Unwittingly Orthodox?

Scot McKnight posted this video of an (Eastern) Orthodox (EO) priest (? possibly not a priest) explaining the difference between the Protestant view of the atonement and the Orthodox view:

What’s interesting about this video is that the EO view presented is more or less the view I argued for (without knowing it is EO) in my final major paper for seminary. Additionally interesting is that my thought was informed by T.F. Torrance, a Reformed (that is, Protestant) theologian.

So, either Torrance and I are unwittingly EO Christians or this video has a narrow view of Protestant atonement theology.* I’m guessing it’s the latter.

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* I’d say there are several Protestant views on the atonement, not just one.

15 thoughts on “Unwittingly Orthodox?

  1. Toni

    Very curious video. I may be slightly spacey from codeine, so if I ‘say’ something odd, do question it.

    The polarisation between the 2 views is both un-necessary and probably not real. How does a protestant come to accept Christ except by Him meeting with them first in the manner presented as the EO view? And how does the EO concept of those who reject God finding His love to be a consuming fire differ from separation from God (unless those were tricky but legally necessary words slipped in at the end, and the EO view is actually universalist)?

    Having said that, I appreciate that in the US things are polarised to a crazy degree, so maybe the 2 views that seem to mostly line up OK for me are held in extremis by some groups. I could see this working if considering the ‘God hates fags’ types, but those people are not presenting a christian message of any kind, and calling them christian is misleading.

  2. Toni

    I could also see that the EO view could be taken to an extreme to decide that salvation was not necessary, but again, that would require denial of certain scriptures, thought it *might* conform to church tradition.

  3. Marc

    Toni: Scot McKnight similarly thought the difference between them is negligible. I think the main difference is the turning away of God (with Jesus appeasing his wrath?), and I think that part of the Protestant view could be nuanced much more than it is in the video.

    I would also say the Orthodox view presented here is not universalist, though it reimagines hell in a way very different from the medieval/Dante picture. C.S. Lewis and others have suggested something similar–hell as the experience of God’s love by those who reject him, or something along those lines.

  4. Garrett Erskine

    So, I agree with what is being said, but if you pay attention to the order in the turning of the chairs(I never thought I would be arguing theology based on chairs) I think you will notice the difference between who is seeking who. So, in his imagery of protestant salvation, man is always seeking a renewal of humanities relationship with God. Man seeks God through righteousness of law, God cannot be appeased by works, thus the necessity of Christ. Christ assumes the place of humanity and makes it possible for God instead of having relationship with sinners, has a right standing relationship with Christ and under the blood of Christ we who repent can now also have relationship with God. This is very much so a Protestant view, think Luther referring to the Law only as a way to point out our inability to fulfill it. The EO version has, instead of man seeking relationship with God, God pursuing His creation, and in a sense the story follows suit. The subtlety lies in who is seeking relationship with who. In essence, I also see where perhaps the two are pointing towards the same thing just by using different language.

    Might I also mention that perhaps when you find yourself in more agreement with the EO version that Torrence and the other Radical Orthodoxy crew are doing their intentions well and have in fact made you an Orthodox Protestant. The longer the two traditions go on doing theology, the closer they come together independently of each other.

    What do you think?

  5. Rick Wadholm Jr.

    Torrance was actually a leading voice in Protestant and EO discussions in particular because of his tremendous scholarship in the area of the desert Fathers. I personally believe Torrance has a stronger view than many I’ve encountered in Protestantism whom I believe have created distinctions that do not (to me) seem to be absolutely essential. Further, it is difficult (to say the least) to speak of a Protestant theology as if it is a great monolithic entity that can always clearly be defined. Certainly there are generalizations and tendencies, but I don’t think there is simply a “Protestant view”.

    IOW, Torrance is not unwittingly EO-oriented, but you may be. ;-)

  6. Rick Wadholm Jr.

    Garrett, is it possible that the man seeking God orientation referred to the video is actually a more popularized Arminian position instead of a more Reformed or Calvinist position (or even a classical Arminian position)?

  7. Toni

    As Marc said, the protestant view could have been more nuanced – it is certainly not ideal to have a view explained by one who ‘opposes’ it – and it may be a bit much reading theology into chair positions. TBH you’d have to search hard to find many orthodox protestants (I use the word in the same way as the church universal) who would not see God being the one who woos back his creation, rather than God setting up a standard and saying “live up to this without help from me – or else”.

    There is a great danger when one ‘stream’ tells you what another stream believes. I am presently called to work in the Anglican church, but have spent the previous >25 years in community churches. There was a training course put on by the Anglican church which discussed spirituality in its various forms. Protestant and particularly Charismatic theology we portrayed in ways that made them barely recognisable. Such is the danger here.

  8. Andrew

    Interesting video. The major difference between the two views presented appears to be the wrath of God vs. the love of God as the driving force behind the death of Jesus. The EO view he gives isn’t strictly an EO view alone, of course – plenty of ‘protestants’ believe the same thing and reject the Anselmian (?) model.

  9. Garrett

    Sorry Rick, I would’ve said all that over again, but I just felt as though Marc had already stated these things. Yes, of course, it is difficult when people of opposing views state the other side’s arguments, and yes, the line between the PR and EO views might in fact be quite muddled. I’m sure you could find some EO people who would agree with some of the view that was presented as PR. And of course, all of this confusion that we are criticizing may in fact be deriving from the fact that it was a chair illustration of atonement.

    It might be an Arianism thing, it is possible. However, to be stating that the Reformed Tradition is the standard of Protestantism, is somewhat laughable. It is possible that he is picking and choosing which drastic strands of theology he wishes to attack or expound upon. However, all of this is missing the point.

    I really just wanted to point out that perhaps it is not such a bad thing that you are finding affinity with someone who thinks he disagrees with you. That is something we should be trying to find more of these days no?

  10. Marc

    Wow… quite a discussion you’ve had while we were driving 900kms today.

    I’m more than a little tired from the drive, so my judgment may be off, but I *think* we are all on the same page here.

    Andrew: My last major paper, mentioned in this post, was, in fact, on God’s love and God’s wrath.

    Garrett: I’m quite ecumenical in my thinking, so I’m certainly not shocked or concerned at finding affinity with EO thought. In fact, my amazement was more with the fact that I identified *less* at the alleged “Protestant” view.

  11. Leighton Tebay

    There is Protestant theology and the fast food version of protestant theology we post on tracts and brochures. While he doesn’t capture all the nuances of every protestant stream he illustrates well every bible camp pitch I’ve heard.

    I’m with you on this one Marc. There are some aspects of garden variety protestant atonement theology that I find very difficult. In this view God seems torn between holiness which leads to wrath and love which leads to forgiveness. We can’t decide if we should be terrified of God or comforted by his love. The father can’t look upon sin but the son can bear it all. In the EO view it seems like love and holiness are expressions of the same nature. It just fits better.

    I think the cross pollination of views between Christian traditions is hammering some protestant theologies. Many people I know have begun to put some distance between themselves and Penal Sub, and now we are starting to sound like heretics to people who have drawing crosses over chasms their whole life.

    Thanks for the video.

  12. Toni

    Interesting comments as always LT.

    I’d say that for me, I expect God to encompass apparently polar opposite points of view. In the EO illustration he suggested that those who would not be comforted by God’s love would find it to be a terrifying wrath (I’m slightly interpreting here).

  13. Linea

    Marc, have you read any of Waldenstrom’s work on the atonement. His view seems to me to be very close to the EO view.

  14. Pingback: God’s Love and God’s Wrath (Other writings) | The Eagle & Child

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