Kevin G Cook

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Eastern Orthodox view of the atonement

March 5, 2014  |  theology

One key difference between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Western Church, including both Roman Catholicism and Evangelical Protestantism, is their view of sin and Christ’s atonement.  In the west, we have adopted a “Satisfaction View” of atonement, as formed by Anselm of Canterbury and later refined by St. Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin.

The idea of the western Satisfaction View is that sin is a moral debt owed to God that must be paid through punishment.  It is the understanding that because we are sinful, we deserve hell and must be justified, or made right, with God through punishment, a blood sacrifice.  The western understanding of grace, then, is that God sent His Son, Jesus, to endure His wrath and anger and receive the due punishment on our behalf, thereby justifying us with Him.

The eastern view of sin is quite different.  The Orthodox Church views sin not as a debt needing to be paid to God, but as a sickness causing us to be incomplete in God’s purpose.  Therefore, in the east, repentance is not remorse for breaking a rule.  It is a healing process, a renewed desire to become more than the desires of our flesh.  The eastern understanding of grace, then, is that God sent His Son, Jesus, not as a ransom for our sin, but as a manifestation of His love for humanity.  The atonement in Christ’s death is not God’s wrath being poured out in justification, but His unending love being made complete for our reconciliation.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command.

John 15:13-14

 

About the Author

Kevin Cook is a 4th year student at Asbury Theological Seminary and an Aspirant for Ordination in the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). After graduating, Kevin hopes to plant a contemporary three-streams Anglican Church. He and his wife Nicole attend Wilmore Anglican Church in Kentucky.

Kevin holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music and a Master of Business Administration from Florida State University. Kevin enjoys playing music and leading worship, reading fiction and spiritual classics, drinking coffee, and spending time with family and friends.

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2 Comments


  1. Great comment! I think it is interesting that the church of John Calvin refused to have a hymn in the new hymnal about Gods Wrath being satisfied with Christs death. They wanted to change the words to a popular song. Perhaps the Calvanists are becoming a bit more eastern in thinking.

    • Thanks for the comment. I actually discussed this issue in my Systematic Theology class last week. I think that the PCUSA removed In Christ Alone from their hymnal because they have an incomplete understanding of God’s wrath, viewing it more as a righteous anger being poured out on humanity rather than the response of God’s holy nature to sin. The Orthodox would agree that God’s wrath was satisfied in Christ. I just don’t think they would define God’s wrath as simply an anger that a moral debt was needing to be settled, but rather His wrath is the natural result of a righteous requirement of which we have all fallen away from and are in need of reconciliation. The Orthodox believe in Augustinian original sin as well, but more in that original sin is a condition of humanity, a predisposition to sin perhaps, rather than an unpaid debt of humanity. Christ satisfied God’s wrath by reverting the effects of original sin. Some new theologians have said that Christ enters into original sin and lives backward into it, cleansing the human race through his human perfection as the Son of Man.

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