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.