Jonathan Edwards and Deification (New Explorations in Theology), James R. Salladin. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022.
Summary: In response to the growing interest in the idea of theosis or deification in Eastern Orthodoxy, this work examines the idea of “special grace” and participation in divine fullness in the thought of Jonathan Edwards as a Reformed counterpart that preserves the Creator-creature distinction while recognizing the saving relational communion between God and humans.
Contemporary theology has focused increasingly on Eastern Orthodox idea of theosis or deification or divinization of human beings. For some, this relates to our participation in the divine in salvation but others go further and explore ontological participation in God, how by creation, we participate in the divine being of God. The appeal of this is that it overcomes the sense of distance often felt in Protestant theology in which one experiences God’s saving work yet, even though not estranged, God is other and seems distant. At the same time, this raises questions about the obliteration of the Creator-creature distinction.
James R. Salladin, through a close reading of Edwards’s work, points us to the thought of Jonathan Edwards as offering a theology of relational participation in the fulness of God through grace mediated by the Holy Spirit. It is a communication of God’s fullness, though not God’s essence making possible soteriological participation in communion with the Triune God, rather than ontological participation, preserving the essential distinction between Creator and creatures.
Salladin unpacks these ideas in a careful argument drawing on Edward’s works. Chapter 1 focuses on the koinonia participation by which, through the Holy Spirit, given us in special grace, we participate in divine fullness. Chapter 2 then shows how the special grace of divine fullness is infinitely above created nature, not ignoring common grace or common participation, but also noting that this is not special, saving grace, nor communicates God’s essence to us. Chapter 3 then focuses on the other side of the distinction of divine fullness from divine essence. Salladin shows how Edwards carries this distinction through his doctrines of the Trinity, Christology, his doctrine of the Holy Spirit and doctrine of salvation.
Chapter 4 turns to the relation of created nature to divine grace. While creation does not participate in the divine essence, we were created for the end of participating in divine fullness. Finally, Chapter 5 develops Edwards’s vision of fulfilled humanity, patterned closely on the fulfillment of humanity evident in the hypostatic union of Christ’s divine and human natures in the union of faculties, expansion of capacities, and display of divine excellencies.
What is important is that Edwards offers a distinctly Reformed understanding of participation, one that is both imaginative, consistent with the doctrine of Christ and the Trinity, and that preserves distinctions of creature and creator and salvation by grace alone. I came away from this reading with a deepened appreciation of Edwards greatness as a theologian. Also, in the accounts of participation in fullness experienced in David Brainerd and one of Edwards’s own slaves (noted with lament by the author), we become aware of a blessedness of intimate relationship with the Triune God well worth believing and desiring. All this comes through Salladin’s clear, careful, step by step, well-documented exposition.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.