Sunday 19 May 2024

Salvation and theosis are the purpose and meaning of life - indivisible; both needed

Traditional Christians are often salvation-focused; and may be hostile to ideas of theosis (regarding it as an heretical belief in salvation by works); may ignore theosis almost-entirely in their overwhelming desire for salvation at the end of life; or else may conceptualize theosis (or variant concepts such as sanctification deification, spiritual progression, exaltation) as "merely" a means to the all-important end of salvation. 

On the other side "spiritual but not religious" people (including the "anything-but-Christianity" kind of spiritual people) are often focussed upon theosis while rejecting the need-for or desirability-of salvation - their end-point is not resurrected Heavenly life, but reincarnation, or some sort of oneness-Nirvana

The basic stance is that this life is (or ought to be) about continual spiritual self-improvement; and that to introduce considerations of what happens after death is a contamination of spiritual purity by an ego-driven desire for self-gratification.   

My understanding is that salvation and theosis are indivisible - that we must both aim-at resurrected eternal life, and also live this mortal life such that we learn-from its experiences. 

This may be made clearer by regarding salvation as the purpose of life and theosis, as the meaning of life.

Distinguishing-between purpose and meaning is a perfectly valid thing to do; yet ultimately they are indivisible and we cannot have one without the other. 

The purpose of life is what makes meaning possible within that purpose; and the meaning of life is how purpose actually manifests in life. 

When not-Christians pooh-pooh the Christian demand for salvation as the purpose, they also obliterate any possibility of coherent meaning; and spirituality degenerates into merely a kind of self-therapy, which itself becomes indistinguishable from pleasure-seeking or suffering-avoidant hedonism - as can be seen with the New Age movement. 

And when Christians revile, neglect or subordinate theosis and "the spiritual" they destroy any ultimate reason for continued mortal life - mortal life becomes a negative thing - a double-negative attempt to avoid sin (which, Jesus tells us - and Paul) is impossible; and a mere waiting for death that is an implicit denial of the validity of God's creation. 

But when salvation and theosis are understood as indivisible purpose and meaning of this mortal life; then we have a solid basis for a properly aimed and fulfilling existence here on earth. 


Francis Berger said...

Great post. The last paragraph is particularly clarifying. For a long time, I assumed salvation was essential and theosis was optional, but over time this didn't make much sense to me. If life is only about salvation, then it is easy to fall into a rearguard action frame of living, in which one becomes paranoid about defending one's salvation and focuses on little else.

Also, theosis strikes me as an active and positive way to discover, engage, and cultivate the primal self/the divine within. If we desire to be saved, we should also spend considerable time considering what within ourselves we desired to be saved. In this sense, theosis elevates salvation from the level of "saved from" to the level of "saved for."

Hagel said...

Salvation from what?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Hagel "Salvation from what?"

From death.

Read the IV Gospel.

Bruce Charlton said...


"If we desire to be saved, we should also spend considerable time considering what within ourselves we desired to be saved."

That's excellent!

Pondering further today, it struck me that perhaps a reason for the "bad reputation" of theosis among many (Western) Christians, is perhaps because some people *publicly* claim to be making, or have made, spiritual progress, to be more advanced in deification.

This happens in New Age type spirituality (as William W wrote a few days ago, concerning spiritual teachers); but also within the churches - when individuals get a public reputation for Holiness, Goodness, Saintliness etc.

But this is one of those problems that will presumably recede as Christianity becomes more individual and personal; and as the social status and advantages of being a Christian continues to plummet and invert.

nathanael said...

Good post and food for thought.

Interesting this weekend I have been pondering the ideas of the west and east (and the schism of the Church) and the ideas of male and female. This post hits at this. In the west (Roman Catholic) we have gone toward the more legalistic, rational-philosophical, this is good-this is bad route to salvation and now mistrust and are excessively skeptical of direct and personal experience. Whereas the east is about Theosis. It seems correct to view them as indivisible.

It's a subject I'm interested in for whatever reason and I think the current confusion about/between men and women is caused in part by this.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Nathaniel - Something in what you say; but I do not think the answer lies at any point in the past.

Also I do not think that Eastern Orthodoxy has a coherent concept of theosis in terms of salvation and how they fit together, and what theosis actually would entail in terms of Man's potential for ultimate similarity to God's nature. It seems that even for Eastern Orthodoxy, Man (no matter how advanced in theosis) will always be qualitatively (in a sense "infinitely") different from God.

Nor does Mormonism - which was, in fact, where I first came across an explicit discussion of the concept (or a similar one) - there termed exaltation, and considerably closer to what I believe in terms of God's aims for Mankind (i.e. to have as many as possible of Men - like Jesus Christ already did - rise to become of the same *kind* as God - although God is distinct as being The primary Creator).

To make what seems to me coherent sense of these vital matters, I've had to do some thinking for myself - I couldn't find a satisfactory explanation off-the-peg and ready-to-wear!

Bruce Charlton said...

Hagel has left a comment:

"I am currently reading the book. I haven't made it to the new testament yet. What you say is appealing and makes sense, but I don't see it mirrored in what I've read so far. I'd have an easier time accepting your words if I hadn't ever opened the book, honestly, although it's not making me reject your concepts themselves, but mostly what names you assign to them."

Bruce Charlton said...

@Hagel - From your description you are seeking external guidance and to hand-over your life to some external authority (after some initial, and externally-derived) formulaic pseudo-investigation.

It's Your decision to do this!

dienw said...

My immediate response to the question of theosis is Christ at the wedding feast and his first miracle: He turns the water into wine: it is Jesus who turns a common good into wine;theosis then is the work of Jesus Christ within us upon our confession of faith: upon our confession of belief the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit come to dwell within us.
By the way, the water is already set aside for ritual purposes: this maybe a metaphor for the work of the Father who chooses us and draws us to and gives us to the Son.

Bruce Charlton said...

@dienw - When I became a Christian it gradually dawned on me that there wasn't much (or any) Objective evidence of theosis in Christians - in terms of what might be called an increase in "holiness".

I nowadays feel that the kind of theosis that is asserted to be done-to people by Jesus Christ, or the Holy Ghost, or as a consequence of sacraments... just doesn't seem to happen anymore.

My best guess is that now we must be active in whatever is accomplished, and this means that it is almost never cumulative. We may achieve theosis in particular moments, but these don't accumulate incrementally to make people more Holy.

Nonetheless, these theosis "events" do make a difference, and none are lost, but they are manifested after death, after resurrection - and eternally. But not in this mortal life.