Descent into Hell and penal substitution
One of the the major differences between Eastern and Western theology can be seen in the metaphors used for Holy Week and Easter. If you look at some of the blogs over the last couple of weeks, there were still some, especially Protestant ones, where the dominant metaphor is the Cross, not merely for Good Friday, but also for Easter. The resurrection is an afterthought tacked on. In others, the resurrection of Christ is the main theme, and the main metaphor for it is the empty tomb. In Orthodoxy, however, the main metaphor for Pascha is the Descent into Hell, or the Harrowing of Hell. The ikon of the Resurrection actually shows Christ descending into hell, and trampling on the gates of hell, and raising Adam and Eve. The ikon showed his robe being blown upwards, indicating descent.
One of the things that emerges from the Emerging Church movement is the dissatisfaction that many Evangelical Protestants feel about the Penal Substitution theory of the atonement. And many of the objections to the Emerging Church movement among Evangelical Protestants who have rejected the Emerging Church thinking are centred on this, and are often expressed in a vigorous defence of the Penal Substitution theory, which they regard as “traditional” and “orthodox”.
I have commented on theories of the atonement in Salvation and atonement | Khanya and on Hell and Hades in Go to Hell! | Khanya so I won’t go into more detail here, but Father Stephen Freeman has recently posted some very interesting comments on this at Metaphors of the Atonement | Glory to God for All Things:
Excellent illustrations of this are found if you look at the doctrines related to the Descent of Christ into Hades. The article by Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, Christ Descent into Hades, which was recently referenced here, notes contrasts in how the understanding of Christ’s Descent into Hades developed in both East and West. The development, starting in the 4th or 5th centuries eventually resulted in very different understandings. But the underlying issue was not the Descent into Hades but the metaphors which came to dominate the thought of Christian teachers, East or West.
People who are concerned about the Emerging Church and its attitude to the Penal Substitution theory of the atonement might find Fr Stephen’s post worth reading.
I also decided to recycle this post for the April 2011 Synchroblog, on the theme “Do you live under a rock?”
Here are the links to the other posts:
- Phil Wyman at Square No More – Apocalyptic fervor spurs benevolent giving
- Marta Layton at Marta’s Mathoms – Getting Out From Behind The Rock
- Mike Victorino at Simply A Night Owl – Crawling Out From Under A Rock
- John Paul Todd at E4Unity – Still Asleep In the Light
- Patrick Oden at Ravens – A Resurrection
- Brambonius at Brambonius’ blog in english – hiding the Resurrection life like a candle under a bucket?
- George Elerick at The Love Revolution – (for)getting the resurrection
- Liz Dyer at Grace Rules – I Will Answer That Question In A Minute, But First, I Want To Talk About Jesus
- Jeff Goins at Jeff Goins Writer – Resurrection
- Tammy Carter at Blessing the Beloved – Rock and a Hard Place
- Kathy Escobar at the carnival in my head – little miracles
- Christen Hansel at Greener Grass – Resurrection Rhythm
- Alan Knox at the assembling of the church – Living The Resurrected Life
- Christine Sine at Godspace – Palm Sunday Is Coming But What Does It Mean
- Matt Stone at Glocal Christianity – Living The Resurrection
- Steve Hayes at Khanya – Descent into Hell and penal substitution
- Bill Sahlman at Creative Reflections – Do We Live Under a Rock of Belief?