Jonathan Edwards and the Polemics of Theosis

My new article, “Jonathan Edwards and the Polemics of Theosis” just came out in the new edition of the Harvard Theological Review 105:3 (July 2012). Here is the abstract:

One of the more intriguing developments in Protestant theology over the past several decades has been the increasing interest in recovering a doctrine of theosis (or deification) for the contemporary church. In nearly every branch of the Protestant tree, theologians are making a case for theosis as integral to their theological tradition. There are proposed projects for Lutheran, Wesleyan, Reformed, and distinctively Evangelical accounts of theosis, all of which attempt to ground theosis within the overarching model of salvation that their given backgrounds affirm. In light of this, it is not surprising that Jonathan Edwards is touted as a key resource. More surprising is how little is written on Edwards’s doctrine of theosis as such. Instead, the focal point has been on themes in Edwards’s thought that allow for ecumenical bridge-building.

In this article, I address the historic backdrop to Edwards’s doctrine of theosis focusing specifically on his curious phrase “neither Godded with God nor Christed with Christ” from Religious Affections. While this is a well known phrase in Edwards studies, no one, to my knowledge, has ever asked where it came from. Several scholars have mused on its origin, with no actual evidence for their views other than the simple fact that another person used the same phrase. I show that this term comes from the Familists (or “Family of Love”), a heretical sect that infultrated New England in the generation preceding Edwards’s life and ministry. Putting Edwards’s use of this phrase in conversation with the heated debates with Chauncy, I argue that Edwards maintained a robustly Christian doctrine of theosis in the midst of these debates even as he was trying to distance himself from sub-Christian accounts. Chauncy, meanwhile, was trying to link Edwards to these heretical developments of theosis.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this development is the fact that Edwards did not overreact to Chauncy. Edwards still develops a robust doctrine of theosis even while being accused of positing a radical doctrine of theosis. It would have been much easier for him to minimize his doctrine, but in reality, Edwards really couldn’t. In this essay I show how his development of glory is really an account of theosis in its own right. In a future essay I am completing right now, I show how Edwards’s theology as a whole fosters this kind of account.

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3 thoughts on “Jonathan Edwards and the Polemics of Theosis

  1. Awesome – can’t wait to read it – of course! I have used Edwards a little myself to good effect so look forward to being educated on the issue. Well done!

  2. “Theosis” of course has some interesting applications for both Orthodox – and I’d add, Humanist – theologies.

    I remember some of your discussion on this topic, earlier. On this very blog. Though I seem to remember you skirting some of the more explosive implications of the concept?

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