Monday, August 2, 2010

Gandalf And The Atonement (Part 3)

Today I will continue responding to Gandalf's letter/response to my recent series on NT Wright where I severely criticized Wright for corrupting the Gospel by denying penal substitutionary atonement. I know Wright says he affirms it, but if you read the series you will see how this is standard practice for Wright to affirm something when he is really only affirming his own redefining of critical biblical truths.

The second point of Gandalf's letter I wish to respond to is the following:

You know probably that Eastern Orthodox christians as one example do not believe (according to their churches doctrine) in Penal Substitutionary Atonement, imputation etc. are they all damned?

I will cut to the chase and then expand upon that. Gandalf, anyone who is practising and believing in accordance with Eastern Orthodox teaching is trusting a false gospel and will be damned. Not because of their inability to correctly formulate the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement, but because they are trusting in a religious system rather than Christ's finished work on the cross.

I am not saying there are no genuine Christians in the Eastern Orthodox movement, but I am saying that any genuine born again Christian attending an Eastern Orthodox congregation is saved in spite of (and not by virtue of) Eastern Orthodox "theology". Any true Christian identifying himself as Eastern Orthodox would run for the hills if he understood the gospel they teach.

Here is a list of MAJOR problems with Eastern Orthodoxy that are completely alien to historic biblical Christianity:

1. Eastern Orthodoxy believes baptism is the initiator of the salvation experience.
2. Eastern Orthodoxy believes salvation is a gradual, life-long process by which Christians become more and more like Christ. (As you can see, salvation hinging on baptism and a lifelong process leaves no room for Jesus' demand to repent and believe the Gospel, the need to be born again).
3. Eastern Orthodoxy argues that the Holy Scriptures (as interpreted and defined by church teaching in the first seven ecumenical councils) along with Holy Tradition are of equal value and importance. They elevate human tradition to the same level as the Divinely Inspired Scriptures.
4. Veneration of icons and a mystical form of meditative prayer is commonly incorporated into their religious rituals.
5. The Eucharist is the center of worship in the Orthodox Church. Eastern Orthodoxy teaches that during the Eucharist, believers partake mystically of Christ's body and blood and through it receive his life and strength.

Do you see heretical problems with this religious system Gandalf? I'm not talking about variations in eschatology here - these are teachings that advocate another way of salvation and hence another Gospel. And as Paul tells us in Galatians 1:8-9, that is a damnable offense.

Eastern Orthodox's denial of penal substitutionary atonement and imputed righteousness forces them to embrace a gospel that requires baptism to initiate salvation and then a gradual lifelong process to complete it.

Go On To Part 4
Go back To Part 2
Go Back To Part 1


gandalf said...


since I had a very busy week I had no time to comment earlier.

In Part 3 you pointed out your concerns about Eastern orthodox theology, and while I see the issues generally very similar I wondered a little bit what certain issues like "the veneration of icons" have to do with the original question.

See, the official teaching of a church (and especially of mainline churches) and the belief and practice of its members are often two very different stories.
Yet, the ordinary members will probably not see the difference or find it not necessary as a reason to leave.
Maybe that is what you meant with people who might be saved "in spite" of the church teaching.

I just would like to point out on one example why I think, it is strange to bind certain church (or theologians) teaching with the assertion that this forms a belief system that probably nullifies a person's individual salvation. I do admit that this may happen, but I see no strict causality here in the form "if A then also B".

You wrote:
"Eastern Orthodoxy argues that the Holy Scriptures (as interpreted and defined by church teaching in the first seven ecumenical councils) along with Holy Tradition are of equal value and importance."

The basic issue seems easy, no saying of humans should stand against or side by side to scripture. However, what would other Christians say about western European protestants still belonging to a church that has abandoned this truth in a different way yet still staying within this church and probably still being affected by their church teaching in some way.

Does their mere membership in the church institution affect their status towards God?

On the other hand what about those right-believing reformed protestants that once got saved and got their ticket to heaven and then put it into their wallet like a credit card to only take it out when they die. What does their belonging to an orthodox church with correct theology introduce any quality with regards to their status towards God.

Anonymous said...


I was reading your reasoning with problems with Eastern Orthodoxy and I could tell that your overall biggest concern is that it rejects penal subsitutionary atonement which you consider to be part of historic Christianity. To my knowledge, there is no such doctrine of any kind by any Early Christian writer. I wanted to make sure that I was correct in that assessment and found article upon article upon article upon article that shows there was never such a doctrine in early Christianity. So, first problem is that penal subsitutionary atonement has nothing to do with early Christianity. I checked articles and videos from major Reformed Theologians to gain a basic understanding of the doctrine.

I then asked people of the Rabbinic Orthodox Jewish tradition if the doctrine's implications on why Jews sacrificed animals was accurate. They said no, but it did represent very accurately why many pagan regions made sacrifices. The idea that a sacrifice was made to appease God is part of paganism and historical has had no place in Judaism.

Upon further investigation, it became very clear as to why a paganistic idea of sacrifices and atonement is in Reformed theology. This is because John Calvin was a lawyer and matched legal terms St. Paul uses with legal terms of 16th Century law. St. Paul was in fact using legal terms as they related to the religious practices of the Pharisee Jews. So, the problem is that essentially, John Calvin turned St. Paul's letters into anachronisms for a system which St. Paul never refers too. So, important theological implications that St. Paul makes are misrepresented, often severely, by John Calvin to create a truly "Reformed" Christianity from that of historical Christianity.

So, based on what I have researched, how do I know that you don't preach another gospel? If I am forced to follow facts to where they lead, I have to either consider John Calvin's theology to horribly misguided and potentially dangerous. In fact, the Eastern Orthodox Church is not in error for never preaching penal substitutionary atonement; they should be asking you why you haven't rejected a non-Biblical or historical doctrine.

Cameron Buettel said...

Anonymous, if you are looking for the phrase "Penal Substitutionary Atonement" prior to the reformation you won't find it. It is a term used after the reformation to describe what is clearly taught in Scripture and throughout church history. It's just like when Rob Bell alleges that the Trinity was invented in the fourth century AD. No, they clearly formulated what they always believed in the fourth century to deal with heresies that had arisen.

The key NT word describing PSA is "propitiation" as found in Romans 3:25 and also in Hebews 2:17, 1 John 2:2, 1 John 4:10. What does Paul say we are saved from in Romans 5:9 - God's wrath. Isaiah 53 vividly and prophetically describes PSA.

The view that Christ died to take God's wrath in the place of His Church by taking their sin upon Himself and imputing His righteousness to them is glorious, clearly taught in Scripture, and was a view held by the church fathers, patristics, and clearly formulated by the reformers. You reject this and you reject the core of the Gospel and fail to see what salvation is from and what you need to repent of.

If you really want to study this like you say then go and read these two excellent scholarly works that clearly lay all of this out:
Pierced For Our Transgressions by Steve Jeffery
Pillars Of Grace by Steve Lawson

Furthermore, the "orthodox" churches have far more damning heresies than their rejection of PSA as I outlined in the post you mentioned.

Please read the books I recommended and keep watching this blog because I will discuss this issue next month (probably) and load it with quotes from throughout church history.