Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Evolution of Soul: Theosis for the 21st Century PART IV

Christus Victor was the dominant theory of the Atonement for the first thousand years of the Christian Church. In contrast to the doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement, a highly rationalized doctrine wherein Jesus is understood to be the perfect sacrifice who can atone for all the sins of humanity through his death, Christus Victor is perhaps best understood as a “drama, a passion story of God triumphing over the powers and liberating humanity from the bondage of sin.”[1]

Furthermore, this drama is understood to be subversive. Christ’s death is seen as an “exposure of the cruelty and evil present in the worldly powers that rejected and killed him”,[2] and His resurrection as a triumph over these powers. The Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus, then, serve as an indictment of the whole social order at the time – a social order that was based on strength, dominion, and control. This is understood to be much larger than simply the Roman Empire, and might instead be better conceived as the “Way of the World” or the “Kingdom of the Earth.” It is the entire moral bankruptcy of those who misuse power and refuse the demands of justice. Says Gustav Allen, author of the Christus Victor[3] and herald of the reclamation of the subversive gospel, “"The work of Christ is first and foremost a victory over the powers which hold mankind in bondage: sin, death, and the devil" showing that Christ’s victory was not merely over the dominant powers at that time but over all domination systems through all time. This victory likewise empowers and enables us to subvert and criticize these same systems.

I think one important component of theosis may mean an embodiment of Christus Victor.

If theosis means recovering the image of God in our humanity, then it must also mean acting on behalf of God for humanity. If we truly are to share in the divine nature, to participate in the image and moral will of God, than I think that has to be far more encompassing than merely behavior modification or personal holiness and lifestyle.

Theosis, and even the process by which we try and attain theosis, ought to have components of justice, disruption, and critique inherent.

A Contemporary Theosis:

Being participants in the divine nature has to mean more than simply the ability to live a more moral life or enjoy more spiritual blessings afterwards. To be a participant in the divine nature means that we must also fully participate in our human nature – as Christ did – and involve ourselves in human concerns albeit with divine authority and perspective. This means we must be transformed from spectators into activists, from mere worshippers into missionaries, and from prosperous USAmericans into life-giving ambassadors of Jesus.

Spectators v. Activists

I use these terms in reference to the global scenarios of injustice and corruption frequently viewed by USAmericans as something terribles somewhere else; yet, I believe that “somewhere else” is only a reality insofar as we negelct to think of the whole earth as our home and the playground of our commonality. A theosis of Christus Victor is a transformation that unifies our understanding of global concerns and compels us to act on behalf of the disenfranchised and underrepresented, to rise up – not with violence and hatred – but with concern and with a voice that cannot be silenced by politic or economy.

Wesley makes excellent commentary on such a “transformation of the economic and political order”[4] when he advocates for the establishment of Pentecostal commun(al)ism and the abolition of war.”[5] He understood these to be one aspect of the political dimension of sanctification, an aspect that would create a “holy dissatisfaction with the way things are” and becomes a “future hope that the present can become something better.”[6]

Though I am not a fan of the creation of a kind of Evangelical Enclave, I am very much in favor of a Christian church that wants to leave the Enclave of western imperialism and “get its hands dirty” in the waterless, hungry world of the poor.

Worshippers v. Missionaries

In The New Creation Theologian Theodore Runyn claims Wesley “understood God's goal as the transformation of this present age, restoring health and holiness to God's creation.”[7] He points out that Wesley saw our ethic as being that of entering “into the life of the world to renew the creature after the divine image and the creation after the divine will”[8], and I believe that ethic extends not only to the rescue of the poor but the redemption of the entire created order.

This is more than a sanctified ecology or an environmental enthusiasm. The redemption of creation is a biblio-centric emphasis that understands that true salvation is salvation for more than personal atonement, but is a restoration of all that has been lost since the Fall. This, of course, hastens us to be reminded of Ireneus’ recapitulation but with the fervor of Greenpeace and the broadening scope of the United Nations and the Presidential Council on Ecology and the Environment.

We can no longer be content to worship in our churches. We must now redeem all of the world as an act of worship, becoming missionaries who not only save souls but also save the planet, the animals, the cultures and the ethos of our world. It is a more comprehensive calling, more noble, but also more in line with theosis as it was perhaps understood by the Fathers.

Prosperous Americans v. Life-Giving Christ-Followers

The final movement I see required in a contemporary understanding of theosis is that we learn to see ourselves as a resource for the rest of the world, rather than the idolized playboy of the third-world and/or crumbling communism. Where once Christianity was the author of the American Dream, now I think we have to understand that – for many, many people – the acquisition of the American Dream comes at the expense of never waking up to the reality of the Bolivian Nightmare or the Rwandan Insomnia.

Our orientation must shift somewhat from primarily carrying a gospel of democracy and freedom to the leaders of the world, to carrying a gospel of things like clean water and public education to their children. I realize it is presumptuous to assert that more money from American tax dollars is the solution to the unfortunate economies of less-priveliged states, but I also believe that many Evangelical churches buy their way out of concern for those states with one-time gifts of charity and a short-term mission trip.

We must make larger, longer, investments in places where the time and attention of our finances can be seen to literally create a new world for villages and towns racked by natural disasters, former dictators, and the absence of infrastructure. If used correctly, our money can be a significant step towards solving a significant amount of the problems faced by isolated groups of people and I believe that a contemporary theosis has inherent within it that we try.

When we begin to see theosis in this light, the light of our embodiment of Christus Victor, then I think it has different implications for us than just personal holiness. Without downplaying the significance and worth of piety, allow me to say that I was raised in a holiness tradition and understood faith for many years as primarily good behavior motivated by affection for God. Now, however, the more of the scriptures that I read, the more I became convinced that the world is overrun with injustice and a significant portion of my reflection/embodiment of the divine nature has to be concern for the concerns of God.

[3] Gustav Allen, Christus Victor (London: Macmillan, 1969).

[4] Theodore W Jennings. Good News to the Poor: John Wesley's Evangelical Economics, (Abingdon Press, 1990), 153

[5] Theodore W Jennings. Good News to the Poor: John Wesley's Evangelical Economics, (Abingdon Press, 1990), 153

[7] Theodore Runyn. The New Creation: John Wesley's Theology Today, (Abingdon Press, 1998), 169.

[8] Theodore Runyn. The New Creation: John Wesley's Theology Today, (Abingdon Press, 1998), 169.

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