). He left a body of literature that we can get our teeth into.

He had a younger brother, James, who was equally profound, and he had a younger brother, David, who was also profound, and then they in turn, each of them had sons and daughters. Thomas’s son is Iain Torrance, the president of Princeton Theological Seminary and a patristics scholar. James’s son is Alan Torrance, a professor of theology at St. Andrews, and the dynasty goes on.

You’ve got this family of thinkers profoundly affected by Mr. and Mrs. Torrance senior. Tom, James, and David all credit the mother as being the formative influence. Their father was a missionary in China; their mother, an Anglican, taught them from birth, “God loves you in Christ. God is for you in Christ Jesus. God is a Trinity.” Probably not in academic language, but nonetheless in gospel language, from birth. They all testified to her witness. Then they all find Barth, and they’re critical readers of Barth.

Thomas Torrance’s theology is highly patristic, from the early church; he’s drawing on significant early church figures like Athanasius and Gregory Nazianzus etc., and so it’s rich in the tradition. He’s Reformed, and I have a Reformed theology, so there’s an affinity with Calvin and the tradition there, and he applies it in constructive ways. (A lot of people don’t do that – they’re just happy to deconstruct. But genuine, evangelical Christianity doesn’t just deconstruct – it presents the good news. It reconstructs. If we’re not that sort of human, what sort of human are we? We’re Christ-like humans.)

He latches onto theosis because he has this abiding interest in the Eastern Orthodox Church. He was a Christian with a world vision. So while he’s Presbyterian, his mother was Anglican, so he’s got nice relationships going on there; he interacts with Catholicism, and he came into contact with the Eastern Orthodox, who are also highly patristic.

What I sensed as I did my doctorate in his work was that he brings East and West together, so it’s got to be good. But more than that, he brings different sorts of theologies together as well because he finds those theologies in Scripture. Instead of making them dualistic, either this or that, he manages to provide a coherent whole theology, and that’s not easy. That’s genius, I think.

MM: Is this where you learned about the doctrine of theosis?

MH: Yeah. I start my PhD and you have a proposal, it’s sketchy, and a title, and you pretend you know what it means, but at first you don’t. In the first part of that PhD, I immersed myself in Eastern Orthodox literature, reading the Philokalia and other spiritual writings of the Orthodox; Kallistos Ware and Vladimir Lossky, John Weindorf, all these key figures. (Praise the Lord that they are now translated into English. Fantastic that I didn’t have to learn Russian and Egyptian, etc. We live in a privileged time.) I was immersing myself in Eastern Orthodox theology. Historically, Gregory Palamas, John of Damascus, etc. in the early church, medieval church, and then into the current times. Then re-reading Torrance’s stuff in order to get my own critical reflections.

MM: Thomas Torrance spent some of his time studying patristics, the early church fathers. Is that where he picked up the idea of theosis? Or was this an idea that he brought to them and found in them already?

MH: Undoubtedly he picked it up from them, because you can’t read them and not pick it up. Every single church father, I think without exaggeration, spoke of theosis. He’s finding it there. My suspicion is that it wasn’t until he came into personal contact with the Eastern Orthodox that he joined those dots and theosis became a theme and a doctrine that he was also interested in.

He did a study, his PhD, on grace in the apostolic fathers. Theosis is there in them, but it’s really the patristics just after them which emphasize theosis. Athanasius was one of his heroes, and others. He found it there – it’s pervasive throughout their works. You can’t read Athanasius, for instance, and not know about that divinization, theosis. Or Gregory Nazianzus, or Gregory of Nyssa, or Basil of Caesarea – all these key names that Torrance draws on again and again.

So he found it in the patristics, but I think it wasn’t until his interaction with actual Eastern Orthodox people and theology that that became important. That was reasonably early on in his career, where he came into dialogue with them, and I suspect that’s why it became such an important theme for him, as he continually tried to broker theological agreements with other traditions. “We have this in common.” What we have in common, we celebrate, we share, because he wanted to work towards “one holy catholic apostolic church.” I think (I never had an opportunity to ask him about that) that’s why it became important.

MM: He was able to see this doctrine as useful in a practical sense in terms of relationships with Eastern Orthodox. Did he also find it useful theologically? Did he build on that?

MH: I think he did, and that’s the contention of the book.

However, the answer is debatable. There is a T. F. Torrance Theological Fellowship that has 4 or 500 members, and growing. All those who read Torrance wouldn’t agree that he has a profound doctrine of theosis. I think they’re wrong – I think it is there, and it’s there in a profound and coherent way from early on, where he first has his interaction with the Eastern Orthodox, so my book is trying to set out to prove that across this very large body of work, there is a doctrine (not just a theme) of theosis, self-consciously there. It’s not structuring everything, but it is consistent in everything. I tried to outline it through his theological method, his anthropology, Christology, soteriology, eschatology, ecclesiology, etc.

He argued that all creation is conditioned by the incarnation. So logically, the incarnation is before creation. Not chronologically, but logically. What does that mean? Adam and Eve were created very good… We should ask, “for what?” What were they created very good for? Good to become that which God has designed them to become – Christlike – which necessitates an incarnation, I would argue is Torrance’s view. He coordinates all the little pieces of his theology with this theme of theosis.

And in other doctrines, like perichoresis, Trinity, etc. – it becomes a robust theology which he works out. To take creation again – the rocks, the trees, the very stuff of creation is designed to display the glory of God. But how do rocks and dung beetles display the glory of God? They can’t without humans. So Torrance uses the language the Eastern Orthodox use, today and in history, and he picks up that humans are priests of creation. Humans represent creation – all of creation – to the Father in Christ. The creation itself will undergo transformation. It is good…to be transformed into the abode of God.

Creation – humans – everything, for Torrance, has this transcendental determination which the Fall affected, so we’re turned in on ourselves. After the fall, we become gods, idols. We’re not looking at God anymore, we’re not looking to transcend; we become turned in. With the coming of Christ, he turns us back to the Father, in him, so that in the resurrection we realize fully what we were always created to be. That’s theosis, that’s theotic language, and that’s Torrance to a T, throughout all of his work. I see it; others would disagree. They say, yea, it’s a theme, but we don’t see it that strongly.

So you publish, and you get response and critique, and we’ll see.

MM: The doctrine of theosis was used in the early church on the Greek side. How did that come across into the Western church? When Thomas Torrance was studying it, it was not common.

MH: The West has tended not to think about theosis for a long, long time, so it is shocking. I’m not recommending that you preach to the congregation on Sunday that you can become gods. That language would be misunderstood. But within the early church, the Greek-speaking early fathers, the patristics, were using this term and it was profound, and so were the Latins. They were using it in the same sorts of ways. It’s embedded in their theology.

When we come into the medieval period, Thomas Aquinas was happy to use the term – in a weaker sense, but Anna Williams wrote a dissertation published with Oxford University Press comparing Gregory Palamas, the great medieval Eastern Orthodox theologian, where theosis is everything, and Thomas Aquinas. She argues that Aquinas hardly ever uses the term because it is everywhere assumed. That’s a debatable thesis, but I think she does a very good job of showing the parallels in a Latin way and an Eastern way. The same sort of thing happened in the Reformation.

MM: Who in the Reformation?

MH: Luther’s works are all digitized, so it makes a search a lot easier. Even if you just search for theosis and its cognates, deification, and divinization, it’s often found. He interacts with it directly, he affirms it directly, in his own way – he unpacks what he wants to say. Recent Finnish scholarship, which is Lutheran, has gone back to Luther, asking these sorts of questions (rightly or wrongly, but I think more right than wrong; there might be an overstatement), they’re finding this theme a doctrine in Luther. When we have Christ, we have all of Christ, says Luther, including his righteousness, including his identity, in a sense. We become, in a sense, small Christs. We don’t replace him – we could never conceive of Luther saying that we replace him – but we do become like Christ.

I’m not saying we become God – we become God-like. We have these attributes of God. Luther is happy to pick up on deificatio, in Latin, the deification of the human.

MM: I was thinking of 1 Peter 2:4. There’s a difference between “being partakers of the divine nature” and becoming divine.

MH: Right. The language and the meaning behind the language are very important to distinguish.

MM: Luther has the idea frequently, Calvin somewhat, but then it got lost.

MH: It became a minor key because of the problems. I think of Torrance’s phrase, “the danger of vertigo.” It was possibly too easy to misconstrue what was being said. Lazy communicators cut corners, saying “we become God” – but that’s pantheism. So it tended to diminish, but in the Reformed tradition, if we follow that sort of line, John Owen is quite happy to use it.

Jonathan Edwards saturates his work with theotic language. He uses the term over and over again: deification, divinization. So reading someone like Jonathan Edwards in the American context – he is very happy to use this language. (But Jonathan Edwards was happy to uses all sorts of language modern Reformed aren’t. That’s why I like him, I think.)

So it is there in a minor key, but it becomes muted because in the West, the Augustinianism, the dualism, the legal sort of stuff, forensic stuff becomes all-important. (Justification by faith alone is important, but it’s not on every page of Scripture. Unlike Luther’s comments, it’s here and there.) The legal stuff, the forensic stuff, came to dominate in the West because that’s our legal system, that’s our culture, whereas the East didn’t have that culture.

MM: I was wondering whether it was scientific language, that they expected language to be scientific.

MH: That picks up on the Enlightenment and modernity, that’s true. But that itself would be from out of that Western, legal, dualistic view (Newton and the mechanistic universe). Deification is too mystical, too esoteric. It seems too intangible. So the term becomes associated with Eastern mysticism. For Protestants particularly, Eastern mysticism is ruled out of court. That’s a mistake, though – it’s not Eastern mysticism – it’s robust and practical.

MM: Just because Eastern mystics used the term doesn’t mean that they’ve got the corner on it. [MH: That’s right.]

MM: You mentioned a couple other terms that are similar, more Latin-sounding: divinization or deification. Do you prefer theosis over them, or are they equivalent?

MH: Theosis is Greek, and then you’ve got deification, divinization, which derive from Latin. They’re all the same – synonyms. You can use them equally. I use theosis because divinization has a sense in literature of being divinized, of literally becoming God. That’s not a technical distinction, but that’s often how it’s used. Whereas theosis, because it’s a funny word, it doesn’t immediately have a sense to people today. It’s like inventing a word, you know – what’s a kuza? I don’t know – tell me. And I’ll tell them. What’s theosis? And I tell them.

MM: When does theosis happen?

MH: If we take it as this Christian baptized view, then theosis happens, first of all, in the life of Christ, in a very robust sense. When Christ becomes a human, a historical person, he takes on our humanity in some sense, and he does something to it. He lives for it, dies for it, rises from the grave for it. He owns it, he possesses it, he re-creates it. This is the offer of salvation, the finished work of Christ. He’s not going to do it again – he’s done it. It’s objective, it’s once and for all.

A major question of salvation is, How can we be holy, how can we be righteous, how can we be the expressions of God, who is light? Resurrection is Jesus’ answer. So, when does theosis happen? It happened in Christ Jesus for all of us – and then it’s repeated in actual persons, individuals, throughout the course of our Christian life.

MM: …as we are continually being “partakers of the divine nature.”

MH: Yeah. From glory to glory, from age to age. It begins now, at our faith, our baptism, and it works itself out now. And it doesn’t stop at the resurrection – the resurrection is simply the beginning of what continues from age to age.

MM: There’s more after the resurrection?

MH: Yeah. Because if God is triune, then God has always been becoming – as Barth and Jüngel say: “being is becoming.” God is always active, God is always love (God is love, says John.) This is an ontology: The Father loves the Son by the Spirit, the Son returns the love of the Father by the Spirit, the Spirit is the love of the Father and the Son. You keep doing that movement, that’s who God is. God is dynamic, God is community, God is relational.

If we are made in that image, which Jesus Christ bears uniquely and then we are in that image of Christ who is in the image of God, then in eternity, we can never exhaust that being of God. We emulate, we imitate it, we partake of it, which means (well, I like to think of it) we are always chasing after God (but never catching him, because you can’t).

I don’t know what time is in the new heavens and new earth, but if we use our notions, what’s the song… when we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve only just begun. So ten thousand upon ten thousand, whatever time means, we’re becoming more and more godly, God-like, Christ-like. We’re partaking of him, we’re relating to him, we’re knowing more, feeling more, we’re serving more, and that just never ends. It’s dynamic, because God is dynamic. Because we are transcendent in that sense, we’re always striving for that which we are not: God. And God gives us our wish: we become God-like.

MM: You were saying earlier that’s what he created us for in the first place.

MH: From the first place, yeah.

MM: He gave us a desire for that.

MH: Yeah. So I’m trying to trade off the ideas that Paul talks about Christ pre-existing; he talks about Christ being crucified from the foundation of the world. Christ is prime, Christ is primary, Christ is first. So whatever it means, before creation, in God’s time, God elected the Son to be Jesus Christ; God purposed that the Son would be Jesus Christ. The triune God decided that the Son would take on flesh in order to have these image-bearers that could sense God, feel God, know God, enjoy God, participate in the very best that there is – the summum bonum – the highest we could ever conceive or think or imagine or feel or be: God.

We can’t become God. God purposed in Christ that we could have the next-best thing. We can be in Christ, who is God, and he calls us children, not slaves. We can participate. That’s why I find theosis not just convenient, but actually an appropriate term. It is shocking. That is revolutionary. That is hard to get our minds around. That’s too good to be true – and yet it is true. The word has good rhetorical force.

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About the Publisher…

Grace Communion International is a Christian denomination with about 50,000 members, worshiping in about 900 congregations in more than 70 nations. We began in 1934 and our main office is in southern California. In the United States, we are members of the National Association of Evangelicals and similar organizations in other nations. We welcome you to visit our website at www.gci.org.

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You’re Included…

We talk with leading Trinitarian theologians about the good news that God loves you, wants you, and includes you in Jesus Christ. Most programs are about 28 minutes long. Our guests have included:

Ray Anderson, Fuller Theological Seminary

Douglas A. Campbell, Duke Divinity School

Elmer Colyer, University of Dubuque Theological Seminary

Cathy Deddo, Trinity Study Center

Gordon Fee, Regent College

Trevor Hart, University of St. Andrews

George Hunsinger, Princeton Theological Seminary

C. Baxter Kruger, Perichoresis

Paul Louis Metzger, Multnomah University

Paul Molnar, St. John’s University

Cherith Fee Nordling, Northern Seminary

Andrew Root, Luther Seminary

Alan Torrance, University of St. Andrews

Robert T. Walker, Edinburgh University

N.T. Wright, University of St. Andrews

William P. Young, author of The Shack

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Dr. Joseph Tkach, president of Grace Communion International, comments each week, giving a biblical perspective on how we live in the light of God’s love. Most programs are about three minutes long – available in video, audio, and text. Go to www.speakingoflife.org.



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Jesus and the Spirit: Interviews With Myk Habets

This is the transcript of interviews originally conducted for the video series You're Included, sponsored by Grace Communion International. Technical matters prevented us from publishing the videos, but we have been able to transcribe the interviews. Dr. Habets discusses the importance of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus Christ, the doctrine of the Trinity, and the concept of theosis, or the transformation of Christians as we "partake of the divine nature."

  • Author: Grace Communion International
  • Published: 2016-07-06 01:05:58
  • Words: 18352
Jesus and the Spirit: Interviews With Myk Habets Jesus and the Spirit: Interviews With Myk Habets