For many evangelicals Eastern Orthodoxy is compelling, if not for its seemingly evangelical convictions (contrasted with “Rome”), but for the fact that for many it remains a rather mysterious entity. Thus, introductions to Orthodoxy written for Protestant or evangelical audiences abound. [Sidenote: Why aren’t more of these kinds of introductions being written about Roman Catholicism?]
The first step for Western Christians, if they are going to learn about Orthodoxy, is to “get inside the instincts intuitions, and perspectives of the Orthodox approach.” James Payton Jr. is a helpful guide in doing just that. Even though he is a protestant, he has imbibed enough of Orthodoxy to be able to present it fairly – his writings have even garnered support from Orthodox theologians.
The Victory of the Cross is Payton’s attempt to introduce Orthodox views on salvation to western Christians. The first thing that we are made aware of is that the Orthodox understanding of salvation is more holistic than typical western understnadings. To quote Kallistos Ware, “Out human salvation leads… to the redemption fo the whole created order.” Vladimir Lossky concurs, saying, “Redemption is a wondrous reality, which extends across the entire cosmos, visible or not.” Some key features of the Orthodox narrative is that dath isn’t a curse it is a consequence. Also, guilt is not inherited. Original sin refers to original corruption and the primal sin but does not carry the Augustinian notion of original guild. Another key feature of Orthodoxy’s understanding of salvation is that salvation is not merely proclaimed in the New Testament. As Payton says, “The focus on the Savior binds together scripture, the apostolic message, and the tradition passed on and defended in the Church.”
How is salvation accomplished? The Orthodox place a lot of weight on the incarnation as a saving work. Payton explains, “The incarnation was not merely getting the Savior on the ground, as it were, so that he could eventually save. The incarnation was itself already a step in the accomplishment of salvation.” The Orthodox also emphasize the Chris is the last Adam who recapitulated in himself the whole human story. Christ lives the various stages of human life, being faithful where Adam was not, sanctifying every stage of life for those who are in Christ. Third, there is an emphasis on how Christ defeats death and frees humanity from the hold that Satan had upon it.
What is the goal of salvation? The goal is theosis. In the West theosis remains controversial (at least at the popular level) but a doctrine of theosis finds many parallels in Western doctrines of union with Christ. The Orthodox understanding of deification finds its impetus in what happens to Christ’s human nature. If we want to know what it means for our natures to be deified we must look at what happens to Christ’s human nature.
Overall I found Payton’s introduction to the Orthodox understanding of salvation to be an excellent overview. I would highly recommend this book to those seeking to familiarize themselves with Eastern Orthodoxy. His final two chapters describe in detail what difference an Orthodox theology of salvation makes to the life of the church and to the life of individual believers, so the book also ahs a practical component. I think this would make an excellent textbook in an introductory class on Orthodoxy or in a class that surveys issues in soteriology.
Note: I was provided a free copy of this book by the publisher.