I want to promote some comments so that more people see them.
If you have the time, could you relate this statement
First, no matter what stream of Christianity one belongs to, the atonement comes out somewhere near the center.
On the subject of the atonement, the Eastern Orthodox tradition has some quite different ideas to the Protestant tradition, and the whole paradigm of salvation tends to be very different. Many of the essential protestant concepts such as original sin, penal substitutionary atonement, and salvation by faith are not present, and instead other very different ideas tend to be utilized. The Eastern Orthodox church traces its tradition and teachings very strongly to the writings of the church fathers of the first millennia.
Thanks, whether or not you choose to take me up on my question. 🙂
Not take the question on? This is the sort of topic I live for, especially because it takes me well out of my normal lines of study. The link above is to a category, but the quote comes from a most interesting post, Guest Post: The Doctrine of the Atonement in the Early Greek Fathers.
As I commented later in that thread, I read straight over the link, and thus asked Mark for more links.
Here is my original response:
I may need some clarification on the question. My argument for several weeks has been that the atonement is not defined by penal substitution, but rather that PSA is one metaphor among many and not the central metaphor.
When I say atonement is near the center, I do not mean PSA. I see the incarnation as absolutely the center, expressed liturgically through the Eucharist and ethically through the two laws (love for God and love for neighbor) which get their Christian meaning from the incarnation. Atonement follows immediately from the incarnation, and can be described in various ways. Penal substitution isnt even the only version of substitution.
As an aside, were I asked to explain why Jesus had to die as Brian McLaren was, I would say that the incarnation would be incomplete if Jesus didnt share all characteristics of his brethren, and experiencing death is an integral part of that.
Thus I am rather happy to hear that the Eastern Orthodox tradition does not use penal substitution. I would love to read some of what they do. Could you recommend some eastern church fathers I should read and particular references? Im more acquainted with the western fathers, though friends often tease me that I dont know anything that happened after 100 AD. Theyre not entirely wrong, either.
This is a subject Im always happy to discuss.
As noted, I withdraw the request for links, though additional material would be helpful. I would like to quote a section from that same blog post as follows:
The basic paradigm of salvation universally held by these writers [Greek fathers of the period 100-400 AD] is as follows:
1. Humans have free will to engage in either vice or virtue, and the ability to become more or less virtuous over time.
2. God is virtuous and desires humans to be also. He is pleased with virtue and displeased by vice.
3. Christ taught virtue to mankind.
4. By following Christs teachings, and by the help of the Spirit, we can progress and improve in virtue if we make the effort.
5. All men have the ability to achieve a standard of virtue acceptable to God.
6. The Final Judgment will be decided based on our level of virtue.
OK, this sounds a great deal like Pelagianism, another view for which I have expressed some sympathy, though not total sympathy. I’ll have to try to get more precise on the comparison. It looks to me like I would differ from this formulation on a number of points, though not nearly by as much as most evangelicals would differ. This formulation leaves substantially less room for acceptance of PSA even as one metaphor for atonement.
I don’t think it changes the basic notion of having atonement, derived from the incarnation, somewhere at the center of Christianity. It simply uses different metaphors, both of which I recognize and accept, to describe how atonement takes place.
I hope by promoting these comments to a new post I will generate discussion. I’m really terribly weak on my acquaintance with eastern church fathers, though I’m working on remedying that.