Atonement theories

Scott McKnight at Jesus Creed posts a video that purports to contrast Protestant/evangelical theories of atonement (aka substitutionary atonement) and those of the Orthodox Church. That, naturallty set off some other thoughts.

Differences such as they are, perhaps turn on two questions, the first being that of the nature of human alienation and in particular whether it possesses metaphysical status. Or should alienation be seen only as a flaw in our self-understanding? Just how perverse am I?

And the second,  how do we understand God’s action relative to this alienation. Is it moral, a standing along side (parakletos) that woos the human? Or does the alienation require some reweaving of Creation? (That is, does alienation have a metaphysical reality beyond the subjective?) Is God to be understood as so self-contained that we only deal with this One by extension (as seems to be the direction of apophatic spirituality), or do we understand this One engaging, Self-identifying with the human? Rather than an arising by shedding, the latter sees a Divine reaching toward.

In a word, why isn’t my alienation or the enormities of this Age the final word?

The strength of the Western understanding lies in its treatment of this alienation as something deadly serious and something inescapable. It is also something dealt with by God’s action. The intimacy and fellowship so ably spoken about in the video is a fruit, a consequence of this action. The end of alienation, the answer to the enormities of mass, industrial death, lies in God’s action of taking that alienation into God’s own life.

And at a practical level, that strikes me as the difference; while the Anselmic doctrine formally addresses a metaphysical status that very question of human status and change imagines different ordering of this world. The double view of Righteous demands and Restored fellowship underscores the seriousness of Creation and makes possible a politics that is more than the mere exercise of Power. In a time drenched with depravity this possibility can seem tenuous at best.  It can be and always has been a path a walked by faith.

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