Five Views on Justification? (Or, A Bone to Pick)

A few months ago, Michael Bird announced his participation in a forthcoming volume from IVP tentatively entitled Justification: Five Views. The contributors and their respective views are as follows:

1. Traditional Reformed: Michael Horton
2. Progressive Reformed: Michael Bird
3. “New Perspective”: James Dunn
4. Theosis: Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen
5. Catholic: Gerald O’Collins and Oliver Rafferty

I will be the first to admit that I rather enjoy “counterpoint” books such as these, and a few of them were once very important to me personally in starting to think about a number of issues. However, I was taken aback to see theosis nonchalantly treated here as a “view of justification,” a classification that, in this case, would be appallingly reductionistic. In spite of this difficulty, I welcomed the announcement as an opportunity to see in print a treatment of the Orthodox doctrine of theosis accessible to those not generally acquainted with Orthodox publications.

As I was unfamiliar with the author of the theosis chapter, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, I decided to do some investigating. I had originally assumed him to be a Finnish Orthodox scholar involved in the fascinating “New Finnish Interpretation of Luther” that arose in the context of the Lutheran-Orthodox dialogue in that country (cf. Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson, Union with Christ: The New Finnish Interpretation of Luther [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998]). Instead I found that Dr Kärkkäinen is a Pentecostal scholar, both an ordained minister in his denomination and a professor of systematic theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. Since the authors of the chapter on the Roman Catholic view are themselves Roman Catholics, this suggests to me that the chapter on theosis will not be, in fact, an account of the biblical and patristic doctrine of deification as believed in the Orthodox Church, but another Protestant view of justification perhaps influenced by the “New Finnish Interpretation” (a contribution which would be exceptionally interesting in its own right).  Well, at least I hope so: it is not the case, after all, that there are no English-speaking Orthodox scholars who are capable of writing a chapter-length treatment of the doctrine.

To those seeking an accessible  and pastorally sound Orthodox exposition of the biblical and patristic doctrine of theosis, I warmly recommend Archimandrite Christoforos Stavropoulos’ frequently reprinted little book Partakers of the Divine Nature (Minneapolis: Light and Life, 1976). Interested parties can be assured that, with this little gem in hand, they can hardly do any better.

20 responses to “Five Views on Justification? (Or, A Bone to Pick)

  1. It is not the case, after all, that there are no English-speaking Orthodox scholars who are capable of writing a chapter-length treatment of the doctrine.

    Bishop Kallistos Ware?


  2. I wonder is Kärkkäinen will take the ‘global’ approach to the doctrine that he’s done in his writing on the Trinity, Christology, and the Holy Spirit. He’s good for surveying what people ’round the world think and say about certain subjects. But I’m sure you’re right that it will not be a faithful representation of the patristic and Orthodox doctrine. At least I doubt very much that it will be.


  3. I enjoy the counterpoint books as well although they do anger me at times. How come a Lutheran doesn’t get to write a chapter? I have heard it said that the Orthodox church does not have an official doctrine when it comes to justification. Is this true? When I have heard Orthodox speak of the doctrine some sound very Roman Catholic and some sound very Lutheran. I’ve heard that pastors who have jumped from the Lutheran to the Orthodox boat were told that they could continue to teach the Lutheran position on the doctrine of justification. I’ve also heard Lutheran pastors argue pretty convincingly that the doctrine of theosis is compatible with Lutheran theology. Any thoughts on this?

    The strangest Counterpoints book I’ve read was “Four Views on the Lord’s Supper.” The Lutheran guy seemed to be the only one actually trying to defend his own position. The Reformed guy was trying to pretend to be Lutheran. The Baptist guy sounded Orthodox. The Roman Catholic wanted to be everyone’s friend and avoided talking about the most controversial passages.


  4. Mike> Yes, Metropolitan Kallistos is one of them, though I must admit I’m not among his biggest fans. I was thinking of someone more along the lines of Frs John Behr or Andrew Louth, or even such fine lay scholars as Presbytera Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou. I suppose I must be thankful, however, that they didn’t call on Bradley Nassif.

    As for your observation about the Lutheran and Reformed doctrines of the Eucharist, I must take vigorous exception. They are very different indeed — as different as their respective Christologies.

    Nick> Well, even that would be a fine contribution to that particular dialogue. I’m just nervous that his article for that book is simply entitled “theosis.”

    Charles> Good point! It didn’t even occur to me that there is no confessional Lutheran article in the book, and as we know, their formulation of this doctrine is significantly different from the Reformed approach at some pivotal points. Yet there are three (!) different Reformed articles.

    The debates about justification in the Reformation age were distinctly Western Christian arguments within a Western Christian mileu, and as such, I have found that they have very few points of contact with the soteriology of the Eastern Church (i.e., that of the Greek and early Latin Fathers). As such, then, it is notably absent from standard dogmatic treatises (e.g., St John of Damascus Exact Exposition). When it comes to the elucidation of the meaning of the term “justification” as used in by (St Luke) and St Paul, we must turn to the exegetical writings of the Fathers (notably St John Chrysostom) rather than to their dogmatic expositions. It is not that there is no “official” Orthodox understanding of the meaning of the term “justification,” but rather that our soteriology does not hang upon it, as does that of the Latin church.

    Meanwhile, I’ll have to check out that “counterpoints” volume on the Lord’s Supper. Is that the one from Broadman and Holman?


  5. Esteban:
    The one I read was published by Zondervan. The Baptist’s position in the book would definitely not be acceptable to any respectable Orthodox theologian but he does draw on some Orthodox themes and strangely avoids any straightforward defense of the Zwinglian position he is supposed to be defending.


  6. Charles> Ooooh, that is so upsetting! This reminds me of an anecdote told by the late great John Gerstner in which he recounted a debate he had sometime in the ’70s with Roman Catholic priest on the doctrine of justification. He said that he got increasingly frustrated with this particular son of Popery because he kept defending not a Roman Catholic, but a Barthian (!) view of justification. It wasn’t until Gerstner pulled out the Acts of the Council of Trent that the embarrassed priest started to defend what he was supposed to be defending.


  7. My, my, so it looks as though the Reformians are having quite the field day with everyone else’s theology.

    And we all know that it’s far less predictable than a crap shoot what a Poperian will cop to as the official line since the sulphur-drenched “Ecumenical” Council Vatican II. I get a great kick out of their current denial of the eternal dual procession established as dogma in the “Ecumenical” Council of Florence. They were quite adamant about its being dogma then. Perhaps, according to the spirit of Vatican II, they might explain this to us via an interpretive dance with giant puppet heads and felt banners….


  8. Hey! Interpretive dance, puppets, and felt banners went out in the 70’s! Anyways, you forgot to mention the Polka “mass”.


  9. Once again, I blame the 70’s. The foul “spirit” that some oddball priests adopted after Vatican II has now been officially fumigated by the writings of JP II and B16. I would also mention that Paul VI was very clear, see his Credo on the People of God, yet he was too meek/weak of a man. Things have been made more clear, however, by the publication of the CCC. While there are still priests and religious out there who spout off on all kinds of issues, which may or may not actually be what the Latin Church teaches, there is no excuse for people to take them at their word. The information is out there and can easily be read.

    I am sure that a certain Orthodox priest, whom we both know, that teaches at a local Catholic seminary would be able to give a fine history of the past 30 years on this topic. Of course, he is simply a “humble church historian.”

    Son of Popery
    (I like that, even with its hints of anti-Catholicism) :)


  10. All kidding aside, in regards to the filioque issue, I don’t see how this has been “dances around” since Vatican II. Again, I don’t take what individual people says as representative of official Latin Church teaching. Is this not clear:

    CCC 248: “At the outset the Eastern tradition expresses the Father’s character as first origin of the Spirit. By confessing the Spirit as he “who proceeds from the Father”, it affirms that he comes from the Father through the Son.77 The Western tradition expresses first the consubstantial communion between Father and Son, by saying that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (filioque). It says this, “legitimately and with good reason”,78 for the eternal order of the divine persons in their consubstantial communion implies that the Father, as “the principle without principle”,79 is the first origin of the Spirit, but also that as Father of the only Son, he is, with the Son, the single principle from which the Holy Spirit proceeds.80 This legitimate complementarity, provided it does not become rigid, does not affect the identity of faith in the reality of the same mystery confessed.”

    77 Jn 15:26; cf. AG 2.
    78 Council of Florence (1439): DS 1302.
    79 Council of Florence (1442): DS 1331.
    80 Cf. Council of Lyons II (1274): DS 850.


  11. Tim read more on the history of the Council of (Ferrara-)Florence itself rather than reinterpretations of it . It puts the lie to the modern waffling that you’ll see in the catechism and elsewhere on the subject. It was exactly and precisely eternal procession of the Holy Spirit from both Father and Son, without nuance, that was proclaimed by the Latins and required of the Byzantines, and that was what was (disastrously) agreed to by all except Saint Mark of Ephesus. There is no mistake about it.

    While the banners may no longer be felt, I assure your that interpretive dance, giant puppet heads, and stupid banners of other sorts are all alive and well in various Catholic churches, in addition to further shameful foolishness. See Christopher Gilliland’s site: Catholic Church Conservation. Videos, photos, and commentary are all there. CG is a much more conservative than average Catholic, with a distinct penchant for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and all the pre-Vatican II practices. If I have any sympathy anymore for Catholic liturgies, it is likewise for those.


  12. Kevin,

    Thanks for the links. I belong to a fairly traditional Catholic parish, that also offers the Extraodinary Form, so none of that sillyness is tolerated there. While I agree that foolishness in the Mass is still present in some parishes, I have found that the moments of liturgical insanity, includeing puppets, dance, etc…, are far less than they were 20 years ago. Are they still around? For sure! I have done ministry on college campuses for the past 8 years and have seen a noticable change in many people in regards to this issue. Of course there are still hippy priests out there that allow this kind of stuff, but it is considerably better. I also think the Motu Proprio by B16 will, over time, help this. (I say this as one who prefers the Novus Ordo to the TLM).


  13. Tony> I am no dismisser of Kärkkäinen, hasty or otherwise. But as I noted above, I do find fault with, firstly, the myopic reduction of the full-orbed patristic vision of theosis to a mere “view of justification” (!), and secondly, the snubbing of English-speaking Eastern Christian scholars when it comes to the discussion of central aspects of their Tradition. Now, as I already suggested, it may well be that the subject matter of this article is not, in fact, the biblical and patristic doctrine of theosis as believed in the Orthodox Church; if so, an articulation of a Protestant view of justification informed by the “New Finnish Interpretation of Luther” would be an invaluable contribution to that particular dialogue, and I applaud its inclusion. But if not, well, really, what gives? They lined up Reformed scholars to write on the various Reformed perspectives, and Roman Catholic scholars to write on the Roman Catholic view. Why not an Eastern Christian to write on the theology of the Eastern Church?


  14. Its at least gotta be intelligible to Evangelicals if it’s on IVP! I can just imagine an evangelical right now: “Who the hell is John Behr?”


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