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Title: Growing into God : a consideration of the relation between the experience and theology of sanctification, in dialogue with John Wesley's theology of perfection and Gregory Palamas' theology of deification
Author: Bailey, George Peter
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2011
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This thesis explores the place of sanctifying experience of God in the work of two theologians, John Wesley and Gregory Palamas. The thought of both is shaped by a teleological drive towards the fullest possible experience of God. The thesis engages Wesley and Palamas over the character of the experience of God, the way in which it produces the sanctification of Christian people, and the theology which results from this sanctification. Both Wesley’s and Palamas’ concept of the experience of God is shown to entail a synergistic relationship between God and humans, and a fine balance between gradual growth and instantaneous transformation; these characteristics are explored through images of growth and light as employed by both authors. For Wesley and Palamas, an indescribable direct encounter with God is shown to be, not only the aim of Christian life, but also the central organising principle of their whole theology. This affects their understanding of the authority of Scripture, the role of the Holy Spirit, and the approach to Christology. In a theology which privileges spiritual experience these rely, more than might otherwise be the case, upon the present experience of Christians for their authority and content. Christology offers the starkest example of this, and potential difficulties in the Christologies of Wesley and Palamas are agued to be the result of their maintaining a role for present Christian experience to ever further our understanding. The interdependence of the theology and experience of sanctification means that no theological statement can be complete, but is only ever growing towards a fuller understanding, as experience of God transforms individuals and the church. Developing an understanding of the authority of Scripture, the role of the Holy Spirit and the identity of Jesus Christ is informed by the need for, and expectation of, the fullest possible experience of God in this life. Direct experience of God, whilst remaining independent of contextual factors, can only be described within the context that it is received. In order to pursue the arguments above, the thesis analyses the theologies of Wesley and Palamas in relation to their context within the life of the church and the theological tradition. Attention is given to the relation between their views on experience and soteriology, providing distinctive perspectives upon both. Development in Wesley’s understanding of experience of God is traced in relation to Lockean empiricism, as mediated through the epistemology of Peter Browne. Recognising the central place for the ‘witness of the Spirit’ informs several debates within Wesleyan scholarship. Analysis is made of Palamas’ understanding of experience of God (pei?α) and his use of this term as a theological concept. His soteriology is then approached with the need for experience of God as a guiding perspective, so allowing exploration of the way that he understands deification both as an experience and as an organising motif for his theology.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available