Incorporation into the Triune God: A Trichotomist Doctrine of Deification

An ongoing debate within Christian anthropology pertains to the constituent parts of humankind. Though a spectrum of outlooks exists, the most significant possibilities, at least historically, are a trichotomist, holistic dichotomist, or non-reductive monist (physicalist) understanding of humanity. Trichotomists argue that humans possess a body, soul, and spirit, with the latter two being discrete entities; dichotomists suggest that humans possess a body and a soul/spirit, with the latter two Scriptural terms understood to be interchangeable; and monists argue that humans, while possessing bodies/souls/spirits, are indivisible identities where no ‘part’ can exist without the other(s). Of these views, the dichotomist position has, broadly speaking, been the consensus position both of Christendom at-large and the modern guild of academic theology.

This proposed paper will places trichotomism in dialogue with the doctrine of deification to challenge this consensus. Specifically, the proposed paper aims to advance three claims: (1) a trichotomistic anthropology more appropriately matches the logic of the Genesis 1 creation narrative where humankind is made in the imago Dei, since God is in fact triune; (2) a trichotomistic anthropology more easily sustains a robust soteriology whereby humans are not merely forensically justified in a moment, but rather organically transformed over a lifetime; (3) the doctrine of deification serves as a useful heuristic lens for Scripture, illumining the triadic nature of the divine economy whereby the trichotomist human is ultimately incorporated into the Triune God.

While time disallows a comprehensive treatment of this argument, the presentation will be organized in the following manner. The first 10 minutes will provide an overview of the Scriptural and philosophical issues related to the trichotomist/dichotomist/monist debate. The following 10 minutes will introduce an Evangelical doctrine of deification that both preserves the Creator/creature distinction and maintains fidelity to the totalizing union Paul posits in statements such as “he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit” (1 Cor 6:17). The remaining 10 minutes will be devoted to advancing the three aforementioned claims. First, the paper will demonstrate the coherence of a trichotomist anthropology in the image of the Triune God, which holds both for unregenerated and regenerated believers alike. Second, the paper will further elucidate how a trichotomist anthropology sustains a progressive view of participatory soteriology in regenerated believers better than a dichotomist or monist anthropology. Finally, the paper will tie these claims together by theologically interpreting key Scriptural passages (e.g., Jn 17; Rom 8:2-11) that suggestively place humans in an incorporative relationship with the Triune God.

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