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Salvation and atonement

30 June 2008

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.


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 [1922]. 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.

Technorati tags

Orthodox theology, atonement, missiology, penal substitution

40 Comments leave one →
  1. metapagan permalink
    1 July 2008 5:20 pm

    But I still don’t get why the Incarnation comes so late in history?

  2. 1 July 2008 9:37 pm

    An interesting read and some good highlights of distinctions between Western and Eastern Orthodoxy. It is important to note that there are various tangents in Scripture giving us handles on what “sin” is, some of which are held on to more strongly in some circles than others.

    In light of the idea of churches’ being missional, how do you personally understand sin and salvation?

  3. 2 July 2008 7:31 am


    If you were asking me, the article explains how I personally understand sin and salvation. Sin is falling short of the glory of God, missing the mark, and falling into slavery to the devil. Salvation is being delivered from evil, or from the Evil One, as our Lord Jesus Christ taught us to pray: “deliver us from evil”. Sin is not so much something God punishes us for, it is primarily something God rescues us from.

  4. Pops permalink
    2 July 2008 3:26 pm

    I have just read thru this all and I am serious: Do you actually believe all of this stuff?

    Jordan, the lowest place on earth?
    Dragons at the bottom?
    East and West being satans place and God’s place?
    Exorcism prayers after salvation?
    The world was stolen from God?

    Are you serious?

  5. 2 July 2008 11:06 pm


    Read through the comments, and especially the one immediately preceding yours, and you will find the answer to your questions.

  6. 3 July 2008 8:57 am

    Steve, I think your analysis works best as a contrast between Orthodoxy and Calvinism – that branch of Protestanism most firmly committed to penal substitution.

    Also, in exploring the difference between satisfaction, exemplar and liberation models I think you hit on where there is significant overlap between your path and my own. Early on I was influenced by John Howard Yoder, an anabaptist / postliberal theologian / ethicist / social activist who very much leaned towards the exemplar and liberation models. His approach resonated with me far stronger than the satisfaction model pushed in my church (which at that stage was Sydney Anglican / Calvinist). The Kingdom of God hope sounded so much more like “good news” than the “turn or burn” at the hands of an angry God message. Not that I don’t see some Biblical substance to the satisfaction model, I think the sacrifice metaphor is valid, but I think Calvinists in particular have over-emphasized it. And I agree that in that over-emphasis, that the unity of the Trinity can seem somewhat strained.

    You post prompts me to consider the three wings of the Reformation – the Lutherans, the Calvinists and the Anabaptists – and how each might be compared with Orthodoxy.

    • 11 May 2014 12:03 am

      Interesting influences Matt. I too came from a similar background to yours though mine was an Evangelical Church planted on the NSW Central Coast and headed up by a former Sydney Anglican minister. (You may know EV Church) Although penal substitution still resonates strongly with me, and that satisfaction certainly has a place in scripture there is certainly more to it as your “over-emphasised’ comment suggests. I am not caught up in the alternative to the promise of eternity in the presence of our Creator/Saviour/King, I am certainly aware of its threat. I don’t think Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” was wrong. Amazingly many turned that day to find salvation out of fear, a situation that would hardly be repeated in our anaesthetised, post modern, Western culture.

  7. 3 July 2008 3:16 pm

    Terrific article, clarifying (for me) a structure and an approach to these questions — about Xtian ideas of salvation — which I have had kicking around in the back of my mind for decades. Many, many thanks.

  8. 3 July 2008 7:26 pm


    I must say I feel most at home with Anabaptists. Though we have theological differences, the dynamics seem more similar.


    Glad you found it useful. Charles Williams had some interesting insights into these things too.

  9. 4 July 2008 4:45 am


    Perhaps I should add that the Wesleyan Methodists seem to have some affinity with this understanding of salvation. As one of Charles Wesley’s hymns puts it:

    Long my imprisoned spirit lay
    Fast bound in sin and nature’s night
    Thine eye diffused a quickening ray
    I woke, the dungeon flamed with light
    My chains fell off, me heart was free
    I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

    That’s certainly closer to the Orthodox view than the Calvinist one is.

    And “evangelism” is telling the good news (porefthendes – as you go forth) to the other prisoners that the concentration camp commandant is tied up in his office, and the main gates of the camp are open.

  10. Mary Christine Erikson permalink
    4 July 2008 8:19 am

    it seems to me that all this is more a
    matter of focus on one facet or another
    and not a serious difference.

    You complain that sin is yanked out of
    context and makes all men sinners when
    it only means missing the mark. But what
    of the Holy Liturgy where it says that
    Christ came to save sinners of who I am
    first? This is the same idea.

    Paul doesn’t just say we were trapped in
    a world or social system of the devil, but
    that BY NATURE we were children of

    Orthodox writers admit a sin nature or
    a tendency to go wrong, a warp that
    corrupts the image of God in us, as distinct
    from having personal guilt for Adam’s sin.
    Good distinction, and certainly a stain on
    the soul is a good description of such a
    warp. Try mutation.

    This softening of sin as merely missing
    the mark sounds like the way my vile
    mother used to talk, and she would
    invariably do what she knew was wrong,
    and had some poetic nonsense a bout
    honoring some standards in the breach,
    and at least knew right from wrong, which
    empowered her evil by disempowering
    her conscience and making it powerless
    to stop her, and is also contrary to Holy
    Scripture for James says that he who
    knows what is wrong and does it anyway
    is sinning worse.

    Missing the mark is not a serious issue
    in modern casual games times. But it
    could be damn serious when that was
    written. Someone who missed the mark
    in archery could be dead soon if that
    mark was his enemy on the battlefield,
    or his fellows dead ditto, or cast out from
    a playing team.

    TILT! LOSER! no crown, no reward, and
    no eternal life.

    NOW do you get it?

  11. 5 July 2008 2:01 am

    Okay, so you do believe all of that stuff.

    If you read a good geography book that should sort of some of those issues!

    Yeah Mary, we had a sinful nature (the flesh) and through Jesus that nature has died and we are set free from it’s desires and passions although the memories can still plague us. Now we have the new nature – often referred to as spirit by Paul.

    Sin is as a result of the sinful nature. The nature is the tree, the sin is the fruit. Dealing purely with sin, no matter which direction you face, is not going to solve your problem, in fact picking fruit from a tree stimulates growth of even more fruit.

    Receiving Christ as Saviour in our stead sorts out the whole issue and there is no need for exorcism or anything else – it is a done deal!

    God does not rescue us from sin, He rescues us from the sinful nature.

    No disrespect Steve, but some of that stuff you put out there, Whoaaaaa!

    • 11 December 2010 11:18 am

      the done deal is getting us on the path, not the
      final thing. the walk in Christ can be crippled,
      stopped dead or reversed. Which is why we need
      exorcism and confession and things like that.

      The idea that salvation is a one time thing that
      is not a seed that needs to grow and be cultivated,
      or risk losing that salvation, is a recent innovation
      in the past few centuries, and totally alien to The
      Bible read several books at once and not piecemeal
      out of context.

      no need for exorcism?! that makes me laugh. There
      is an awful lot of demonic direct and indirect
      influence in many Christians, and even those
      without an occultist background, or have never
      engaged in pop culture (old world and new world)
      folk pagan holdover practices, still may find
      themselves under demonic attack.

      possession is rare. influence is another matter.
      external attack is nothing unusual. Minor
      exorcism is a good idea lots of times.

      especially if baptised as an infant and catechizing
      is dependent on godparents who don’t know their
      asses from holes in the ground and whose sole
      recommendation is that they are communicants up
      to date and related to the infant enough, that
      the spiritual consanguinity allegedly created so
      overlaps the blood consanguinity, that it is
      easy to avoid incest with your god siblings and
      so forth.

      by the way, something is off about all that A
      canon says that a married couple who stand as
      godparent to the same children should divorce
      because a relationship between them has been
      created that is they imply like siblings.
      But parents make children, god parents make
      god children, so it would be more to the point
      to make god parents a logical priority to marry
      each other in the event of the death of the
      spouses, instead of prohibited.

      Back to the exorcism thing, if you are
      seriously working to obey Christ and if not,
      then you are not really walking in Him, you
      are likely to attract demonic efforts to stop
      you. Don’t give up, and they go away.

      by the way, the denial of our salvation being
      the cross, is an innovation that tracks back
      to heretics and occultists and swedenborgianism
      and liberal fleshly semi christian philosophy,
      which has leaked into church teaching by priests
      and so forth, but NOT into the Creed or Liturgics.

      you have to do a lot of twisting and reinterpreting
      to make the liturgy and prayers not to mention
      specific statements in early Fathers and more
      recent ones start with St. Athanasius On the
      Incarnation, seem to fit the modern deviations that
      deny atonement.

      The Blachernae-Constantinople council of AD 1156
      took atonement for granted, when it specified
      that the sacrifice was made not to The Father
      alone, but to Christ Himself and The Holy Spirit.
      Christ the priest, recipient and victim.

  12. 5 July 2008 8:09 am


    A geography book will sort out theological issues?

    You’ve lost me there.

  13. Pops permalink
    5 July 2008 3:12 pm

    Heheheh, Sorry Steve, insufficient explanation!

    Jordan – the lowest place on earth! Bad geography.

  14. 5 July 2008 4:34 pm

    Well Pops, if you know of a place on the surface of the earth that’s lower than the Jordan valley, please tell us where to find it, and don’t forget to cite the geography book where we can verify the information.

  15. Pops permalink
    6 July 2008 1:18 pm

    Hi Steve

    The Dead Sea is the lowest place – any geography book or even Wiki will tell you that.

    Also, He was baptised, by deduction, in the region of Galilee which is north of the Dead Sea and some distance from it too. In all likelihood, nearer to the Sea of Galilee which is substantially elavated above the Dead Sea because after His temptation in the wilderness, He went to Nazareth.

  16. 6 July 2008 6:08 pm


    Enough silly quibbling.

    I suggest you read the Wikipedia article on the Jordan Valley, where you will see that the Sea of Galilee is at one end of it and the Dead Sea at the other, and along the entire length, from Galilee to the Dead Sea, it is lower than anywhere else on the surface of the earth. The bottom of the Mariana Trench is lower, but it’s not on the surface.

  17. Pops permalink
    6 July 2008 11:26 pm

    Hi Steve

    Thank you. Not silly quibling sir, just an open look at what you said.

    You see, I find that although certain parts of what you said in your definition make sense, unfortunately the validity of them are somewhat tarnished by the little technicalities of things like “the lowest place on earth”.

    Then after reading a statement like that, the balance of the items that are also based on certain assumptions/deductions/logic or whatever you may wish to refer to them as, become suspect to me.

    But I do not want to annoy you so I will stop now!

    Lots of love!


  18. 9 July 2008 5:20 am

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and analysis with us. I am intrigued and resolve to make a closer study of these matters. Sin and salvation have not been explained so logically to me until reading your post. It is sad how the idea of the orthodox (straight path) is scoffed at, as though such ideas are (being old) now old fashioned, out dated, and therefore irrelevant nonsense. To the oft (western modernist) polluted mind, the word “fundamentalism” is made to spring automatically, and with it a rejection of anything but the modern interpretation of “right and wrong”. Yet i ask myself, “why not the straight path”. Afterall, the modern interpretations all too often amount to chaotic conclusions made by each individual. And Jesus came surely not against the Mosaic Laws but to show us how to live in accordance with the spirit of those laws. Am I right?

  19. 9 January 2009 2:40 pm

    Thanks, I enjoyed this post it helped me a lot.

  20. Mark Caldwell permalink
    15 March 2009 7:54 pm

    My theological studies have lead me into certain road blocks with my western tradition. I have struggled at so many points to make sense of what the Scriptures say on some of these details. I mean, not what they say, but what they mean in a grander sense, taking into account all of what is said. I often find rest in Orthodoxy’s perspective. I did again today in terms of the atonement.

    For “Pop”: I do really believe all that stuff.

    Here’s why: I have these images of God, like “The Christ of Sinai” always on my mind, and often times the theology of the west ruins those icons. Sometimes I feel like I am watching the best man at at the wedding who just keeps talking at the toast and ruins the picture we all had of the couple. I am not sure I can explain it all here and now. In sum, the God I knew as a child, like water, was muddied up with so many western arguments to blame, but holding onto to Him as Father, as Trinity, as incarnate Jesus has lead me in a circle back to the Orthodoxy of my childhood. Not that I was an Orthodox as a child, but so many of the things I just knew had to be true, I see are true, like the Orthodox stand on atonement.

  21. 26 June 2009 5:38 pm

    Hi Steve, check out this amazing post I just found about the Atonement:

  22. oruaseht permalink
    12 July 2010 6:16 pm

    Thank you Steve for posting this. I found it very enlightening and it is a very accurate sketch of Western and Eastern approaches to theology & missiology. I want to delve further into this salvation theme of “liberation from the strong man.” I am careful not to misunderstand this as “liberation theology” which currently reflects a freeing people from unjust/economic/social conditions. Rather, this understanding of redemption not as penal satisfaction but rather a “punching death in the face and breaking its teeth!” This fits so much better with the OT Exodus (God thwomping Pharaoh) narrative than does the penal inflection provided by Augustine+Anselm+Reformers in the West. Thank you again!

    • 13 July 2010 3:49 am

      Western “liberation theology”, like the Western “penal substitution” theory, makes the mistake of treating a part as if it were the whole.

  23. 7 September 2010 2:21 am

    Hi Steve,

    You had left a comment on my blog asking me what I thought of you understanding of salvation outlined here. All in all I find myself overwhelmingly in agreement with what you say here. Being Wesleyan, and having read the church Fathers (as Wesley did) I find that my own Wesleyan-Pentecostal theology is very much in line with Orthodox theology. There is really no point here that I would not add my ‘amen’ to what you are saying.

    I would however like to add something to it: the relational-experiential aspect of salvation, what Wesley called being “born again”. Now I would want to immediately define what I mean by that lest it be understood in some negative cliché way. I do not mean some cheap emotional ‘decision’ one makes that has no impact on their lives. What I mean is an inner witness by which the indwelling Spirit of God calls out within us ‘Abba, Father!’ assuring us that we are God’s beloved child. I mean the experience of God loving us, of knowing God in relationship which in turn acts to transform us. God loves us first, and that love poured out into our hearts changes us, changes who we are, and makes us act differently in response. We love because God first loved us.

    That means that relationship with God is central how we understand the evangelion. It is a liberation from sin, but it is equally a rebirth in us, a vivification, an ontological change in who we are that has everything to do with whose we are. Our new identity is as God’s adopted and loved child and this is not something only theoretical, but lived and experienced by us. It is thus not simply (as Protestantism tends to say) simply a matter of us ‘making a decision for Jesus’ or being justified at one point in time, nor is it just about (as Orthodoxy tends to say) just about our following Jesus and thus being deified or sanctified through that process of salvation. Both of these need to be understood in the context of relationship with God: we enter into a relationship with God where God is active in loving us, and that love changes us. We can follow and be faithful because of what God does first. Not just 2000 years ago, but right now in our lives through his Spirit active in our lives when we let God in.

    All of that is implicit I think in what you say about catchumins being prepared for baptism. But that of course assumes adult baptism. There are of course no infant catchumins. So if infants are baptized, then a lot of that rich meaning you explain is lost. That is why Wesley, who being Anglican affirmed infant baptism (as does I believe the Orthodox church too), still felt that people needed to be ‘born again’ in the way I outlined here. That is, they needed to a) live out the faith they were baptized into, and b) the key to being able to do that was experiencing the transforming love of God in their lives, of knowing in their spirit that they were God’s child. This experience of God’s transforming grace is something that I think is crucial to the gospel, and is often left out.

  24. 10 September 2010 2:24 pm

    Hi Steve – I just found this URC critique of penal substitution – rather good I thought:

  25. Alan permalink
    4 December 2010 2:08 pm


    You quoted Charles’ Wesley’s hymn, saying that it seemed more in line with Orthodoxy than with Calvinism. That struck me as strange, because many years ago I told a Methodist friend that — based on that hymn — I thought that Charles Wesley was secretly a Calvinist: no “God has done all he can; now it’s up to you” (which was what I had kept hearing in the church of which I was then a member): in this verse of Wesley’s hymn God has taken the initiative and transformed the blind prisoner. It doesn’t say, “I decided that it would be a good thing to take advantage of this salvation that God is offering me but that I am free to take or leave.”


  1. The wrath of God « Khanya
  2. An emerging theology of Tshwane? « Khanya
  3. Theophany: the baptism of Christ « Khanya
  4. Descent into Hell and penal substitution « Khanya
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  6. Salvation as Rescue « Backwards Treasure
  7. Salvation in the Orthodox tradition « Khanya
  8. Are Roman Catholics and Orthodox about to unite? « Notes from underground
  9. Technorati tags and the penal substitution atonement | Notes from underground
  10. Religion, religions and salvation | Khanya
  11. Christianity, sin and morality | Khanya

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