Religious Educator: Perspectives on the Restored Gospel


theosis, becoming, Jesus Christ example

Document Type



Since at least Plato and the patristic fathers, those interested in the things of God have expounded the doctrine of deification, or theosis. Although doctrines differ widely, each system admits to one degree or another what Wynand Vladimir de Beer has recently called “divine-human co-operation (synergeia).” For Plato, the back-and-forth of Socratic dialectic was a way for the rational part of man to ascend to God, or the Good. Augustine couched his anthropology of the soul’s ascent in biblical terms. In his view, founded on Proverbs 1:7, one unites (or reunites) with God by means of meditation, purification, and charity, or love. These familiar systems, on first impression, resemble aspects of Latter-day Saint theology and share a basis in truth and scripture; however, as de Beer makes plain, the philosophical/patristic systems or formulations of becoming (or ascending) never conflate the primary distinction between transcendent Creator and fallen creature. Instead, in these systems, especially those common to the church fathers and mystics, “humans are called to become divine by grace, not by nature.” This sort of “becoming” is achieved by means of intellectual/contemplative “participation” in the divine idea or energy. LDS theology—more dependent on action than meditation, where it is not blurred by theories of relativity and probability— does not make an ontological distinction between Creator and creature. It asserts that humans are actual descendants of God and not merely made by his hands. Nevertheless, this literal understanding of our family relationship to God conceals a theological paradox that is explored in this study on the doctrinal place and redemptive power of Jesus Christ’s example.