Theological Anthropology: Toward Integrating Theosis and Justification by Faith

By Hinlicky, Paul R. | Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Winter 1997 | Go to article overview

Theological Anthropology: Toward Integrating Theosis and Justification by Faith


Hinlicky, Paul R., Journal of Ecumenical Studies


Introduction

It is arguable today that the historical-critical task of the convergence method in ecumenical studies is largely accomplished and that we are in a stage of reception, the results of which are not yet fully clear.(1) In that case, the way forward lies in mutual theological experimentation.(2) The North American bilateral volume, Salvation in Christ: A Lutheran-Orthodox Dialogue,(3) brims with new theological possibilities for the construction of an evangelical and orthodox theological witness in a post-Constantinian world. The present study is undertaken in the prospect of building critically upon the achievements of the official bilateral dialogue, yet with the freedom to experiment and explore integrative possibilities. I venture that it will be by doing theology integratively that we will, in Orthodox theologian John Breck's words, "transcend our differences of history and culture, in order to discover the depth and breadth of the theology that does in fact unite us."(4) We can integrate the concerns of each theological tradition by turning together ad fontes. "[T]he native tongue of Christians, for the theological expression as well as for speaking of the Christian life, is the language of the Bible," the dialogue reported.(5) "[B]oth traditions have continued to employ the language of the Bible as the primary vehicle of theological expression and spiritual understanding."(6)

Of course, such a turn to the language of the Bible is not so simple today. Speaking from the Lutheran side in the time of a profound crisis of faith and Christian identity(7) after the collapse of Protestant biblicism,(8) there is a perceived need to recover the Orthodox, that is, the early Catholic understanding of the authority of Scripture in the church.(9) The vision here is of a process of Holy Tradition(10) whose content is the divine economy or salvation history.

The Agreed Statement on Revelation of the Lutheran-Orthodox international joint commission states:

The revelation of God, even as contained in Scripture, transcends all verbal expressions. It is hidden from all creatures, especially from sinful man (Greek: the 'old man'). Its true meaning is revealed only through the Holy Spirit in the living experience of salvation, which is accomplished in the church through the Christian life. This catholic experience of salvation in the church is at the same time the only authentic expression of the true understanding of the Word of God.(11)

Here the concepts of the church as the eucharistic community extending through time and space, salvation as forgiveness and newness of life, and the authority of revelation as enacting the salvation event are mutually integral. Assuming this kind of reintegration of the understanding of authoritative revelation in the church and as an experience of salvation, I will be trying in what follows to uncover the salvation-history presuppositions of the Lutheran doctrine of justification and its implications for theological anthropology in dialogue with Orthodox understanding of the human vocation.

Theological Anthropology in the Lutheran-Orthodox Dialogue

Classical Christian faith posited the notion of a universal humanity. This belief in the unity of humanity corresponds to faith in God the Creator and the divine plan of salvation. The horizon of human life on the earth, when it is construed as a meaningful history, is the reign of God. Vice versa, the very notion that human life on the earth coheres in and as meaningful history is an act of faith in the reality of the reign. It is a truism that secular thought since the Enlightenment has lost this faith and, with it, this theological anthropology - a turn of events that dogmatically devastated classical Lutheranism, as Wilhelm Mauer has searchingly described.(12) That loss is the broad contemporary context, however, for all Christian traditions; indeed, in some ways it provides the chief motive of ecumenical theology itself. …

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