Divinization: The Vain Wish Of The First Sinners, Not God's Goal In Shaping Human Creatures

Excerpt from:
Kolb, Robert (2009-02-05). Martin Luther: Confessor of the Faith (Christian Theology in Context) (pp. 127-129). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition. 

Many twentieth-century scholars missed Luther’s underlying understanding of God’s Word as his creative agent for determining reality. Therefore, they debated fruitlessly whether Luther’s doctrine of justification was ‘effective’— God’s ‘actual’ rendering sinners righteous in deed— or ‘forensic’— God’s ‘merely’ saying that they are righteous. First the ‘Holl school’ 93 and recently the ‘Finnish’ school of Tuomo Mannermaa challenged the so-called ‘forensic’ interpretation of Luther’s doctrine of justification. Holl recognized that Luther had emphasized the performance of good works and tried to tie the sanctified life to the act of justification. Mannermaa associates Luther’s view with the Eastern Orthodox concept of theosis or divinization , in arguing that justification is more real than ‘merely’ a divine verbal observation. 94 Both interpretations wish to avoid regarding justification as the creation of a legal fiction—believers remain really sinners but God simply refuses to consider them as such. Gerhard Forde rightly recognized that such attempts are both historically inaccurate and theologically unnecessary when he observed that the more ‘forensic’ Luther’s teaching becomes, the more ‘effective’ it is, because nothing can be more real than that which God’s Word declares. Furthermore, Luther’s distinguishing God’s restoration of human righteousness and the effect it has on human performance of new obedience dare not be confused with a separation of the two, as though there were no moral consequences of receiving new identity and new dignity as God’s child. 

Always conscious of the continuing mystery of sin and evil in the lives of the baptized, Luther nonetheless distinguished the question of human moral performance from the identification of the source of the believer’s righteousness in God’s sight and the believer’s trust. Mannermaa argues that faith in Christ brings believers to full participation in the person of Christ. ‘Because faith means a real union with Christ, and because in Christ the Logos is of the same essence as God the Father, therefore the believer’s participation in the essence of God is also real.’ 95 This view ignores the nature of the ‘union’ of bride and bridegroom that Luther employed so frequently (in which the two participants in the union do not become ‘one essence’ but retain their distinctiveness), and his understanding of the preposition ‘in’ when Luther uses the Hebraic concept of two distinct entities being ‘in’ each other (that is, in a close association which does not merge them but brings them together in intimate relationship). It also ignores Luther’s strong doctrine of Creator and creation, which emphasized the distinction of the Creator and the human creature and the goodness of being human as God’s creature. Luther viewed ‘divinization’ as the vain wish of the first sinners, not God’s goal in shaping the human creature. Luther believed not that ‘faith communicates divine attributes’ to believers 96 but rather that Christ’s word of forgiveness restores the perfect attributes of God’s human creation. Schwarzwäller succinctly and aptly summarizes the flaws in this new interpretation of Luther’s doctrine of justification on the basis of its inadequate methodology, its flawed reading of Luther’s texts in historical context, its faulty logic in equating several distinct terms, its insufficient theological understanding of Luther’s doctrine of creation, God’s Word, and related teachings, and its linguistic misinterpretation of much of Luther’s key terminology. 97 Indeed, Luther very occasionally uses the medieval mystical term ‘divinization’, but he always clearly distinguished Creator from creature. He defined trust, not an indwelling presence of the divine, as the central human characteristic that brings all else in human life into harmony with the Father who created his people and rescued them from evil through Christ’s death and resurrection.

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