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Participating with God

From the Biblical Record

His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. – 2 Peter 1:3-4 (NASB)

These verses from the introduction of Peter’s second epistle speak most directly and profoundly to the issues under consideration. The apostle reminds his audience of the gracious privilege and power attending “true knowledge” of God, and the phenomenal reality of being “partakers of the divine nature.” These are absolutely incredible statements, unique in all the New Testament, which unmistakably refer to the “basic realities of the Christian life”; knowing God in Christ by the Spirit (organically experiential, relational)—participating in the Divine nature.17 This is dynamically powerful (tes theias dunameos autou), gracious (dedoremenes), and exceedingly glorious (idia doxe kai arete) union with “God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:2). The soteriological, ethical and eschatological are intimately related. Soteriological. “Through” (dia) in v.3b introduces the instrumentality by which Christian life, regenerated life, is initiated—through “personal knowledge of the Caller.”18 Compare Jesus’ own words as recorded in John 17:3: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Ethical. This knowing is also meaningful for holy living. “Having escaped [aorist participle] the corruption that is in the world,” the Christian has decidedly turned away from the ungodly to God, who so powerfully enables one to live in godliness. This is the sanctified life. Eschatological. This knowing is then forward-looking. “Precious and magnificent promises” are afforded the Christian, providing the grounds by which the believer may press onward and partake in the very nature of God. D.M. Lloyd-Jones rightly characterizes Peter’s statements as “utterly staggering and amazing”; “Peter does not stop at our knowledge of God—he adds that we are to become like God.”19

In reference to knowledge of God and participating in the Divine nature, 2 Peter 1:3-4 obviously highlights important issues related to the theological task. This text speaks of the knowing of God which Williams demonstrates concern for as essential to genuine theology.20 In a graduated sense, this knowing is referred to as “partaking of the divine nature.” The only reference Williams makes to this text is in discussion of the Christian life as analogous to “the continuing paradox” of the Incarnation, the significance of which is addressed below.21

Theological Commentary

This section is intended to highlight both continuity and disconnects between Williams’ theology and Eastern Orthodox emphases concerning man’s participation in God and the theological task.

It is significant that Williams mentions 2 Pet. 1:3-4 in underscoring the importance of embracing the continuing paradox of the Incarnation, which he admits is “ultimately beyond all human comprehension.”22 It follows that human language is necessarily incapable of describing this reality, Williams concludes, “as human beings this is too high for us: it is finally a paradox of mystery. ” Concerning the Church’s teaching of the two natures in the one person of Christ, Williams footnotes a reference to the Chalcedonian formula: it “does not really express who Christ is in His nature and person, but what He is not. However, these four negative words remain important as protections and guidelines for the church through the ages.”23 Williams, following Berkouwer, rightly concedes to the wisdom of the negatives employed in Chalcedon. This is the apophatic way of ancient and contemporary Eastern theology, and a point of apparent continuity for Williams. Since the Incarnation is ultimately an ineffable reality, it is more appropriate and accurate for man to speak by way of negation.

But, also like Berkouwer, Williams does not prefer to remain with the negative way for long. In emphasis upon human intelligence and word, his theology is characteristically Western.24 Contemporary Orthodox leaders still promote the integrity of the negative: “Negative theology by no means ignored learning . . . As an ascetical tool the negative theology of these great pastors [Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostrom] recognized the limitations of the senses, of human reason, and of experience itself. Apophatic theology was and must continue to be a way which guides the faithful into the realm of the unutterable.”25 Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky expresses the enduring value of the negative as

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Category: Fall 2016, In Depth

About the Author: Brian C. Smith, M.A. (Regent University), already had extensive ministry experience before pursuing his Ph.D. studies. Brian is a U.S. Army veteran and has been involved in refugee outreach, harbors ministry, prison outreach, kids crusades, preaching and evangelism in the USA and in eight countries in Western and Eastern Europe.

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