Why will man become God?
The writer is pastor of the Church of God International in Jamaica. His article here is a response to Paul Haney's editorial "Human Deification Not Biblical" in The Journal, Aug. 31, 1999. A condensed version of this article appears in the print version of The Journal, Aug. 31, 2000. The original (longer) version published here is also available in printed form directly from Mr. Boyne at JAMPRO Corp., 35 Trafalgar Rd., Kingston 10, Jamaica, W.I., or from the CGI at P.O. Box 2525, Tyler, Texas 75710, U.S.A.
By Ian Boyne
KINGSTON, Jamaica--I call it The Doctrine the Church Is Ashamed Of, and so titled one sermon last year. It is the most profound truth in all the Bible and the most important piece of knowledge God restored through His messenger in this century, Herbert W. Armstrong. It is the doctrine that man's destiny is to become God.
I assure you that you have not heard all the arguments for this doctrine. We have not properly argued it exegetically and philosophically, and you probably have had good reason for rejecting it.
I make one request of you: Try to control your prejudice and instinctual opposition to this doctrine. There are few doctrines I know of that incite greater emotional, visceral rejection than the doctrine that man will be deified. People instinctively feel it is blasphemous, presumptuous and disrespectful to the Great God.
I submit that we devalue the doctrine of salvation and the magnitude of God's love and great plan when we do not teach that man will become God. We fail to give people the fullness of the gospel.
I call upon all the Churches of God to restore this doctrine to the position of centrality within our fundamental beliefs. Don't talk euphemistically about our becoming "children of God" without explaining what that really means. Put it as Mr. Armstrong did: God is reproducing Himself. Let people know that we really mean that we will become, as Mr. Armstrong also put it, God beings.
I ask the major corporate churches: Have we somehow become constrained, unconsciously and innocently, by the cultic label that has been put on us to the extent that we water down our communication of the truth about our great God?
We all still hold to this truth and will confess it privately and occasionally in church services (though some of our ministers don't even do that), but are we afraid of the hostility and disapproval of the man on the street and of the theologians?
Or are we not theologically convicted that the doctrine should be taught as boldly as Mr. Armstrong taught it?
In either case I offer this essay for your most serious consideration. If you are convinced by the arguments that I adduce here, can you make a commitment to start preaching this truth powerfully? For, if you are convinced biblically and do nothing about communicating this truth, would you not be guilty of a major injustice to the great Creator God?
One of the most serious problems we suffer from in the Church of God movement is an appalling paucity of theological sophistication. We are too anti-intellectual.
I have to be honest and blame Mr. Armstrong himself for fostering this crude anti-intellectualism, especially after he ousted his son, Garner Ted Armstrong, in 1978 and had to justify that political decision.
At that time we were informed of the evils that came from GTA's liberalism; how our men were going to this world's seminaries and imbibing of the garbage from Satan's false theological system.
I remember one prominent evangelist in January 1979 referring to "the Claremont mud," a reference to that distinguished, admittedly liberal seminar in Pasadena from which one of our brightest theologians, Lester Grabbe, had received his Ph.D. The policy of Garner Ted Armstrong of encouraging our men to move out of the intellectual ghetto of Ambassador College and to get exposure to accredited theological institutions was attacked as contributing to the derailing of the church.
There is always some danger with exposure. But--if we really believed that the truth shall set you free and that God's truth can stand any tests; and if our intellectuals remain humble and yielded to God (admittedly a challenge)--then we would emerge more powerful and better able to counteract the error of traditional Christianity.
But we aborted that worthy process and carried out a massive persecution of the thinkers and scholars in the church, chasing most of them away. Then, when the Feazells, Albrechts, Stavrinideses, Orrs, Kuhns and Dukes had left the seminaries with the errors of Protestantism, we had no group of scholars competent to defend the faith with poignancy. So the Joseph Tkach faction was emboldened in the view that Armstrongism was indefensible and a product of ignorance and obscurantism.
If men like Brian Knowles, Lawson Briggs, Gunar Freibergs, Lester Grabbe, George Geis, David Antion, Ron Dart and James Tabor had been encouraged and nurtured rather than sacrificed for political expediency and put off, then the Tkach faction--which I believe consists of sincere and God-fearing, though misguided, men--would have had something to think about.
But, while there were some well-meaning, dedicated and faithful ministers who opposed them, many simply did not possess the theological sophistication or even have the comprehension of the issues and theological nuances to hold a serious theological dialogue with the latter.
I don't mean to sound condescending or to put down these men of God who uphold the truth. I simply want to make a distinction between their theological soundness and their ability to meaningfully communicate to a group of highly trained theologians such as the Tkach faction.
What does any of this have to do with man's becoming God? It means simply the time has come for a sophisticated defense of Armstrongism!
(Incidentally, if leading theologians are not embarrassed to call themselves Lutherans, Calvinists and Thomists, I see no reason to feel ashamed or labeled idolatrous to call myself an Armstrongite. I am unabashedly and unapologetically an Armstrongite.
The term Church of God conveys too many confusing things to too many people. Every weird religious outfit calls itself Church of God, and the Church of God (Seventh Day) does not teach some important truths taught by Mr. Armstrong. By Armstrongite I do not mean I accept Armstrong as the pope and canonize his writings--as do some ministers, including Gerald Flurry, Dave Pack and Ron Weinland. Herbert Armstrong was wrong on a number of counts, but the core of biblical truth was given to him by God Almighty. I now go on to a defense of the most important truth God gave him.
We have generally not mounted a good defense of the pivotal biblical doctrine that man will be come God. In fact, even a fine mind like Robert Kuhn, who apparently passionately believed this truth, used weak texts such as Revelation 3:9 and Psalm 82:6 to defend this teaching.
The Revelation text says people will come to worship at the feet of the saints.
Ah, we have said only God should be worshiped. In fact, the very book of Revelation has its writer, John, refusing to accept an angel's worship before him. So, if we see people worshiping or bowing before the saints' feet after the resurrection, then they must be God beings.
Yes, that could be so, but it is an ambiguous text because the Greek word worship can mean simply to do obeisance or to show particular honor. Sometimes it does mean worship of Deity, but it is an ambiguous text and shouldn't have been one of the major texts used to prove the doctrine.
Weaker yet was our quoting the Psalms and Jesus' saying "Ye are gods." This is an example of our unsophistication in exegesis, for a simple commonsense interpretation would say that if humans in the present tense are said to be gods, and we are clearly limited beings, then how could that text prove future deification? Besides, the term is used of angels and even kings.
A stronger text, but also not sufficient to prove our case, is 2 Peter 1:4, which says we have been given great and precious promises "that through these you may escape from the corruption of the world because of passion and become partakers of the divine nature."
An exegete could say we have already become partakers of the divine nature--though not fully--through the Holy Spirit.
Could you please at this point stop reading and pray, for without the Spirit's guidance we cannot come to truth. Truth might be aided by scholarship but does not come through scholarship. Conviction of truth comes through the Holy Spirit. Many brilliant minds do not and will not in this age understand God's truth. Pray now for God's divine guidance on this subject.
Let me make one significant concession at the outset: There is a sense in which the view that man will become "God as God is God" is clearly, demonstrably false. If it is essential to the very definition of God are as eternity and self-existence--which they are--then man cannot, can never and will never become God, and any such view is patently absurd.
Man is finite and contingent. God is eternal and necessary. So we could end the essay here by saying that Mr. Armstrong's teaching is rank heresy and philosophical nonsense.
But language must be understood in its context, and literary analysis must--contrary to the deconstructionists--take into consideration the intent of the author. Mr. Armstrong was not a trained theologian and did not write or speak with theological precision.
But we cannot hold that against him. He did not have to be a theologian; he was a divinely commissioned messenger of God. Even a brilliant and trained theologian like the apostle Paul expressed some things badly and was hard to be understood, as the apostle Peter said.
What we have meant to convey is clearly captured in our famous phrase "God is reproducing Himself" and that humans will become "God beings."
Nor have we taught that humans as God beings would take the supreme place of the Father or knock Him off His throne. The Father and the Son will always be above deified beings. But we would be of the same species of being, for God is a species of being. The Father is over the Son quantitatively and hierarchically, but the Father and Son are equal in nature.
So let's understand from the beginning: Man will not take the place of the Father, and the Son and will never by any stretch of the imagination deserve the same level of praise and honor as the Father and the Son. After all, man owes all praise and honor to the beings who would have conferred divinity on him. We would not be so arrogant, then, to want the same honor or homage. But we will be of the same nature, having the same divine magnificence.
So don't resist this doctrine for you fear you would be taking away from God's glory and praise. No, the Father and Son will stand out for all eternity for Their indescribable love that made Them decide to share power with pieces of clay.
Imagine this incredible love, this awesome, language-defying love and unselfishness. Here were two beings existing alone for all eternity--and our minds can't grasp eternity--and deciding at some point that rather than keeping all the power and magnificence to Themselves They would create a species of beings, low in status, just corruptible flesh and blood. And eventually, through a process of time and testing, humans would receive divinity: a spirit quite the opposite of Lucifer's.
Lucifer wanted more power and honor than he had. He sought to get, not give. But Jesus, giving a clue to the divine nature, thought it not robbery to hold onto divinity but emptied Himself of it, veiled it while on the earth and became a man so that man might become God.
This is love personified. If we don't preach this doctrine of deification, we shortchange the love of God!
Many times opponents of this truth of deification use semantics to override the truth of man's real destiny. So we concede that man obviously cannot be eternal and is not self-existent and that that incommunicable part of God's nature cannot be conferred.
But can it be disproven that God is reproducing Himself and that we will become exactly like God and Christ by nature and power?
To understand the truth about man's destiny, it is essential that we understand who Jesus really is. If Jesus is not God, then man cannot be God.
Incidentally, even a Gary Fakhoury could still believe in the deification of man, for he could hold that Jesus simply had assumed divinity, before his earthly preexistence, and, just as man can become God without being eternal and self-existent, so could Jesus.
John 17 clearly shows that Jesus preexisted His human birth and possessed deity then. (For a booklet proving the essential truth that Jesus had always existed, write for Is Jesus Really God? from the Church of God International, P.O. Box 2525, Tyler, Texas 00000, U.S.A.)
In John 17:5 Jesus asks the Father for the glory again that He had before the world was.
Recall that Philippians 2:5-9 establishes that Jesus gave up something when He became man: He gave up His divine glory. Or, to put it in more precise theological language, His divine prerogatives were veiled during His earthly existence. Thus He could be hungry, tired, express lack of knowledge and die.
So Jesus gave up His divine glory, which was His deity. But note. He asks for that glory back after his resurrection. "Now, Father, glorify me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made."
Acts 3:13 shows that the Father honored Jesus' request and glorified Him. "The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus."
It is important to define what we mean by the glory of Jesus Christ. I contend that the glory of Christ means His divine transcendence and His deity.
Although it is true there are a variety of meanings to the word "glory" (doxa in Greek) and that the Bible shows man already has a form of glory, context demonstrates what particular meaning should be adopted. In the context of John 1, glory definitely means divinity and the powers associated with divinity, which He gave up (Philippians 2).
Let's turn to one of the most important evangelical scholarly sources today, the 933-page Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels: A compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship. Under the heading "Glory," the dictionary says the Septuagint version of the Old Testament gives the technical meaning to glory (doxa) as "honour intended for God, or the majesty or eminence which radiated from God's own being." Keep that definition in mind.
Although the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke) develop the concept of glory eschatologically, John, who wrote to prove the full deity of Jesus Christ, uses it to prove his theological point. For example, in John 1:14 John says we have beheld His glory. Like Peter, John saw that Jesus was not a mere man, but was God made flesh, although His divine powers were veiled.
The writer of the article on glory in the dictionary makes the interesting and noteworthy point that John's view linking Jesus' glory with His divinity is "consonant with the view offered elsewhere where the divinity of the Son of God is inseparable from His glory (1 Corinthians 2:8; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 3:16; Hebrews 1:3 and James 2:1). When the NT writers reached the conclusion that Christ was eternally one with God, it was left to John to sketch these results into the Messiah's earthly life."
So note the connection between Christ's glory and His divinity.
Now, if later we see that this very glory of Christ is to be shared with His saints--His being "the firstborn among many brethren"--then what but prejudice or emotional and/or cultural reaction would make us resist the necessary and logical conclusion that we will be divine beings too? Who is imposing his presuppositions on the text, the Church of God members who follow the clear direction of the text or the person terrified by the thought that he might be taking something away from God's honor?
Hebrews 1:3 is significant. It says Jesus "reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of His nature."
So the glory of Christ is the glory of God, which is the divinity of the Father. If we have no problem in limiting the glory of God, then why should we limit the glory of Christ? After all, that man was not eternal and self-existent does not mean at a certain point man could not possess all the attributes of divinity by adoption.
There is nothing logically impossible about this. It is only a philosophical presupposition about what constitutes the incommunicability of God, largely reflective of Platonic philosophy and Eastern mysticism, which would mitigate against this biblical truth.
Hebrews 1:3 says Jesus reflects the glory of God. The book of Hebrews was specifically written to an essentially Jewish audience to reinforce the divinity of Jesus and His superiority over the angels, Moses and everything under the Old Covenant economy. In Hebrews 1 the writer establishes Jesus' preeminence over the cosmos and the angels.
Again, we acknowledge that glory can have a variety of meanings, but we must use context to determine precise meaning.
A most fascinating essay appears under the title "Glory" in another in the same series of Evangelical dictionaries, The Dictionary of The Later New Testament and Its Developments.
Commenting on Hebrews 1:3, which says Jesus reflects God's glory, the scholar says:
"The juxtaposition of doxa with hypostaseos in the ontological characterization of Jesus clearly articulates Jesus' status. This hymn/confession formed part of the author's strategy to distinguish between Jesus and the angels. Jesus is God's glory, God's very being.
"Jesus is ontologically superior to any and all angelic agents; Jesus is equal with God, and Jesus is God. The ritual of confessing Jesus as the glory of Yahweh created and reinforced the boundary lines between Christianity and Judaism."
I must quote the entire summary of the scholar's essay on glory: "In the later New Testament writings and apostolic fathers glory language is what G.B. Caird called 'bifocal.' That is, glory possesses both a subjective and an objective field of meaning. On the subjective side, glory refers to the act of worship (i.e., 'give glory to God'; 'glorify God'). On the objective side, glory denotes the object of worship (i.e., God's presence).
"Glory in both its subjective and objective senses evidences the development of the church's faith and practice.
"When glory began to be ascribed to Jesus within the Church's liturgy, Christianity was well on its way toward Nicea, and Chalcedon glory language was an important vehicle for conveying the Christian redefinition of God."
Nicea and Chalcedon unmistakably acknowledged the church's creed that Jesus was God, and glory language reinforced that. Now, what is the implication of that same "glory language" being applied to human beings? What except recalcitrant prejudice and theological bigotry could cause serious biblical scholars to resist the conclusion that, if Jesus' reflecting God's glory is a way of attesting to His divinity, then man's reflecting the glory of Jesus means just that too?
Let's go back to Hebrews 2, which shows that Jesus, like man, was made for a "little while" (better translation) lower than the angels. This is the natural meaning of the text, which is to show Jesus' superiority now to the angels.
The angels were above Jesus while He was a human being on earth. But now that He is glorified He is above them, which is exactly what will happen when man is resurrected: He will be above the angels, not lower than them or even equal to them.
In fact, the writer to the Hebrews, after showing Jesus' likeness to the Father, goes on to establish the likeness of the resurrected saints with Jesus. If A equals B and B equals C, then how can we avoid the conclusion that A equals C?
Hebrews 2:10 says it was fitting " that He for whom and by whom all things exist in bringing many sons to glory should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering."
Jesus' mission is to bring many sons to glory. This is the gospel! In what way is this glory distinguishable from the glory of Christ Himself, and why do we want to suppress this great incredible truth? It is not a doctrine of devils, introduced by Lucifer in the Garden of Eden. It is not the mythical invention of some cult leader who founded his "true church" in the 1930s. It is the very revelation of God Almighty who loves you more than you could ever imagine and who has willed to share His divinity with you for all eternity!
"That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren" (verse 11). So why are we ashamed of this great truth? Why don't we shout this truth from the proverbial housetops? We certainly ought to be preaching it in our congregations.
Now turn to an even more startling and certainly indubitable text in 2 Thessalonians 2: 14: "To this He called you through our Gospel [you see this is vital to the Gospel] that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ."
What is the glory of Jesus Christ? Whatever it is, it is exactly what we shall attain. The attempt to limit what man will attain is disingenuous if not dishonest. If you admit that the glory of Christ means his divinity and full deity; if you admit, as the two Evangelical scholars show, that glory language is the language of divinity and it moved Christianity from a narrow monotheism; then why not accept the plain, logical conclusion that this divinity will be shared with mankind at the resurrection?
In 1 Peter 5:10 we have the unmistakable words from the pen of inspiration: "And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ . . ."
What? It is the Father who has called us to His glory, which as Hebrews 1:3 says is the same glory of Christ. We will be no less divine than the Father and the Son in the resurrection.
Don't engage in semantical gymnastics about our inability to attain "the incommunicable aspects of divinity"--his eternity and self-existence. Deal with the force of the teaching that God is reproducing Himself, that He is conferring divinity on pieces of clay and that we shall be like Him, period
Colossians 3:4 says, "When Christ, who is our life, appears then you will also appear with Him in Glory."
This is future. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says we are being changed "into His likeness from one degree of glory to another." Romans 8:17 says we are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, which must mean that we have a stake in divinity.
There are some who say our receiving the glory of Christ merely means that the character and righteousness that the first Adam failed to achieve through sin will be restored in mankind at the resurrection. That is, we will finally achieve perfection of moral attributes--and this is what all that glory is intended to imply, not that man will become a God being.
That sounds noble on the surface, but it is flawed, for Christ, in spite of His humanity, was perfect and had not a flaw in character. If the glory that He asked for was anything less than the divine power of His preexistence, then He would be asking for the return of something that he had in full measure and demonstration during his earthly existence, namely his moral perfection and sinlessness.
While His omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience were veiled on earth, his sinless character was not.
When Romans 8:29 says we are to be conformed to the image of His Son, some say this image is spiritual perfection and moral excellence, etc.--anything to dilute the full impact of the marvelous truth that God is reproducing Himself. How man resists God, even when God wants to do Him good.
We shall have the moral perfection, yes, but more than that. The Bible reveals we will receive God's glory, God's image and God's body. Hebrews 1:3 shows that Christ is "the express image of God," and we don't simply limit that to His moral qualities. So why do we restrict it when the same term is used of humans? Is our prejudice and the force of our presuppositions and a prior assumption so intractable?
How else can we explain Romans 5:2: "Through Him we have obtained this access to this grace in which we stand and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God"?
What, in this context, restricts "glory of God" to something less than His very essence, His divinity? So why do you want to restrict it? Why not go with the plain sense of scripture, unless there are indicators otherwise? Is this not a sound principle of exegesis?
Notice another point in 1 Corinthians 15:23: "But each in his own order. Christ the firstfruits then at his coming those who belong to Christ."
Have you ever noticed that Christ the firstfruits is not distinguished from the other fruits in the harvest? In the agricultural economy from which the analogy is taken, the firstfruits were of the same kind as the others to follow. It was not a different sort--only the firstfruits.
Isn't this analogy clearly suggestive and reinforcing of the point we have seen in Scripture that our gift of salvation is similar to the exaltation that Jesus received?
1 John 3:3 says when Jesus appears "we shall be like Him, for we shall se Him as He is."
Again, why restrict the meaning of "we shall be like Him"? We already look like Jesus physically. We are already in the image of God in a physical sense. Why insist that we shall be like Him in terms of character when the plain sense of the text seems to relate to physical appearance?
Look at it again: "It does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is."
We shall see him. This is not referring to His invisible moral qualities and His attributes, but what we can see as resurrected spirit beings. It does not yet appear what we shall be, for no one has ever achieved that status.
Philippians 3:20 says Christ will "change our lowly body to be like his glorious body." What else, tell me, unbiased reader, could this mean? We are to have Jesus' body. We are to have His glory. We are to have His image. We are to be like Him. He is God. He is glorified. He is Spirit. He is perfect and absolutely righteous.
Yes, He is also eternal and self-existent and we cannot be. Our children are not the same age as we are, and we begot them, yet are they any less our species of being because we have the age and reproductive supremacy over them? Think about it.
We must begin to proclaim the powerful truth of "Christ in you, the hope of glory." The Holy Spirit in us is the earnest of salvation, the guarantee that God will eventually give us it all: all of His divinity. The Holy Spirit is just the earnest or down payment of this great salvation. We diminish God's great salvation when we don't preach this truth.
There are some common objections to the biblical truth that God is reproducing himself.
The most commonly repeated are found in Isaiah 42-44. It is surprising that some interpreters who are supposed to know better quote these texts, which can be easily understood. Isaiah 42:8 says "I am the Lord, that is my name. My glory I will give to no other."
I teach my students in hermeneutics class that one sure way of defeating the opponent is to show how his interpretation does violence not only to one's theological position but also to the opponents'. For example, the average person quoting this text believes the entire Bible is inspired and noncontradictory. If that is so, and we take Isaiah 42:8 on the surface, it clearly contradicts 2 Thessalonians 2:14, Peter 5:10 and other glory texts that clearly say He will give His glory to others.
Now, what that glory means might be debatable, but in one case He says He will not give his glory to anyone and in another case He pledges he will.
If we understand His Word and rightly divide the word of truth, Isaiah 40-45 is a polemic against the false gods of the surrounding Near Eastern nations that Israel were tempted to adopt. Israel was exchanging the glory and honor of Yahweh for the false gods of the nations that, as Isaiah says, are really not gods.
They are useless, powerless gods, creations of men's hands, unlike the eternal, omnipresent God. The passages are brilliant pieces of polemic. Read the full text in Isaiah 42:8. "l am the Lord, that is my name my glory I will give to no other, nor praise to graven images."
The last words tell you clearly what is meant: not that God would never one day glorify man--Romans 8:29 promises otherwise--but that false gods should not be worshiped. God was neither addressing ontology (unitarians frequently misunderstand these passages too) but idolatry.
Isaiah 43:10 says, "Before me no god was formed nor shall there be any after Me." This is a favorite among those who deny that man will eventually become God.
But read the next three verses, and indeed Isaiah 42-45, and tell me honestly whether these verses are discussing man's destiny or attacking false gods. God Almighty is saying that Yahweh is the only true God.
Incidentally, even the famed anticult expert Robert Bowman has stated clearly that there is a difference between polytheistic deification and monotheistic deification. The Mormon view that men can become gods is totally unbiblical and bears no resemblance to the Church of God teaching that man will become a part of the one Eternal Godhead. Men will not become gods but, more properly, God beings.
It is not just a semantical difference, for, while the Bible declares emphatically that God is one, it reveals there is more than one member of the Godhead (again, see the booklet Is Jesus Really God and Who or What is God? for a thorough explanation).
So Isaiah is right: No more gods will be formed, but the One God Yahweh will reproduce Himself; not other gods forming independently.
These texts from Isaiah can in no way assail the undeniable biblical truth that God is reproducing Himself and will accomplish His purpose.
Another text frequently quoted and ripped out of context is Luke 20:36, which says that in the world tomorrow saints will be like angels, neither marrying nor given in marriage. Now, no really serious biblical exegete could quote this passage to disprove the deification of man. If the doctrine is false, this text could never prove it.
What is the context of the discussion? It is about whether the sons of this age will marry in the next life (verse 27-34). Jesus, in saying no, draws the illustration with the angels who are sexless beings and says that in the world tomorrow humans will be like angels in terms of being sexless beings. You can't take the analogy outside of that just to maintain the prejudice against the truth that man can become deity.
The context is about marriage and a sexless nature, not ontology or the nature of being. Any first-year class in exegesis or hermeneutics would acknowledge this. It is not worthy of a serious objection. Indeed, I make the point that the major objections to the view that man will become God are philosophical and psychological-cultural. I now develop that point.
Why the resistance?
Some of the psychological factors influencing the resistance to the biblical truth that man will become God are understandable. There is a natural sense of awe and reverence for the uniqueness and majesty of God and the exclusivity of worship that is due to Him. That is right and proper.
Besides, at a time when New Age philosophy is strong, with the teaching that each of us is a god with the divine spark inside, it is necessary that biblical Christians raise their voices against this damnable heresy. Human beings are not inherently good and godlike. We are sinners in need of redemption and salvation from the clutches of sin. We receive goodness only through God, who is transcendent.
Besides, there are some charismatics with the equally damnable teaching that men are really "little gods," misapplying the Psalm 82:6 text, "ye are gods." We are not little gods, and this carryover from gnosticism must be firmly resisted.
Also, traditional Christians are careful to maintain the distinction between the Creator and the creature.
"Evangelicals are determined to preserve the distinction between the Creator and the creation, particularly in light of Paul's teaching in Romans 1:18-32 that the heart of idolatry and rebelling against God is to worship the creature rather than the Creator," says Professor Craig Blomberg in his jointly authored 1997 work How Wide the Divide?
But, if God's own revelation shows that one day He will take the initiative to share His glory with mankind (Romans 5:2), then we would be no longer creatures.
The point is, we must not to impose our own ideas and philosophy on the biblical revelation, but must accept it for what it is.
A most gifted Evangelical scholar, Professor Blomberg, in his debate with the Mormon scholar Stephen Robinson (How Wide the Divide: A Mormon and an Evangelical In Conversation), asserts, "We can come to share perfectly God's communicable attributes, but can never usurp God's unique role by becoming all-powerful, all-knowing and all-present."
But notice the word usurp, thrown in to create an emotional distraction and resistance. If God in Scripture clearly states He has called us to His eternal glory, where does the "usurping" come in? Lucifer wanted to "usurp," but by God's grace man will receive deification. Notice that not one text is given to show that God cannot make us all knowing, all-powerful and all-present. It is simply stated as a given.
It is only philosophy, not the biblical text or inescapable logic, that decides which attributes are communicable and which are not. Platonic philosophy is more influential here than Scripture.
Why would it be impossible for God to make us omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient? Why? By what logical law? What in Aristotelian logic would be violated? Would the law of noncontradiction be violated? Didn't Jesus change from humanity--full humanity--to being fully God?
There is a fierce theological and philosophical debate going on right now in Evangelical theological circles about God, and many of the old assumptions are coming under sharp questioning. A lot of philosophical presuppositions have been imposed on Scripture, and it is time we put aside our traditions for the clear teaching of the Word of God.
Paul says, "beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy." As the brilliant Evangelical philosopher Norman Geisler said in a Christianity Today article more than 22 years ago: "You cannot beware philosophy unless you are first aware of philosophy."
When you study philosophy you realize the neat categories "communicable and incommunicable" are man-made and not infallible. Why use them to judge Scripture rather than the other way around?
Comparisons with incarnation
The profound difficulty 20th-century Christians have with the concept of deification is comparable to the problem the Jews and others had with the incarnation in the first century.
The incarnation was a problem to many who felt that the eternal, transcendent God could never stoop so low as to become man. Indeed, to this day a key unitarian argument is that the unchangeable, eternal God could not become a man and die. God can't die; God can't change. Men impose certain categories on God and inhibit the biblical revelation. It is the same with the concept of deification.
The church father Athanasius put it well, "God became man in order that man might become God." Exactly right!
The incarnation was a signal of the intention of God to deify man. In fact, in the very creation the fact that the animals were made after their own kind but man made after the image and likeness of God--the God kind--we catch glimpses of God's divine purpose.
The incarnation of Jesus Christ was a further revelation, and at the second coming the full manifestation of God's plan will be unveiled.
In a brilliantly argued article in the July 1996 Eastern Orthodox journal Affirmation and Critique, Kerry Robichaux says:
"It appears that many Christians wish to protect God's integrity: yet in a sense the greater risk to God's integrity was taken in His becoming a man.
"The New Testament speaks of the Incarnation as an emptying (Philippians 2:7) and Christ's death as his humiliation (Acts 8:33). That man may become God is not merely the elevation of man to the eternal plan" but the glorification of God Himself in man.
"It serves to magnify God, not to minify Him . . . But if we ignore the full provisions of His salvation and fail to enjoy the full extent of His communicability, we risk insulting Him in His grace and His economy."
Although the Protestants like to talk glibly about salvation, they take away from the magnificence of God's grace and the magnitude of His salvation.
To take the text slightly out of its original context, "how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" The churches neglect "so great a salvation" by not teaching people what God really has in mind.
The Church of God has this truth. Shouldn't your efforts be fully behind a church that teaches people this wonderful truth? Which biblical truth is more important than this, and which one really exalts the great God more than this doctrine that shows the incredible extent of His love? How grateful should be to come in contact with a church that has this precious knowledge!
Kerry Rubichaux says in the Affirmation and Critique article: "Therefore, when we speak of God's salvation we ought to view it more broadly than modern Protestant Christianity. While Protestantism typically sees salvation and redemption as virtually identical, and therefore focuses on the suffering and death of Christ, we are compelled to consider God's salvation as something much fuller as that which consummates in man's sharing of God's life, nature and expression to become His genuine sons and, in kind, like Him."
The incarnation was divinity brought into humanity, and the deification at the second coming will be humanity brought into divinity.
The only barriers to accepting this doctrine is philosophical speculation (particularly Platonic philosophy) and Eastern mysticism, which posits the view that God is Totally Other and inaccessible to man and deals with us by intermediaries.
Yes, the Scripture says God dwells in "unapproachable light," but He will bring the light of His divinity to man, who will then be one with Him.
The truths about the Sabbath, the holy days, the Kingdom of God ruling on the earth, end-time prophetic scenarios, the death of Christ and His resurrection and ascension are all subsumed into what God really is doing in history and what really shows that "God is love."
Thank God we have found the church that has this vital truth: the mother of all truths.
© The Journal: News of the Churches of God