As I listened to James White’s 13 April 2017 podcast “Can a Consistent Eastern Orthodox Christian Be the Bible Answer Man?,” I was struck by the numerous fallacies that so often mar Protestant critiques of Orthodoxy. The quotes below are organized topically, not chronologically. The intent here is to promote good reasoning and courteous interaction in Protestant-Orthodox dialogue. Please see my earlier posting: “How NOT to Do Anti-Orthodox Apologetics” for a description of fallacies and faulty reasoning.
Sola Fide and the False Dilemma Fallacy
At the 3:39 mark, James White brings up one of Protestantism’s core doctrines sola fide – justification by grace alone through faith alone. He insists that the omission of that one word “alone” opens the door to the legalism and works righteousness of Roman Catholicism. Here we see the conflating of two fallacies: hasty generalization and false equivalence. Just because Orthodoxy refrains from using “alone,” that does not mean that their reasons are the same as or identical to Roman Catholicism. First, it must be shown what the Orthodox understanding of salvation actually is. Second, that doctrine must be compared with the Roman Catholic understanding to see if they are identical. They are not — as any historic theological investigator without an axe to grind will quickly see. By casting the question in terms of Protestantism versus Roman Catholicism, Mr. White presents the listener with a false dilemma. This is the fallacy where something is presented as an either-or situation, when in fact there is one additional option.
At the 33:42 mark, we hear the recording of Hank Hanegraaff reciting the Nicene Creed. At the 35:15 mark we hear the line: “Who for us and our salvation descended from heaven. . . .” At that point, Mr. White interjects:
Flesh it out! They didn’t at that point. That’s why it isn’t sufficient. If you say that’s the basis for mere Christianity then there’s no place for the Gospel.
For James White, because the Fathers at the Council of Nicea failed to articulate sola fide the Nicene Creed is theologically insufficient. Here he passes judgment on the universal confession of the Early Church! By what standards? By that of the sixteenth century Reformation?!?!
At the 1:10:05 mark, Hank Hanegraaff is heard saying that he has been saved “by grace alone through faith.” Here James White leans eagerly on the edge of his chair then theatrically slumps in disappointment when he does not hear the word “alone.” He notes:
This is purposeful folks. This is not “through grace alone by faith alone.” “Through grace alone by faith” that is . . . that’s not even . . . he’s accurately dealt with James 2 in the past. This is Eastern Orthodoxy speaking. This is a knowing, unwillingness to affirm the language of sola fide (1:10:35).
When James White (or anyone else) asserts: “there’s no place for the Gospel,” he commits the false dilemma fallacy presenting the listener with a stark black-and-white choice between salvation and damnation. When Mr. White insists that the Gospel be understood in terms of “justification by faith alone,” he makes the false equivalence fallacy. Sola fide here is presented as the untouchable touchstone for true Christianity. It may be for Protestants, but did any of the Church Fathers make a similar assertion? Was sola fide part of the historic Christian Faith?
In Protestant-Orthodox dialogue sola fide must be proven from Scripture, not just from the biblical text but from the way the text has been understood historically. It should be kept in mind that Protestant Reformer John Calvin had no qualms about citing the Church Fathers. Calvin was not a simple-minded Fundamentalist. It must be shown how the doctrine “salvation through grace alone by faith alone” is the core meaning of what Apostle Paul in Galatians 1:6-9. At 1:45:48-1:46:01, James White interjects:
And wouldn’t you say that in light of Galatians chapter 1 that justification is one of those dividing lines? . . . . It’s right there: “Let him be anathema.” False brethren. You can actually make an argument. ?? There’s stronger evidence that that was an apostolic dividing line.
Protestants often fall into the false analogy fallacy when they assume that Paul’s argument with the Judaizers about the Jewish Torah in first century Asia Minor is the same as the Protestant-Catholic controversy over earning merits in sixteenth-century Europe. While there are overlaps in terminology, the issues and contents of the two debates are significantly different.
Noted Anglican biblical scholar NT Wright has written and spoken about how the Protestant Reformers have misread or misunderstood Paul. See R. Alan Strett’s interview with NT Wright in Criswell Theological Review.
See Seraphim Hamilton’s “Those Whom He Justified He Glorified: Paul’s Argument in Romans 1:17-3:31.” On Behalf of All.
These articles show how Mr. White’s false dilemma of Protestant versus Roman Catholic understanding of justification by faith oversimplifies the theological issues within Paul’s letters to the Romans and Galatians. He compounds the confusion through the false equivalence fallacy: Orthodoxy = Roman Catholicism.
In closing, Orthodoxy must be treated by Protestants as a faith tradition distinct and separate from Roman Catholicism. While they have much in common, they also diverge significantly. Furthermore, Protestants cannot take sola fide (justification by faith alone) for granted in Reformed-Orthodox dialogue. Does the phrase “faith alone” appear in the Bible? Where? Did the early Church Fathers universally teach justification by faith alone? One cannot cherry pick the Church Fathers. To persuade the Orthodox, Protestant apologists need to show that justification by faith alone was part of early Christianity, not a sixteenth century doctrinal innovation. As they dialogue with the Orthodox, Reformed Christians and other Protestants need to be open to the historic Christian Faith as understood by the Orthodox. Let’s have a frank and friendly dialogue!
We became Orthodox promoted by (among many other things) the discovery that in the book of James he says “not by faith alone”. (James 2:24)
Thanks for taking on this dialogue.
Thanks, Robert, for taking the time to delve into this issue at hand and explain a thing or two! It all seems to come down to the Protestants maintaining a faith tradition that is essentially extra-biblical; i.e., that the three hallmarks of mainstream Protestantism (Sola Scriptúra, Sol(a/o) Fide, and Sola Grátia) are actually man-made, pseudo-biblical traditions developed in response to the scholastic rationalizations and papal abuses of Roman Catholicism. One cannot properly understand Protestantism if one misunderstands Medieval Catholicism. As a convert from Roman Catholicism to Orthodoxy, I can vouch that Orthodoxy’s teaching concerning faith and works is indeed different from that of Roman Catholicism, which, ironically, also has its own pseudo-biblical traditions justifying the threefold papal claim to universal jurisdiction, supremacy, and infallibility.
Are you claiming that Sola Gratia is a Protestant error? If so, does that mean Hank was wrong when he asserted that he has been saved “by grace alone through faith”
I believe that sola gratia is a Protestant error. Just because Hank Hanegraaff used a Protestant phrase does not necessarily mean that he is espousing this Protestant belief. To determine that one would need to ask what Mr. Hanegraaff intended when he made that statement. I suggest you contact him directly rather than speculate here on this blog. The purpose of this article is to clear up Protestant misunderstandings about Orthodoxy, not to defend Hank Hanegraaff or speculate about his beliefs. Any concerns you may have about Mr. Hanegraaff are best directed towards Mr. Hanegraaff himself or his priest.
I must confess that I am little confused by your reply. I feel that a question about a comment from an Orthodox believer in light of a quote from another Orthodox believer quoted in the article seems relevant to the discussion. With regards to your stated purpose, I was hoping that John could help clear up this Protestant’s misunderstandings about Orthodoxy in light of two statements that appeared to be, though not necessarily are, contradictory. However, I am actually less concerned about what Hank personally believes than I am with what John thought of Hank’s usage of the phrase. For example, does John not have a problem with the phrase in and of itself but only rejects the whole systematic understanding of it within Protestantism? If so, I was curious as to what his understanding of the phrase within Protestantism included since he is from a Roman Catholic background. Or, does he think that an Orthodox argument should demur from using ‘alone’ altogether and simply stick to something like “by grace through faith” because the two churches have different understandings about what grace and faith entail.
As to some of my confusion, it seems like a rather particularly undue burden that I am required to consult with an individual before being allowed to quote or engage with the very words they have written. If that is the criteria then how can I ask a question about anybody’s verbiage, especially those that are dead? Also, while I can appreciate that there could be some differences in thought between the various Orthodox churches; it is hard to imagine that you, John, and Hank do not share similar, if not identical, beliefs about something as critical as to roles of grace and faith in the salvation process. So I didn’t feel that I was attempting to speculate about his beliefs; when you held these words up as a contradistinction to White without any correction it gave the impression that you at least gave tacit agreement to what Hank was arguing.
So if I may rephrase the question to John in order to avoid what may have been a seeming attempt to attack Hank or Eastern Orthodoxy somehow, and I’ll even flip the script so as not to impugn any Orthodox believer real or hypothetical:
If you heard a Protestant argue that we are saved by “grace alone through faith”, or even more specifically something like we are saved through “the gifts of God that come from grace alone through a faith working by love alone”, would you say that statement is correct, incorrect, or on the right track but needs to be fleshed out some more to give it proper context and understanding?
Also, I would add that the usage of grace alone would not only be a Protestant error, but an error within Western Christendom. For instance, the Council of Orange decreed as much in the 6th century, and the modern day Roman Catholic Church in a Joint Declaration with Lutheran churches stated in Art. 3 Sect. 15 “Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.” Bear in mind, though, that I have neither consulted with the Pope or the Council members as to what they meant specifically by their statements, so please take this assertion with a grain of salt 🙂
Have ever read Ephesians chapter 2? Or John? How can you sit and say that “saved by grace through faith” is a man-made pseudo-Biblical tradition. Read the text of what God has spoken and tell me it’s man-made, please. Sola gratia, Sola fide, Solus Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria are not man-made concepts. They are God spoken to us through scripture. It is His chosen way to express His method of salvation on His creation, His people. The fact you cannot understand that boggles the mind, actually.
If you cannot understand Sola Scriptura, then please read Mark Chapter 7 about Christ Jesus’s teaching about tradition over what God has spoken to us. What Sola Scriptura does is prevent straying from God’s word and keeps His people on point. Please take these things, with love, from a believer in Christ Jesus and not just some Protestant.
I suspect you wrote your opening sentence: “Have you read Ephesians chapter?” either tongue-in-cheek or as a rhetorical question, but it comes across as insulting the other person’s intelligence. But to answer your question: “Yes, I have read Ephesians 2. Many times. And, I’ve read it in the original Greek more than once.” Furthermore, as an Orthodox Christian I affirm what you just wrote: “saved by grace through faith.” As a matter of fact the Orthodox Church affirms that indeed we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ. Orthodoxy rejects the notion that one can earn one’s salvation through good works.
I recently came across this short but helpful podcast “Saved by Faith Alone? (with Fr. Barnabas Powell)” that helps frame the issue. For many Protestants, especially born-again Evangelicals, faith is understood as “intellectual assent.” That is, if you share with someone the Four Spiritual Laws and that person intellectually assents to the propositions laid out in that tract then one is saved and has eternal life. For Orthodoxy, faith as intellectual assent is not enough, one must be united to Christ through the sacrament of baptism administered by the Church. Faith in Jesus Christ expressed through the sacrament of baptism has been the norm until Protestantism’s sola fide began to weaken this connection.
It may come as a surprise to you but many Protestants — some long time Protestants, church elders, pastors, and seminarians steeped in Reformed theology — have laid aside sola fide for the historic Christian Faith in Orthodoxy. We rejected sola fide because it is not based on Scripture and because it is a recent doctrinal innovation.
I can sense your sincerity in your exhortation. I can sense your sincerity even as you reiterated the Protestant party line. I exhort you to be open minded with respect to sola fide and not to be so defensive about it. Be open to reading Scripture in other ways and be open to the historic Christian Faith. Many of us have been where you are right now — aghast that there would be people who would discard sola fide, and scared at the prospect of another way of being Christian. It hasn’t been easy for us Protestant converts to Orthodoxy, but we are willing to dialogue with you about it.
Robert, I appreciate the answer. I was attempting to reply to John about the comments of man-made pseudo-Biblical tradition. I find that comment fascinating coming from a person that was an admitted Roman Catholic, who now is Eastern Orthodox.
It would be good for you and others to start off a comment with the name of the person you are the question to. Otherwise, I’m going to assume that the question is directed to the author of the article.
Feel free to ask questions of other commenters. We want to encourage civil and charitable conversation here.
Do you know the only place in the Bible that uses the phrase “Faith Alone”? It’s James 2:24. You may want to read that when you have a chance.
When you ask about SS, I have to ask, which version of SS? Today we have literally thousands of Protestant denoms (and countless independent churches), many with wildly varying beliefs. yet each (somehow) claiming to “just take the plain teaching of Scripture.” Even within Luther’s lifetime, he and Zwingli couldn’t even agree on what the supposed plain teaching of Scripture was.
“You see that faith was active together with his works, and by works, faith was perfected.”
Thanks. Which version are you quoting?
HCSB. Similar translation to YLT and KJV.
If we take James White’s logic then Paul is open to criticism. If James White ‘insists that the omission of that one word “alone” opens the door to the legalism and works righteousness of Roman Catholicism.’ then Paul is guilty as charged.
Or is James White looking at Luther’s German Bible where he ‘fixed’ Romans and Galatians by adding the word ‘alone’ to prevent confusion.
I think it is fairly universally recognised that no Father ever took ‘justification’ as a single one off event. It is very hard to reconcile this with the Reformation understanding.
The beginning portion of the video he did the day before, the one entitled “Hank Hanegraaf and Eastern Orthodoxy, David Allen’s Refutation, and an Insightful FB,” demonstrates some even more fallacious thinking in his approach to Eastern Orthodoxy. I found it fascinating how someone who claims to be such an expert (count how many times, for example, in his videos he mentions “I teach church history) can be so demonstrably wrong in their understanding of the Orthodox Church, especially given its prevalence and consistency throughout history.
Like many (all?) of his style of thought, they view everything through the lens of TULIP, and if it doesn’t line up with their categories, then it is automatically wrong. They never stop to consider the possibility that TULIP itself could be flawed or inadequate, so it becomes very difficult to get past that point. Instead of looking at history from the perspective of The Cross and moving forward from there, they begin with the 16th century and move forward and backward from that point, which confuses all sorts of issues.
Welcome to the discussion!
Just a note of correction: the article you linked to from the “On Behalf of All” blog is actually written by Seraphim Hamilton; not Gabriel Martini.
Thanks Wesley! Correction made.
I believe you are misrepresenting what the issue is here. And, that is quite disingenuous , honestly. Dr. White was not attacking the Eastern Orthodox Church. What he was doing, in context of recent events, was listening to what Hanegraaff was saying and comparing it to what we believe to be true, as Reformed Baptists. At this point in time, it appears that Hanegraaff is neither fully Orthodox or fully Reformed. He is now somewhere in the middle. The only reason this is so important is simply because of the amount of people he reaches daily. There is a reason Hank has lost so many radio stations support. A person must take the entire event into context. Hank Hanegraaff cannot sit there and say that his beliefs have been codified over 20 years of books, and nothing is different. Yet, his belief did change, and that’s why he is now worshipping at a Church that has tradition and Church authority instead of Sola Scriptura.
I looked the meaning of “disingenuous” and the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as: “lacking in candor or giving a false appearance of simple frankness.” I disagree with your characterization of my article as “disingenuous.” I took great pains to give supporting evidence in the form of quotes and time markers. The focus of this article has been on what Mr. White has said about Orthodoxy which I find to be rife with logical fallacies. It is these fallacies that I wish to address.
The focus of this article is not about Hanegraaff or his conversion to Orthodoxy, but what Mr. White said about Orthodoxy. The question Mr. White posed in the title of his podcast “Can a Consistent Eastern Orthodox Christian Be the Bible Answer Man?” is a fair one and Mr. White’s assessment would be worth listening to if it weren’t for the numerous fallacies in his podcast.
In closing, let us not impugn the motive of others, but treat one another with mutual respect and with charity.
I believe you may have missed my point. I must respectfully disagree with you. My perception of the video is obviously different that yours. I, and many others, saw this as a video about Hank Hanegraaff. Not a video about the Eastern Orthodox faith. You may very well take it to be simply that, however, Dr. White has stated that he has not tackled the differences between our Western view of faith and the Eastern Orthodox view of faith because of the difference in mindsets. He stated it is very difficult for people with Western upbringings to fully understand how an Eastern mindset functions with relation to the Eastern Orthodox faith. Granted, that’s his opinion. As a result, as you’ve noted there are going to be errors. However, if we were simply discussing the Eastern Orthodox Church as a whole, instead of one persons departure to that Church, then I would agree with you. Let’s be honest, the only reason this article is here is solely because of Hank Hanegraaff. It is because of what he represented for many years that is the causality of these conversations. That is the reason now for the increased curiosity about the Eastern Orthodox Church.
It’s okay that we disagree. What I attempted to do in my recent articles was to respond to what James White said about Orthodoxy. I’m not interested in this blog becoming a forum about Hank Hanegraaff himself. Any attempt to discuss Mr. Hanegraaff himself will be considered off topic.
Robert Arakaki said,
“The focus of this article is not about Hanegraaff or his conversion to Orthodoxy, but what Mr. White said about Orthodoxy. The question Mr. White posed in the title of his podcast **“Can a Consistent Eastern Orthodox Christian Be the Bible Answer Man?”** is a fair one and Mr. White’s assessment would be worth listening to if it weren’t for the numerous fallacies in his podcast.”
What I kept wondering throughout the video (yes I watched all of it) was, “Why not?”
The Bible is document (or collection of documents) that came from the church, through the church and to the church through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
That Mr. White had erroneous views of the church merely scratches the surface of his error. His entire POV is flawed. Thank you for bogging about this.
To piggyback on to what Robert already wrote in his reply to you, it’s worth adding that to gain a full context of what Dr. White is saying in this video, one must watch the video he made the day before (see my comment above). In light of that, while it is perhaps unfair to say he was “attacking” the Orthodox Church, he was painting it in a decidedly negative fashion and, perhaps more importantly, categorically misrepresenting it as something other than what it is based on what is clearly a lack of knowledge.
In other words, Dr. White is trying to speak as a voice of authority on that which he knows very little, which ultimately serves only to confuse. So while I agree with you that this is primarily about Hanegraaff, when seen in light of what Dr. White has previously stated, it’s absolutely worth addressing his claims and accusations for what they are.
It is worth pointing out that Orthodoxy affirms that faith saves, not works. Aren’t we supposed to pray the following every morning from the prayer book:
“…if Thou shouldst save me for my deeds, it would not be a gift, but merely a duty. … If faith in Thee saves the desperate, behold: I believe! Save me, for Thou art my God and Creator. May my faith replace my deeds, O my God, for Thou wilt find no deeds to justify me.”
Yet Orthodox are not antinomians. Neither are Calvinists. John Calvin wrote, “We are saved by faith alone but not by a faith that is alone.” Faith will include works!
So, being that Orthodox don’t believe they are justified by works, and Calvinists don;t believe that a faith without works saves, what’s the difference?
Protestants reject the sacraments. This is unbiblical, and unheard of in Christianity for 1500 years. If we argued more about the sacraments instead of stupid latin slogans, we would get much further in conversation 🙂
That line from the Orthodox prayer book about being saved by faith is beautiful! Thank you for sharing.
“So, being that Orthodox don’t believe they are justified by works, and Calvinists don;t believe that a faith without works saves, what’s the difference?”
I’d actually like to hear the Orthodox answer to the question “What’s the difference.” It’s my understanding that Orthodox take actions to be PART of faith, whereas protestants take actions to be ACCOMPANYING (but still distinct from) faith. Is there a practical difference? Is the difference merely theoretical but still important? Is there really no significant difference at all? I’d actually like to hear that.
Hi Mackenzie, I’m probably the least qualified Orthodox person here to answer this, but since nobody else jumped in, I will.
A big part of the issue has to do with what many term “satisfactionism.” By and large, for Western Christians (P & RC), the chief question of salvation is “How is God satisfied?” Now, within RC and the thousands of P denoms, that question will get different answers. Some will say that God is satisfied by the death of Christ on the Cross and some (supposedly) will say that it’s on the basis of some works and some will say that it’s some combination of the two. For the Orthodox, the question itself is wrong. The issue of salvation is not at all a question of how can God be satisfied. The issue is Theosis (2 Peter 1 – that we might become partakers of The Divine Nature). How can we become like Christ becomes the question of Salvation. Not in the sense that Mormons believe they will become a God themselves (not at all), but in the sense of 2 Peter 1. So when I’m asked if I’m doing X, Y, or Z in order to “earn my salvation”, that question no longer even makes sense to me. I love God and want to become more like Him, so why would I not do all that I can to become like Him? I like an analogy here of marriage. I try to do all that I can for my wife (household chores, nice things for her, spend time with her, etc) not to try to earn her love and acceptance, but simply because I love her. So if I bought her flowers and someone at the flower shop yelled at me “stop trying to earn your place in the marriage!”, I’d be a bit befuddled. Just as I’m befuddled when I do practices that Christians have done for 2,000 years and someone yells at me “stop trying to earn your salvation!”
But how did you get to the point that you could love God and want to be like Him? In other words, to borrow the language of Rom. 5:10, how were you first reconciled to God while you were still an enemy? Or to push your analogy back a step, while you were still promiscuously chasing after other women and had no love for your future wife, how were you brought into a relationship with her that could result in marriage?
Eric, Mr. Hanegraaff is Orthodox as he was received into the Church through confession and annoiting (Christamation). In the anointing the gift of the Holy Spirit is sealed in a person.
Now we Orthodox know that one’s faith is never received in a fully mature state. The Holy Spirit reveals more as one is ready. What I believed 30 years ago that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life and that I want to unite myself with Him has not changed. I am sure that is and will always be true for Hank.
What has changed is a much deeper awareness of my own sins and how they make the union I long for difficult.
I am, like St. Paul, working out my salvation in fear and trembling, learning thanksgiving, joy and mercy.
As I participate in the sacraments in my local community, Jesus shares His life with me. Inexplicable but true. Indeed that is the Apostolic Biblical witness: unless you eat of my body and drink of my blood you have no life in you.
That reality was believed everywhere by all Christians until the middle of the sixteenth century.
Jesus was not speaking a parable anymore than when He said, No one comes to the Father except by me.
Jesus Christ is our incarnate Lord, God and Savior. That changed everything and continues to do so. He is calling us to intimate union with Him and offering Himself for our sakes do that the union might be experienced now and always.
Read charitably, Robert’s blog article here is clearly “about” James White’s characterization
of Orthodoxy, per Hank’s conversion to Orthodoxy. Hank’s conversion is the foil for White’s
remarks about Orthodoxy, and Robert’s reply clearly point to Mr. White’s comments.
For what it’s worth…here’s another Orthodox Phd’s 9-minute reaction readers here will likely
find very interesting! I certainly I did. 😉
Erik, the icon of marriage is most apt in discussing salvation. In my case my desire to know about Christ was inculcated in me by my parents though neither was recognizably Christian. The knew God and taught me how important that is. So I wanted to know Him.
Here is where my experience with both my late wife, my current wife and Jesus Christ is quite similar. I met them. I was moved by their beauty and strength. I wanted to get closer to them and love began.
In a sense your question is an infinite regression though. The real answer is that since we are made in the image and likeness of God, it is innate in every human being to be closer to our Creator. Similarly, as He is lifted up on the Cross He draws all men to Him.
However He reveals Himself is what the instigating event is. That is always unique in someway.
When I got to the Orthodox Church the person who had revealed Himself to me on a hill in northern Illinois was there waiting for me in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, but more accessible.
I don’t think I follow your train of thought on how my question devolves into an infinite regression, though in reality there is no such thing since all causes ultimately end with God since He is the First Cause of all things, right
I think your response speaks more to motivation, whereas my question to Alan has more to do with the process, or order, of salvation, as in Rom. 8:28: “And those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified; and those He justified, He also glorified.” So I would say that your personal account speaks to the Calling portion. Alan suggests that salvation has more to with Theosis or Glorification than anything to do with concepts like Satisfaction. While I would definitely agree with Alan that Glorification is a part of the salvation process, I’m interested in how he would describe the step of Justification that according to Scripture must logically precede it. This is essentially how we move from enmity to a loving relationship with God. Rom. 5:10 claims that we are reconciled, or justified, to God through the death of His Son so that we might be saved by His life. If we are justified by His death, then what is it that His death actually accomplishes that enables this reconciliation? Is it a Substitution, does it Satisfy some demand, the means of cleansing or healing us, a shield for a rescue operation, etc.? I don’t mean for this to sound rhetorical or anything, I’m genuinely interested.
Eric, Good question. The whole of salvation is incarnational. Jesus entered into our death first so that when we enter into His, it is a wholly different death. He substitues life for death. By and through His death He tramples down death by death and bestows life.
By entering into His death, we enter into His Ressurection at the same time. The long slide toward non-existence is ended.
That is experienced in the Orthodox Baptism and the Sacraments that follow.
Our union with Christ is at the level of being so that we also become part of His Body.
His taking on our human nature and human body, dying, descending, rising and ascending transforms humanity as a whole(body and soul) and each one who willingly joins Him out of love.
It is not instant, but initiatory. Baptism initiates us into His death/life. The person being Baptized affirms three times, “I unite myself to Christ.
All that follows in life, unique and deeply personal for each one, is part of the working out our salvation in fear and trembling; learning to give thanks for it all in the process.
It is a bit like experiencing the rolling out of a tapestry; a tapestry of one’s self. Repentance and thanksgiving give clarity to the tapestry and, by His grace, can even reorder parts of it, purify it or reweave parts that have holes or are damaged in other ways.
All is a gift unwarranted and unearned solely out of His mercy. He draws us closer to Himself but it is never forced upon us. He is a kind and gentle lover who wants nothing but goodness for us. He is the only lover of mankind and each particular one of us.
Each step closer to Him and more of the tapestry unfolds. However it is a multidimensional cosmic tapestry interconnected with all the tapestries of others. Each part of it leads to the Cross, the doorway into His Kingdom. There we are graced with a life that continues to unfold becoming immensely more beautiful, moving from glory to glory.
St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation is a really good description of what happens.
You are right, “On the Incarnation” is good on this subject and I think specifically addresses the both the substitutionary and satisfaction aspect of Christ’s death. For example:
“For naturally, since the Word of God was above all, when He offered His own temple and bodily instrument as a substitute for the life of all, He fulfilled in death all that was required”
And in another place:
“But beyond all this, there was a debt owing which must needs be paid; for, as I said before, all men were due to die. Here, then, is the second reason why the Word dwelt among us, namely that having proved His Godhead by His works, He might offer the sacrifice on behalf of all, surrendering His own temple to death in place of all, to settle man’s account with death and free him from the primal transgression. In the same act also He showed Himself mightier than death, displaying His own body incorruptible as the first-fruits of the resurrection.”
Substitution = “as a substitute for the life of all”, “surrendering His own temple to death in place of all”
Satisfaction/Fulfillment = “He fulfilled in death all that was required “, “there was a debt owing…to settle man’s account with death and free him from the primal transgression”
The twofold result is that our debt was paid, or death was satisfied, but at the same time death was forever conquered:
“Thus it happened that two opposite marvels took place at once: the death of all was consummated in the Lord’s body; yet, because the Word was in it, death and corruption were in the same act utterly abolished. Death there had to be, and death for all, so that the due of all might be paid.”
So according to Athanasius it can be said that Substitution and Satisfaction are a part, though definitely not the only part, of the salvific process; or specifically what Christ’s death actually accomplished.
Interestingly, Athanasius also makes the comment that “He surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father”. Now what I’m interested in learning is how the EO interprets the latter part of that – “and offered it to the Father”. What exactly did Christ offer to the Father and why did He need to do it? From my perspective I would say that ‘what’ Christ offered the Father was His perfectly obedient life and sacrificial love; so that while His outpouring to death freed us from that prison, it is by our participation in His perfect life that we are made righteous and able to be brought into communion with God. But ‘why’ did Christ need to offer the Father anything like He did death, if Christ had to offer the Father something doesn’t that imply there was some demand or justice that needed to be met or satisfied? Or as Psa. 49:7-9 phrases it, did Christ pay the “ransom to God” that needs to be paid in order to live forever? Does this ransom free us from something like the curse of judgement or release us from a liability to divine wrath? Or as Cyril wrote “For he sends his own Son… in order that, just as through the first disobedience we became liable to divine wrath, so through the second we might both escape the curse and do away with the ills that proceeded from it.”
Erik, Jesus offered His full humanity to the Father inculding His human body gifted by Mary, the Theotokos.
The Holy Trinity acting in perfect harmony.
As in the Liturgy today, “Thine own of thine own we offer unto Thee on behalf of all and for all.”
Orthodox understanding is antinomical, holistic and sacramental. Mary is an essential part because it was from her that Jesus has flesh: body and blood to offer, to sacrifice. As the hymn says: her womb became more spacious than the heavens and contained the uncontainable God.
The inter-connectedness makes approaching things analytically difficult. A real challenge to the modern mind.
There is a tripartite form to salvation (unsurprisingly) which is in all we do expressed in different ways: purification, illumination, sanctification. This is not a linear progression but a movement of our existential nature, a constant offering of ourselves, each other and all our lives in Christ to the Father.
The questions you are asking were similar to ones I had as I wrestled with Athanasius. Note that I come from an evangelical background and speak as one interested in but not yet in communion with Orthodoxy. So I may get some things wrong that others will need to correct. With those caveats on the table, here is how I would explain the distinction being made with regard to satisfaction.
First, I’ll readily admit that one can find strands of each of these views on both sides of the historical divide. In my experience, though, there is a very clear difference of emphasis.
In my Western background, the debt that human beings owe to God is generally tied to our sin. Having transgressed his law and given offense to his holiness, human beings are now liable for a way to expiate (or propitiate) the resulting wrath. Yet in our sinfulness, we have no way to meet God’s perfect demand for justice. Thus we need someone else, someone holy, to satisfy this demand, experience the penalty, and remove God’s wrath from us. Jesus is the perfect sacrifice who repays the debt that our sin incurred.
In the Eastern view, as I understand it, the debt precedes our sin. We were created to know and honor our creator–not as slaves to a master but through communion in love. This “debt” or obligation exists prior to and without regard to any transgressions. It is woven into our very being simply because of who (and what) we are: human creatures created in his image. But because of our transgressions, we have lost the ability to perceive and to seek the good reliably. As a result, we can never fully do what we were created to do. Christ, in assuming our humanity, embued the human nature with divine life and offered the prototypical sacrifice of complete obedience and love. He offered in our stead the offering that we had been created to give. He thus became the true and complete “Adam” by doing what the first Adam had failed to do. Not only this, but he also enables us to participate in his divine work through faith and obedience. “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”
One other thing: It strikes me that in those quotes from Athanasius, the settling of accounts, the paying of dues, is consistently to “death” and not to the Father. While it is natural in the Western view to extrapolate from the fact of death to God as the one who institutes death as a penalty, I’m not sure that Athanasius would have made that leap.
Imagine that we had only the first fragment of your second quote and that it ended with “to settle man’s account with …” Wouldn’t nearly any child of the Reformation finish that sentence with “God”? Wasn’t this the burning question for Luther and those who followed: how is man made right before God?
But Athanasius doesn’t go there. He sees God as being on man’s side against the true enemies of mankind: death, sin, corruption. God does not institute death, and yet because God is life himself, the turn from him necessarily entails death. It could not be otherwise if God is truly life. Thus death and corruption can be said to demand the sinner’s life, though it could perhaps just as accurately be said that sinners demand death–for this is what the essence of sin is. For Athanasius, then, God is at work against the demand of death and sin, but it is not because he needs to satisfy some internal requirement of offended justice. Instead, God is at work dismantling the entire system–the deathworks of sin, if you will. For this to happen, the truth of sin-as-death must be honored, and it is from this truth that the dues and demands of death emerge. If sin is death, and man has chosen sin, then he has chosen death. If God will rescue man from his self-imposed destruction, then he must follow this to the logical (and existential) conclusion by entering into death itself. This is how I understand what Christ has done and what I understand Athanasius to be explaining.
I hope that’s not too much of a rambling response…