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Claiming God’s Promises Today: Classic and Modern Word of Faith Views Compared and Contrasted, by Paul King

Believers as Little Gods

There are similarities to the Eastern Orthodox theology of “theosis,” or deification of believers, and the contemporary faith concept of believers as “little gods.” Church father Athanasius declared, “He was God, and then became man, and that to deify us.”14 Some translate it, “God became man that man might become God” or “The divine became human that humans might become divine.” He further asserted that God “made Moses God of Pharaoh.”15 Luther taught, “by faith we become gods and partakers of the divine nature and name.”16 These statements seem to support contemporary faith teaching.

However, neither Athanasius or Luther would take the concept as far. For instance, Athanasius writes further, that these human sons of God or gods “were adopted and deified through the Word, and the Son Himself is the Word,” and that “He Himself only is very Son, and He alone is very God from the very God, not receiving these prerogatives as a reward for His virtue, nor being another beside them, but being all these by nature and according to essence.”17 Thus, human believers cannot be “Gods” in the same way or to the same extent at Jesus Christ. Luther, as well, emphasized that believers are servants as well as gods, an emphasis often missing in contemporary “little gods” teaching.

Further, although the classic faith leaders’ emphasis and terminology on believers partaking of the divine nature could engender controversy or misunderstanding, they would balk at the contemporary faith “little gods” interpretation. Simpson taught that “every true Christian is a reincarnation of Christ,” which may sound like the “little gods” concept, but by that he meant that the believer is the representation of Christ to model the love and ministry of Christ.18

Likewise, Chambers referred to his spiritual mentor as “a re-incarnation of Jesus Christ by His Spirit.”19 Interpreting Paul’s image of believers in 2 Corinthians 3:2, he commented, “an ‘epistle of Christ’ means a reincarnation of Jesus.”20 Yet Chambers also cautioned about “an amateur providence attitude” in which a believer becomes, “as it were, god almighty,” thinking, “I am not likely to go wrong, but you are.”21 He especially warned, “The disposition of sin is not immorality or wrongdoing, but the disposition of self-realization—I am my own god.”22

How does a believer experience their divine inheritance?

In contrast to Kenyon who described victorious believers as “supermen,” Chambers decried the belief, saying, “We are not all excellent supermen.”23 Murray stated that believers have “an incipient Godlikeness,” which he identified as their nature of “bearing God’s image in having dominion, in being lord of all.” This, he explained is the “root” of man’s “inner likeness” to God.24 Billheimer, a more contemporary representative of classic faith teaching, states it in this manner: “They are to be exact copies of Him, true genotypes, as utterly like Him as it is possible for the finite to be like the Infinite.”25

Classic faith leaders thus used language similar to contemporary faith teaching to express the divine nature of the believers, but most would not go so far as to claim that believers are “little gods.” Chambers made a clear distinction, “We are never in the relationship to God that the Son of God is in; but we are brought by the Son into the relation of sonship.”26 He warns, “The disposition of sin is not immorality and wrong-doing, but the disposition of self-realization—I am my own god. … It has the one basis, my claim to my right to myself.”27 Spurgeon also clarified:

To be a partaker of the divine nature is not, of course, to become God. That cannot be. The essence of Deity is not to be participated in by the creature. Between the creature and the Creator there must be a gulf fixed in respect of essence. But as the first man Adam was made in the image of God, so we, by the renewal of the Holy Spirit, are in a diviner sense made in the image of the Most High and are partakers of the divine nature. We are, by grace, made like God.28

“When Satan disputes our standing, and puts his foot upon our inheritance, we will arise in the name of he Lord against the most tremendous odds, and claim the victory through Jesus Christ.”
— A. B. Simpson

Tozer gave this explanation, applying the “little god” concept to life in heaven: “Heaven is going to be a place where men released from tensions and inhibitions, released from prohibitions from the outside, released from sin, and made in the image of God can go to work like the young gods they are. For He said, ‘Ye are gods’—He didn’t mean you are God, but ‘You are little images of Mine, born to do the kind of work that I do, creative work.’”29 Without these clarifications, these classic faith leaders could well have been criticized for “little gods” teaching. While there is a qualified sense in which believers could be called “gods,” as taught by classic faith leaders, because the terminology is prone to misunderstanding today, it should be avoided. It should be noted that some contemporary faith teachers such as Frederick Price and Casey Treat have abandoned the “little gods” concept and terminology.30

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Category: Church History, Fall 2012, Pneuma Review

About the Author: Paul L. King holds a D.Min from Oral Roberts University and a D.Th. from the University of South Africa. He served for 16 years on the faculty of Oral Roberts University as Coordinator of Bible Institute programs and Adjunct Professor in the College of Theology and Ministry. Author of 12 books and more than 60 articles, he was ORU 2006 Scholar of the Year. He has also served as Scholar-at-Large for the D.Min. program at Alliance Theological Seminary, Doctor of Ministry Mentor for the Randy Clark Scholars program at United Theological Seminary and Global Awakening Theological Seminary, Leadership and Church Ministry Consultant and Trainer, an ordained pastor with the Christian and Missionary Alliance, Interim Consulting Pastor for the Plano (Texas) Chinese Alliance Church, and Faculty Director of Purdue Ratio Christi/Christian Faculty and Staff Network. His books include God's Healing Arsenal: A Divine Battle Plan for Overcoming Distress and Disease (2011), Anointed Women: The Rich Heritage of Women in Ministry in the Christian & Missionary Alliance (2009), Only Believe: Examining the Origin and Development of Classic and Contemporary Word of Faith Theologies (2008), Genuine Gold: The Cautiously Charismatic Story of the Early Christian and Missionary Alliance (2006), Binding & Loosing: Exercising Authority over the Dark Powers (1999), and A Believer with Authority: The Life and Message of John A. MacMillan. Twitter: @PaulLKing.

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