Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Christification by Jordan Cooper – Book Review

Cooper, Jordan.  Christification: A Lutheran Approach to Theosis.  Eugene, Ore.  Wipf & Stock, 2014.  142 pp.

Jordan Cooper’s purpose with this book is to bring light to the little-understood doctrine of theosis that has its basis in Scripture and is promulgated in both the Eastern and Western Church in different forms.  Cooper begins by defining theosis—no mean feat since these two branches differ in their understanding.  However, this foundation is necessary, first, because many in the Western Church have not heard of this doctrine, and second, because the believer needs to understand God’s active, sanctifying work.

The next chapter covers theosis in the Lutheran tradition.  Here, the author makes the case that Christification or theosis was taught as a Lutheran doctrine from the 16th into the 21st centuries.  One would expect such a chapter since the author is a Lutheran pastor writing primarily to Lutherans on a doctrine with which Lutherans should have familiarity, since the concept is brought up in Martin Luther’s teaching and the Lutheran Confessions.  A host of historical authors are cited, making the chapter a bit difficult to follow, because I wanted to know more background of each man cited.  For those who know Lutheran history, this should be a profitable section.

The author wants to begins his look at New Testament usage with 2 Peter 1:3–4.  In order to do so, he spends time defending the Petrine authorship.  I am uncertain this is necessary in view of his intended audience, but it does not detract from his argument as he looks to both Luther and Calvin for Reformation-era input on this passage.  From there he moves into the Pauline and Johannine writings to establish the doctrine.  I am not convinced of the latter’s use, however, Paul seems to present a theological case with his consistent view of communion and unity with Christ.

Cooper finishes with two chapters drawn from patristic sources.  The first draws on the writings of the Apostolic Fathers and Apologists.  I am familiar with these writers and found his explanations of their thought to be accurate.  For example, Ignatius understood suffering with Christ and allowing that function to have its perfect work in him.  Alternatively, Irenaeus and Athanasius seem to have understood the interplay between God and man as accomplished by Jesus’ incarnation.  The last chapter looks at Neo-platonic thought in the writing of Dionysius the Areopagite, which is foundational to the Orthodox understanding of theosis.  Cooper does a good job in describing this view of the doctrine and making it understandable to the reader.

Overall, the book presents the doctrine of theosis well, but I pass along two areas of possible concern.  The first is the density of citations: I had trouble following the lines of reasoning when checking unfamiliar authors.  The second is the lack of a concluding chapter.  While there is a conclusion at the end of each chapter, a final chapter dedicated to this purpose would have been a benefit.  Those minor things aside, I can recommend this book even if you are not Lutheran.

And if I might be allowed a bit of whimsy:

Best book I’ve read all year—but, then, it’s only mid-January.


Brad Krantz said...

Interesting, Steve. It's a new term to me. The closest reference I could find in my library in the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian church was the Greek term "apotheosis"- the assimilation of a man to a god.

Steve Bricker said...

Brad, that has become the Eastern Orthodox understanding of theosis or Christification and is covered in the last chapter. I'd give more on it, but I lent out my copy of the book already.