Thursday, March 17, 2005

Discipleship and Theosis

One of the great wonders of my life is that I go through periods where I can see that the Lord is trying to teach me something. I see it in the convergence of the same idea from several sources. I don't always know immediately what it is that he is teaching me, but I see enough to sit up and pay attention.

Right now, the idea of the presence of Christ in faith seems to be a channel for such teaching. I just read Tuomo Mannermaa's book, Christ Present in Faith, which was, of course, the seed. Then, no sooner has I started reading that book than I saw Dwight's posting (several weeks old by the time I came across it) on The Thinklings' blog suggesting that the same idea could be found in Bonhoeffer's Discipleship

Now this is no small piece of data because it marks the shift from a merely interesting theological idea to something of more direct use -- discipleship.

Then this week I was listening to George MacDonald's Getting to Know Jesus when to my great surprise, I found the same idea in MacDonald's sermon "Mirrors of Christ." And those familiar with MacDonald will no doubt know that I found it paired with discipleship once again.

In this sermon, MacDonald is preaching on 2 Corinthians 3:12-18:

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness from glory to glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Macdonald's key insight is that where this translation (and the translation he was using) says "reflecting", St. Paul really means something more like "mirroring" but "mirroring" in the phenomenological sense. That is, just as when you see a light in a mirror you see the light deep inside it, dwelling in the mirror, and so when we "mirror" the glory of Christ, it is because the light of Christ is inside us, shining out.

Now this is still a long leap from theosis, but bear with me and listen to some of the language he uses:

"The face of Jesus himself, as we behold Him dwelling in us, as light dwells in a mirror, is the spirit of Christ working in us and changing us 'from glory to glory' even by the Lord the Spirit."

"There is no doubt we shall reflect it, but you shall do better than reflect it. A man reflects it when he talks about it, but he is to be changed, he is to be transformed into the same image 'from glory to glory.' We become glorious by the presence of Christ dwelling in us and working in us until as He was in the world so we are in the world and are radiant with His light."

"I try to be honest but I know I cannot and never should be until [Christ] is absolutely supreme in me and until through His presence in my soul, I love my neighbor...even as Christ loved him."

"Let us open heart and soul to the divine presence of the Lord, the Spirit which works a change in men through His glory into a glory of their own which is His still and the same, originating from Him and yet theirs. Friends, we shall make no progress whatever until we set ourselves to do what Jesus Christ tells us."

"You will have what you call your plan of salvation. You will talk about the merits of Christ and the atonement of Christ, and you will do anything to set yourself to obey Christ -- anything but take the Living One himself. You are quite ready to take as much as anybody will give you about Him. Is it not with some of you all about Him and about Him while He Himself is not in you for you love the world and the things of the world?"

"Friends, be honest with yourselves. Are ye beholding the open face of Christ? Do you lie with your whole natures like a mirror for Him to fill with His radiance? Are you obeying Him? Is the will of God the glory of your being, or are you merely ferreting about in this world to get something to have?"
You can see in these latter quotes where all of this has been leading. If I understand MacDonald correctly, he is saying that the will is the avenue by which the presence of Christ comes into our lives -- namely by yielding our will to his will.

Key idea: "Friends, we shall make no progress whatever until we set ourselves to do what Jesus Christ tells us."

As St. Augustine says in his Confessions, "This was the sum of it: not to will what I willed but to will what you willed."

Or as Jesus says in John's gospel, "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love."


LutheranChik said...

I know these ideas are going to take awhile to percolate into churches...but I'm wondering if this is not going to be a real impetus for spiritual renewal in our tradition, if people take them to heart.

Andy said...

I'm not sure what to make of it. MacDonald was a Congregationalist writing in the 19th century. Where did he pick up the idea? Was it an important part of his thought? Did he really mean it in an ontological way?

The sense I'm getting is that this idea turns up in a lot more (Protestant) places than I would have expected. Maybe it's just a manner of speaking most of the time.

But I hope you're right. I hope that it will be an impetus for spiritual renewal.