Reformation 500: Christ Present in Faith

Translucent (2014)

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

• • •

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.

7 thoughts on “Reformation 500: Christ Present in Faith

  1. p.s.

    In Classical Christianity (Christianity 1.0, as Mule would say), the Sacraments as direct encounters with the Holy Spirit are meant to be “booster rockets”, if you will. Not automatic, but dependent on what there is in each person’s heart for the fuel to “push”.



  2. It’s transformation, but not for transformation’s own sake. The point is union with God, which is possible because we are made in the image of The Second Person – God created a world into which he could become incarnate as a human being, and humans were made in such a way that that is possible.

    The Incarnation is supremely important. All that it means to be God + all that it means to be human (divine nature + human nature) are united in the human person of Jesus. Therefore, everything about who he is and what he has done includes humanity and every human person.

    Humans are not divine “by nature” – we are created and God is not. The Incarnation and all of Christ’s subsequent acts – both as God and as a human being – enable the Holy Spirit to work within us, transforming us by grace (his own Personal action within us) into the kind of being God is. That means, we become constantly able to give ourselves away in love and do good to all, in complete freedom and without reference to death or fear of death (see Heb 2.11-15).

    The B16 & Bonhoeffer quotes are quite apropos – thanks, Christiane.



  3. theosis=a transformation, becoming more like God.
    divination= I don’t believe Mannermaa used it in the sense of future telling. I really believe he meant to become divine.

    Lutherans historically accepted imputed righteousness. That is, it is actually from outside oneself(“imputed” and meant as justification by faith alone). But there are some who believe it is actually inside oneself(infused). And these types complain protestants don’t actually believe they need to have their lives transformed(theosis). And to top it all off…..the new perspective on Paul( N.T.Wright) challenges both of these historic concepts. The new way I’m guessing says righteousness can neither be imputed or infused. It is God’s(Christ’s, The Holy Spirit’s) alone. You are actually just vindicated.

    Just trying to help in my way with words, but you have to add these traditional words to get the drift of an author.

    May I also say I strongly identify with what Christiane posted from Bonhoffer. I could go on and on about that quote from him.


  4. Hi Stephen,
    I think the correct term is supposed to be ‘divinization’ . . . . .

    I believe it all has something to do with being invited into the life of the Holy Trinity. We get ‘incorporated’ or ‘adopted’ into the life of the Holy Trinity.

    There may be other points of view, but I think this comes close to the main idea. (I hope) 🙂


  5. Ok I’m not afraid to admit there have been gaps in my education. Can someone explain to a dumb ole ex-Southern Baptist what the heck “theosis” and “divination” mean? Please do not quote any church father (or mother). Tell me in your own words. No Latin or Greek.



  6. ” “Faith” involves participation in Christ . . . ”

    reminds me a little bit of this from Benedict XVI:

    “” …. our common identity within the diversity of cultures is Christ, and it is He who makes us just. Being just simply means being with Christ and in Christ. And this suffices. Further observances are no longer necessary.
    For this reason Luther’s phrase: “faith alone” is true, IF it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love. Faith is looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, being united to Christ, conformed to Christ, to His life.
    And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence to believe is to conform to Christ and to enter into his love. So it is that in the Letter to the Galatians in which he primarily developed his teaching on justification St Paul speaks of faith that works through love (cf. Gal 5: 14).”
    (the source of this quote is from a speech given by Benedict during a General Audience in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday, 19 November 2008)

    I think the references in this post to theosis and to the Orthodox concept of divination really focus attention also on the Doctrine of the Incarnation . . . that is something I think may draw many people to comprehend more about how we are ‘in Christ’ when He assumed our humanity to Himself

    On the topic of the Incarnation, the Lutheran martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:
    ““And in the Incarnation the whole human race recovers the dignity of the image of God. Henceforth, any attack even on the least of men is an attack on Christ, who took the form of man, and in his own Person restored the image of God in all that bears a human form. Through fellowship and communion with the incarnate Lord, we recover our true humanity, and at the same time we are delivered from that individualism which is the consequence of sin, and retrieve our solidarity with the whole human race. By being partakers of Christ incarnate, we are partakers in the whole humanity which he bore. We now know that we have been taken up and borne in the humanity of Jesus, and therefore that new nature we now enjoy means that we too must bear the sins and sorrows of others. The incarnate Lord makes his followers the brothers of all mankind.”


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