Salvation and atonement
In the previous post I questioned the belief of some theologians that “theology of religion” was all about whether one could find salvation in other religions. The question assumes that “other” religions have a similar notion of salvation to Christianity, and that “salvation” is what they are all about. I pointed out that the concept of “salvation” is not central to all religions, and that even Christians can’t agree about what “salvation” is.
In at least some parts of the Christian blogosphere there has been considerable discussion about the “penal substitution” theory of the atonement (“penal” was the “p” word that I couldn’t remember in my previous post). As an Orthodox Christian I have found the discussion somewhat unreal, as Orthodoxy has never had the juridical understanding of the atonement developed by Anselm of Canterbury, nor the penal substitution refinement of it, developed by Calvin. As Stamoolis (1986:9) puts it, following L.A. Zander, “The East was not influenced by Anselm: its soteriology is different from that of the West”. As I wrote in my doctoral thesis on Orthodox mission methods:
The schism of 1054 took place in the lifetime of Anselm of Canterbury, and he wrote his Cur Deus homo? a few years later. While the schism of 1054 appears to have been mainly about the Western addition of the filioque clause to the Symbol of Faith, and its attempt to impose that on the East (Runciman 1988:90-91), the heritage of Anselm is at least as significant in accounting for the differences in the style and method of mission following the eleventh century. Yet even this goes back a long way. At the root of the different understanding of soteriology is a different understanding of sin, and especially a different understanding of “original” sin. Again, as Stamoolis (1986:9) puts it, following L.A. Zander, “The East was not influenced by Augustine; its anthropology is different from that of the West”.
And, because I’m lazy and don’t like typing lots of stuff, much of what follows is also taken from my thesis, though I haven’t bothered to indicate all the quotes.
A favourite verse of evangelical Protestants in evangelising is Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God”. For the evangelical Protestants, the emphasis is on the “all”. They tend to use the verse in support of the contention that there are no exceptions to the universality of sin; all men are sinners, therefore all men need to repent. For Orthodox Christians, however, the emphasis is on the glory of God. The verse is almost tautologous, because to “sin” means to fall short, to miss the mark. In the Protestant use, the verse is ripped out of its context, and interpreted in individualistic terms. Evangelical Protestants interpret “all” to mean “every single individual”, though from the context it is clear that St Paul was comparing and contrasting Jews and Greeks — those who had the benefit of the Mosaic law and those who did not. For Orthodox Christians, this verse means primarily that we have all missed the mark, and the aim, the target that we have missed is the glory of God. And the very word “Orthodox” itself implies the remedy — instead of the curved path of the arrow veering from the target, or falling short of it, Orthodoxy is the straight (orthos) path to glory (doxa).
Man is created in the image and likeness of God, and the Greek fathers distinguished between these. The image of God in man is that of a unique person, free autonomous and creative — and this is a characteristic that we as human beings still possess. The image of God in man was not destroyed in the Fall. The likeness of God has, however, been distorted or lost through sin — kindness, gentleness, generosity, patience, joy, peace, love (Oleksa 1993:355). This likeness of God was not a static condition in Adam and Eve — it was something they were to grow into. What sin has done is to reorient us in harmful and self-destructive directions. Sin has distorted, but not destroyed, the image of God in man. And because of the effects of sin, we cannot reach the likeness of God by our own efforts. God has revealed himself to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons, yet undivided. No individual can be “like God”, because God is a communion of persons, and Orthodox teaching therefore asserts that salvation is personal but not individual. And this understanding is also, to some extent, found among the Western fathers too, who speak of us dwelling in the land of unlikeness. Salvation is the restoration of the likeness of God in man, becoming, by grace, by God’s energy and power, like God. This process is called theosis or divinisation in Orthodox theology, and it is one that catechumens are invited to begin at baptism (Oleksa 1993:356).
In Western theology, especially since Anselm, the juridical understanding of the atonement had been based on the idea of sin and evil as being primarily something that God punishes us for (Rodger 1989:28). In the Orthodox view, however, sin and evil are primarily something that God rescues us from. Salvation begins with being released “from the bondage of the enemy”. Salvation is in the first place a liberation from bondage (Hayes 1993:168).
“Original sin”, in the Orthodox view, is therefore not a kind of genetic inheritance, something carried with us, that we are born with, inherited from our ancestors, as Western theology tends to assert (Cross & Livingstone 1983:1010). It is better to picture original sin as something external, something environmental, not something that we are born with, but rather that we are born into (Cronk 1982:45; Hopko 1983:30; Davies 1971:205-205). We are born into a world that has been stolen from God, and has become a prison. We are born into a world that lies in the power of the evil one. We are citizens of the kingdom of Satan by birth. We are among the goods that the strong man holds in his palace. We are born literally possessed by the strong man (Lk 11:21). In the exorcisms preceding baptism the devil is dispossessed of his ill-gotten gains.
One manifestation of this difference in understanding of “original sin” between the East and the West can be seen in the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. According to this teaching, God miraculously intervened to remove the stain (macula) of original sin from Mary at the moment of her conception. Orthodox theologians have generally rejected this teaching — not because they believe that Mary was conceived sinfully, but because they do not believe in the maculate conception of the rest of us (Ouspensky 1987:338; Hopko 1984:42). For Orthodox Christians, original sin is not so much a “stain on the soul”, as a condition of the world into which we are conceived and born. We are not conceived maculate, but we become maculate by our collaboration with the evil around us (Hopko 1983:30; 1984:43).
If sin is falling short of the glory of God, salvation is being redirected or reoriented towards the target, the glory of God, or the likeness of God. As Oleksa (1993:356) notes, catechumens are invited to begin this process at baptism. Before being baptised, the catechumen stands at the entrance to the church, facing east, bareheaded and unshod, and the priest breathes three times in his or her face, and makes the sign of the cross on the catechumen’s forehead and breast, and then prays that the catechumen’s delusions will be removed, that they will be filled with faith, hope and love, and will come to know the Holy Trinity, that they will walk in God’s commandments and be pleasing to him, that their name will be written in the book of life and that they will be joined to the flock of God’s inheritance, that God’s name will be glorified in them and that they will rejoice in the works of their hands and their generation so that they may praise, worship and glorify God all the days of their lives (Hapgood 1975:271). This is a prayer for restoration and reorientation, for salvation and wholeness. But it is immediately followed by four prayers of exorcism.
In the exorcisms the present condition of the catechumen is sharply contrasted with the future condition envisaged in the prayer described above. Before God can receive the catechumen into his heavenly kingdom, he or she must be delivered “from the bondage of the enemy” (Hapgood 1975:273). “Conversion” therefore, is not merely a mental activity, an exchange of one set of ideas for another, an acceptance of a new worldview or a new ideology. Conversion is “fleeing from ‘this world’ which has been stolen from God by the enemy and has become a prison” (Schmemann 1974:20). The whole world lies in the power of the Evil One (I John 5:19).
Salvation as liberation
The English words “redemption” or “liberation” can be used to translate the Greek apolutrosis, which means a loosing, unbinding or setting free. Apolutrosis could refer to the setting free of a slave or prisoner. In the Orthodox understanding, there are two aspects of this liberation or freedom: the “freedom from” and the “freedom to”. We are freed from bondage to sin, evil, the devil and death. We are freed to become what God intended us to be — free creatures created in his image and likeness. These freedoms are inseparable. “Liberation from demonic power is the beginning of man’s restoration. Its fulfilment, however, is the heavenly kingdom into which man was received in Christ, so that ascension to heaven, communion with God and ‘deification’ have truly become man’s unique destiny and vocation” (Schmemann 1974:26). Because we are in bondage to the devil, evil and death, we cannot attain the life of God. But by his Death and Resurrection Christ has bound the strong man, set us free from sin and death, and opened the way to the heavenly kingdom. As St John of Damascus put it in his joyful Paschal hymn, sung by Orthodox Christians at the Paschal Vigil:
This is the day of Resurrection. Let us be illumined, O people. Pascha, the Pascha of the Lord. For from death to life and from earth to heaven has Christ our God led us, as we sing the song of victory (The Paschal service 1990:30).
By his Ascension and the Descent of the Holy Spirit Christ has raised our human nature to the heavenly places, and sent the indwelling power of God himself to enable us to be “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pe 1:4). We enter the heavenly kingdom by baptism.
In the first exorcism the priest says
The Lord layeth thee under ban, O Devil: He who came into the world and made his abode among men, that he might overthrow thy tyranny and deliver men; who also upon the tree didst triumph over the adverse powers, when the sun was darkened and the earth did quake… who also by death annihilated Death, and overthrew him who exercised the dominion of Death, that is thee, the Devil (Hapgood 1975:272).
In the exorcisms preceding baptism we are first prised free from the power of the Evil One, and then, facing the west, the direction of darkness, renounce his kingdom. This turning to the West and renunciation of the Satan is thus “an act of freedom, the first free act of the man liberated from enslavement to Satan” (Schmemann 1974:27). We then turn (convert) to the East, and accept Christ as King and God (Hapgood 1975:274). This is very similar in form to a secular naturalisation ceremony in which one applies for citizenship of another country. One first renounces one’s old citizenship, and then accepts the citizenship of the new country. So we renounce our former citizenship in the Kingdom of Satan, and accept new citizenship in the Kingdom of God. In the world there is a difference between citizenship by naturalisation and citizenship by birth. In baptism, however, we are born again by water and Spirit (John 3:5; Titus 3:5). We are not second-class citizens of the heavenly kingdom. “What you have come to is Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival, with the whole Church in which everyone is a ‘first-born son’ and a citizen of heaven” (Heb 12:22-23).
The declaration of allegiance is completed by the recitation of the Symbol of Faith, and the catechumens then bow down before the Holy Trinity.
The point here is that the candidate for baptism is not free to voluntarily renounce Satan until he or she has been prised from Satan’s clutches by the exorcism. Liberation precedes renunciation and the declaration of allegiance. The people of Israel could only enter into the covenant with God at Sinai after they had been rescued from the clutches of Pharaoh at the Red Sea (Hayes 1992a:55).
Then follows the blessing of the water for baptism. Schmemann (1974:39) notes that water has a triple symbolism. Firstly, it is the symbol of life. Water is an essential element of life in the world, and so it has cosmic significance. Secondly, it is a symbol of destruction and death; it is the dark habitation of demonic powers. Thirdly, it is a symbol of purification, cleansing and renewal. And so the water is both exorcised and blessed. In the fallen world, matter is never neutral; if it is not used as a means of communion with God, it becomes the bearer and locus of the demonic (Schmemann 1974:48). In the preface to the blessing of the water, the priest says “Thou didst hallow the streams of Jordan, sending down upon them from heaven thy Holy Spirit, and didst crush the heads of the dragons who lurked there” (Hapgood 1975:278). This is typical of the multi-level scriptural references in Orthodox liturgy. It is a reference in the first place to the Theophany, the feast of the baptism of Christ, when the Holy Spirit descended (Lk 4:22). But the Theophany is seen as a fulfilment of the Exodus, announced in Isaiah 52:9-11:
Awake, awake! Clothe yourself in strength,
Arm of Yahweh.
Awake as in the past,
in times of generations long ago.
Did you not split Rahab in two,
and pierce the Dragon through?
Did you not dry up the sea,
the waters of the great Abyss,
to make the seabed a road
for the redeemed to cross?
Those whom Yahweh has ransomed return,
they come to Zion shouting for joy,
everlasting joy in their faces;
joy and gladness go with them,
sorrow and lament are ended.
Christians “experience matter as essentially good, yet on the other hand as the very vehicle of man’s enslavement to death and sin, as the means by which Satan has stolen the world from God. Only in Christ and by His power can matter be liberated and become again the symbol of God’s glory and presence, the sacrament of His action and communion with man” (Schmemann 1974:49).
There is thus a link between our baptism and Christ’s baptism in the Jordan. But there is also a significant difference. Our baptism is for the remission of sins (Ac 2:38), but Christ had no sins to be remitted. He went into the waters of the Jordan, at the lowest place on the surface of the earth, not to have his sins washed away, but to crush the heads of the dragons that lurked there, and to reclaim the world, and water in particular, for God. In a sense, he allowed himself to be fully immersed in the evil of this world, and threw down the gauntlet in a challenge to the powers of evil. His baptism was followed immediately by his temptation, in which Satan met him and responded to the challenge.
SALVATION AND EVANGELISM IN EAST AND WEST
I have noted that the difference between the Western and Orthodox understandings of sin was that Western theology tends to see sin primarily as something that God punishes us for, and that Orthodox theology tends to see sin primarily as something God rescues us from. I also noted that Protestant theology has tended to divide salvation into two dimensions or processes: justification and sanctification, while in Orthodoxy the dimensions were liberation and deification. Where Orthodox and Protestants have discussed these matters, much of the discussion has tended to revolve around the contrast between justification and deification in salvation. This has led to much misunderstanding on both sides. In part it is a result of the difference in the style of doing theology.
Western scholars who have been influenced by the Enlightenment tend to misrepresent Orthodox theology at this point. Bosch (1991:394), for example, quotes such scholars as saying that the Orthodox understanding of salvation was a “pedagogical progression”. Aulén (1970:13), however, points out that “the interpretation of the Christology of the period as ‘a work of the Hellenistic spirit’, intellectualistic and metaphysical in character, and of its doctrine of salvation as ‘naturalistic’, rests rather on the presuppositions of nineteenth-century theology than on an objective and unprejudiced analysis of the actual work of the Fathers.”
The Western misunderstanding of Orthodox theology is even clearer in Bevans and Schroeder (2004), two Roman Catholic missiologists. They analyse mission history in relation to six theological “constants”: Christology, ecclesiology, eschatology, salvation, anthropology and culture. They interpret these in terms of three theological models, which they call A, B and C, and there is a key figure who characterises each type. For Type A the key figure is Tertullian of Carthage; for Type B it is Origen of Alexandria, and for Type C it is Irenaeus of Lyons. The understanding of salvation in Type A is satisfaction, in Type B an exemplar model, and in Type C it is liberation (Bevan & Schroeder 2004:36f).
If one examines the six constants in terms of each model, it is clear that their Type C is closest to Orthodoxy. Type C’s Christiology, ecclesiology, eschatology, view of salvation, anthropology and view of culture are all Orthodox. This is not surprising, since Irenaeus is a saint of the Orthodox Church, and is regarded as one of the fathers of the Church, while Tertullian and Origen are not. What is surprising, however, is that Bevans and Schroeder, when looking at the constants in six different historical contexts, consistently assign Orthodox mission theology to Type B in all six.
For Protestants the emphasis is on the Word. Theologians have written about deification because it was the subject of argument and debate. But liberation (or redemption) was not debated or argued: for Orthodox Christians it was simply assumed. It is found primarily in the liturgy and ikonography of the church rather than explicitly stated in works of dogmatic theology (Hayes 1992a:56). Protestant theologians who read books about Orthodox theology without participating in Orthodox worship can therefore easily miss the point entirely. The experiential and enacted theology of Orthodoxy does not seem to them like theology at all, because it is not “systematic”. Again, to quote Stamoolis, “The East was not influenced by Aquinas, its methodology is different from that of the West.”
Schmemann (1974:21), writing about the exorcisms preceding baptism, notes this:
It is not our purpose to outline, even superficially, the Orthodox teaching concerning the Devil. In fact the Church has never formulated it systematically, in the form of a clear and concise “doctrine.” What is of paramount importance, however, is that the Church has always had the experience of the demonic, has always, in plain words, known the devil. If this direct knowledge has not resulted in a neat and orderly doctrine, it is because of the difficulty, if not impossibility, rationally to define the irrational. And the demonic and, more generally, evil are precisely the reality of the irrational.
Like Schmemann, I do not intend to systematically formulate the Orthodox teaching concerning the devil. But if liberation from the power of the devil is an essential part of the Orthodox understanding of salvation, then it is also an essential part of the Orthodox understanding of mission and evangelism, and will, or ought to, influence Orthodox mission methods. I believe that it also illustrates some of the differences that can be discerned between Orthodox and Western mission methods.
Bosch (1991:411ff) lists eighteen different understandings or definitions of evangelism that have been common in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Most of the debates, however, have been about evangelism as an activity. Evangelism is the proclamation of the evangelion, the good news, the gospel. But there has been very little discussion about what actually constitutes this evangelion. What is the content of the proclamation? What is the news, and why is it good? (Hayes 1992a:50).
For those who believe in the penal substitution of the atonement, the “good news” is that God isn’t going to thump you for your sins because he has already punished his sinless Son for the evil deeds of his sinful sons.
To Orthodox Christians, this looks like a disagreement between the persons of the Holy Trinity. In the Orthodox understanding, mission is trinitarian. The Father sends the Son and the Holy Spirit into the world to liberate it from bondage to the evil one.
Orthodox evangelism is thus different from the evangelism of those who believe in the penal substitution theory of the atonement. The content of the evangel, the good news, is different. The strong man holds his goods in peace until one stronger than him comes, not as a conquering hero, but in the guise of one of the prisoners, one of the inmates of the concentration camp. He breaks the gates of the prison with its bolts and bars (depicted in the ikon of the resurrection, where Christ tramples upon the doors of hell, while raising Adam and Eve from the abyss.
The good news is that
Christ is risen from the dead
trampling down death by death
and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.
Aulén, Gustaf. 1970. Christus victor. London: SPCK.
Bevans, Stephen B. & Schroeder, Roger P. 2004. Constants in context. a theology of mission for today. Maryknoll: Orbis.
Bosch, D.J. 1991. Transforming mission: paradigm shifts in theology of mission. Maryknoll: Orbis.
Cronk, George. 1982. The message of the Bible: an Orthodox Christian perspective. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.
Davies, J.D. 1971. Beginning now: a Christian exploration of the first three chapters of Genesis. Philadelphia: Fortress.
Hapgood, Isabel Florence (ed). 1975 . Service book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church. Englewood, NJ: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese.
Hayes, Stephen. 1992a. Evangelism and liberation, in Theologia Evangelica, Vol. 25(2) June. Page 49-57.
Hayes, Stephen. 1992b. Mission as African initiative. Pretoria: University of South Africa. (Study Guide for Missiology IIIB Course, MSB302-G).
Hayes, Stephen. 1993. The IViyo loFakazi bakaKristu and the KwaNdebele Mission of the Anglican Diocese of Pretoria. Pretoria: University of South Africa, M.Th. dissertation.
Hayes, Stephen. 1998. Orthodox mission methods: a comparative study. Pretoria: University of South Africa. D.Th. thesis.
Hopko, Thomas. 1983. The Lenten spring. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.
Hopko, Thomas. 1984. The winter Pascha. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.
Oleksa, Michael (ed.). 1987. Alaskan missionary spirituality. New York: Paulist.
Oleksa, Michael. 1992. Orthodox Alaska: a theology of mission. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.
Ouspensky, Leonid & Lossky, Vladimir. 1989. The meaning of icons. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.
Ouspensky, Leonid. 1987. Iconography of the descent of the Holy Spirit, in St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly. Vol. 31(4). Pages 309-337.
Rodger, Symeon. 1989. The soteriology of Anselm of Canterbury: an Orthodox perspective, in Greek Orthodox Theological Review. Vol. 34(1). Pages 19-43.
Runciman, Steven. 1988. The great church in captivity: a study of the Patriarchate of Constantinople from the eve of the Turkish conquest to the Greek war of independence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Schmemann, Alexander. 1973. For the life of the world: sacraments and Orthodoxy. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.
Schmemann, Alexander. 1974. Of water and the Spirit: a liturgical study of baptism. New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.