About Providence, Divine Action and the Church

In this blog, Terry J. Wright posts thoughts and shares research on the Christian doctrine of providence. This doctrine testifies to God’s provision for all things through creation’s high priest, the man Christ Jesus. However, the precise meaning and manner of this provision is a perpetually open question, and this blog is a forum for discussion of the many issues relating to providence and the place of the Church within God’s action.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Book Review: Denis Edwards, How God Acts (7)

Chapter 7

Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3 (first part), Chapter 3 (second part), Chapter 4 (first part), Chapter 4 (second part), Chapter 5, Chapter 6

Edwards now turns from the resurrection to the concept of redemption, which he argues covers a range of themes from forgiveness and healing to transformation in Christ and participation in the life of the Trinity. In fact, the ideas of transformation and participation form the centre of this chapter, as Edwards builds on the writings of Athanasius of Alexandria to argue for an understanding of redemption as deifying transformation. This, says Edwards, is a theory of redemption that is faithful to the God proclaimed by Jesus and factors in not just humanity, but the whole of the created order.

There are three aspects of Athanasius’s theology of the incarnation on which Edwards focuses. First, there is the God–creation relationship to which the incarnation points. The Word is the agent of both original and continuous creation, and it is through this Word that humans are called to share in the Word’s own life. This possibility is made actual because the Word became flesh: God and the created order meet in the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ. Moreover, because the Word became flesh, it is material humanity that is redeemed and renewed – this is the second aspect of Athanasius’s theology that Edwards expounds. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, Edwards enthuses, ‘death is defeated from within and we are bound securely to the life of God.’ (p. 113). Finally, the transformation of humanity that comes through Christ’s death and resurrection is deification (theopoiÄ“sis). Humanity is taken into the life of the triune God in what may be called an ontological participation in God by grace. This theology of deification means that human beings are only truly human when they are enabled to participate in the life of the triune God through the work of the incarnate Word and the Spirit. Edwards notes that on a few occasions, Athanasius also includes the whole of creation in this process of deification.

Having dealt with Athanasius, Edwards is now in a position to outline his own theology of redemption. He does this by drawing attention once more to three aspects. First, deifying transformation applies to humans: the biblical usage of transformation is very similar to the concept of deification, but a proper account of deifying transformation needs to incorporate the great themes of justification and sanctification. Humans may become the dwelling place of the Spirit, who is a guarantee of further transformation in resurrection life. Secondly, deifying transformation applies to the material universe: the resurrection of Christ is the beginning of the world’s deification. And finally, deifying transformation applies to the biological world: all living creatures, not just the human, somehow participate in Christ’s redemption. At this stage, Edwards is content to say no more, for this idea will be part of his discussion of eschatology in Chapter 9.

As with Chapter 6, I found this chapter a little repetitive. Edwards’s outline of deifying transformation does not build on Athanasius’s theology of the incarnation so much as it restates it. Actually, this is probably too harsh, for Edwards deliberately connects Athanasius’s theology of the incarnation to modern scientific theories such as evolution and the place of the animal kingdom within God’s purposes. On the whole, this was a decent chapter, but hopefully Chapters 8 and 9 will invite deeper exploration of deifying transformation.

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