May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
• 2 Peter 1:2-3
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To follow up on yesterday’s post, we turn to a book that discusses the so-called “Finnish” interpretation of Martin Luther. We’ve mentioned it here before — it’s called Union with Christ: The New Finnish Interpretation of Luther. It features top Finnish scholars, with responses by Carl Braaten and Robert Jenson, American Lutheran and ecumenical theologians.
The Finnish school of interpretation is best represented by Tuomo Mannermaa, professor at the University of Helsinki, known for his book, Christ Present In Faith: Luther’s View Of Justification, in which he discusses the relationship between justification and theosis in the theology of Martin Luther.
Here are some excerpts from Mannermaa’s chapter, “Justification and Theosis in Lutheran/Orthodox Perspective.”
In the ecumenical dialogue between the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and the Russian Orthodox Church it has come out that the idea of theosis can be found at the core of the theology of Martin Luther himself. My task here is to expound this idea of theosis in Luther’s theology and its relationship to his doctrine of justification.
Finnish Luther research has come to the conclusion that Luther’s idea of the presence of Christ in faith can form a basis for treating the question of divinization. The Lutheran understanding of the indwelling of Christ implies a real participation in God and is analogous to the Orthodox doctrine of participation in God, or theosis. When seen in the light of the doctrine of theosis, the Lutheran tradition is born anew and becomes once again interesting.
…Luther does not separate the person of Christ from his work. Rather, Christ himself, both his person and his work, is the ground of Christian righteousness. Christ is, in this unity of person and work, really present in the faith of the Christian (in ipsa fide Christus adest).
…For Luther evangelium is not proclamation of the cross and/or of the forgiveness of sins only, but the proclamation of the crucified and risen Christ himself. It is one of the main themes of Luther’s theology that only the crucified and risen Christ himself as present can mediate salvation.
…It is important to appreciate that the conquest of the forces of sin and destruction takes place within Christ’s own person – and, in a sense, in his faith. He won the battle between righteousness and sin “in himself” (triumphans in seipso). Sin, death, and curse are first conquered in the person of Christ; “thereafter,” the whole of creation is to be transformed through his person. And this brings us to a most important insight: salvation is participation in the person of Christ.
Central in Luther’s theology is that in faith the human being really participates by faith in the person of Christ and in the divine life and the victory that is in it. Or, to say it the other way around: Christ gives his person to the human being through the faith by which we grasp it. “Faith” involves participation in Christ, in whom there is no sin, death, or curse. Luther quotes John: “‘For this,’ as John says, `is our victory, faith.”‘ And, from Luther’s point of view, faith is a victory precisely because it unites the believer with the person of Christ, who is in himself the victory.
Theology doesn’t get any more Jesus-shaped than that. It’s all about Christ. He is both the favor of God and the gift of God to humans in need of rescue and transformation (Romans 5:15-17). He conquered the powers of sin, death, and evil in his own person, and then gives himself completely to us, to be received through faith. In the “happy exchange” Martin Luther described, Jesus took all our sin, corruption, and death upon himself, and in return gave us his very righteousness and divine life.