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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Theosis, Participation in Christ, Billings and Fairbairn

I am recommending 2 books that should be read together. These are probably more for the scholastically minded pastors and academically placed professors.

The first is written by a professor at Erskine Theological Seminary, Dr. Donald Fairbairn: "Life in the Trinity: An Introduction to Theology With the Help of the Church Fathers", published by IVP. This 240 page book is a Gospel-Driven, Gospel-Defined work that guides the reader through some important themes in the early Church pastors/theologians. Fairbairn primarily focuses on four big players; Irenaeus, Athanasius, Augustine and Cyril of Alexandria. He does reference a few others, but primarily works with these four. The central theme has to do with the ancient notion of theosis or participation. Fairbairn has done a nice job weaving classic Protestant teaching (justification, sanctification etc) into and flowing from participation in Christ.

This leads me to the next book, published by Oxford Press. It's a rather pricey book (I believe it is set for around $120 per copy). J. Todd Billings, "Calvin, Participation, and the Gift: The Activity of Believers in Union with Christ." Billings works out in 197 pages Calvin's premise about the union believers have with Christ. Believers' "deification" is a differentiated participation with the Father through union with Christ by the Holy Spirit. From this participation/union, Billings shows how Calvin worked out various aspects of classic Protestant thinking on issues like justification, sanctification, sacraments, etc.

If the price of Billings' book is prohibitive, there is an alternative. Billings has a chapter-length synopsis in a multi-authored book. The book is edited by Michael Christensen and Jeffery Wittung, "Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Traditions", published by Baker. Billings' chapter is titled simply, "John Calvin: United to God through Christ."

The importance of these two books lies in the fact that though they are working from different sources, they overlap considerably with regard to the significant Gospel-truth of our union with Christ, and some of the momentous implications of this union.


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