Saturday, April 17, 2010

Kabane and the Eastern Orthodox View of Salvation (Part 1)

First off, I would like to begin my blog post by saying that I respect Kabane the Christian. He is a pretty nice and respectable guy. I have known about and been encouraged by his youtube videos on the defense of the Christian faith ever since I first became a born again Christian, and my commendations go out to him and his efforts to help demonstrate to others the veracity of Christianity.

With that out of the way, I must admit that although I admire his historical arguments for the reliability of the Gospels and the resurrection of Christ, I find that his justification (excuse the pun) for why he thinks Eastern Orthodoxy is the one true expression of Christianity to be far less than compelling. In arguing against Protestant doctrines of justification by faith alone and penal substitution, he uses many of the same arguments that have long been utilized by Roman Catholic apologists (although it is of noteworthy interest that the same Roman Catholic colleague I once defended Sola Scriptura against is also taking Kabane to task on the latter's sub-biblical understanding of the atonement). Here, I am posting his video where he expounds the Eastern Orthodox view on soteriology, with my comments and critique following:

(00:50-1:05) - Notice how at the very outset, Kabane adopts some familiar rhetoric from Roman Catholic apologists by referring to the great Reformation as "the Protestant rebellion." At this point, he makes his first crucial mistake, which is making the assumption that Eastern Orthodoxy's particular understanding of salvation has existed "for two thousand years." Of course, if one were to make a study of historical theology, one would find out that the Christian Church has had to reflect upon and develop her understanding of salvation. In fact, the earliest systematic formulations of what salvation entails only developed during soteriological controversies that took place in the late fourth and early fifth centuries (which incidentally took place in the western rather than the eastern church).

This is not to say that the church fathers prior to this time had no doctrine of salvation, but that this doctrine was still in its seed form and had not yet been systematized. At this point, the question becomes, "whose development on the doctrine of salvation is the legitimate one, then?" I hope to answer this as we go further on in our delineation of this topic...

(1:05-1:20) - Here, our friend attempts to provide a brief explanation of the Protestant view on salvation. While Kabane seems to have the gist of it, he makes another error, one which often crops up in critiques against, Protestantism. In stating that "Protestants... believe that salvation is a one time event," he confuses justification with the entirety of salvation. We believe that justification is a one time event, but that justification is only a part of salvation. We do not deny that there is an ongoing process of renewal and sanctification (which is distinct from and begins immediately after justification) brought about by the Holy Spirit in the believing Christian's life, which is completed at the end of the believer's life here on earth once we have achieved glorification, which is the end of golden chain of redemption (cf. Romans 8:30). If by salvation, one means the entire chain of redemption (which begins with God's effectual calling and ordination towards eternal life), then salvation can be referred to as a process. However, that is not the understanding which Kabane presents here, so we remain at variance on this point.

(1:20-1:35) - Here, James 2:14-26 is brought out, as it is the most commonly cited passage against the doctrine of Justification through faith alone in favour of a Justification that includes meritorious works in addition to faith. At this point, I would agree with Kabane that this passage's apparent contradiction with other passages such as Romans 3:28 should be resolved by careful exegesis and looking at the entirety of scripture in its proper context. Perhaps this would be a good time to take a look at James 2 and how this relates to justification.

It must be remembered that words can take on different meanings when used in different contexts, and that it is fallacious to simply take what a word means in a certain passage and assume that it means the exact same thing in every other instance that it is used. This is the case with the word for "justify" (δικαιόω). A contradiction would definitely arise if we were to suppose that Paul and James are using the word "justify" in the exact same sense in their respective epistles. However, context should indicate that they are using the word in different senses. When Paul uses "justify," he uses it to refer to a declarative act of God in which the sinner is acquitted in His sight. This is the sense it is used in throughout Romans, and especially in Romans 4:2,4, 5:1,9.

When James uses "justify," however, he is using the term in the sense of vindicating or proving one's justification. Our Lord Himself uses the word in this sense when He says, "Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds." (Matthew 11:19, ESV). Obviously, this does not mean that wisdom becomes wisdom by virtue of her producing deeds, but that her producing deeds becomes evidence of her authenticity. In fact, if you looked at this verse in the New American Standard Bible, you will find that ἐδικαιώθη is translated therein as "vindicated." This shows that the word "justify" can have some very nuanced meanings, and it is this meaning "justify" takes on in James' writings.

To put it in simpler terms, look at the sentence, "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone." (James 2:24) and think of it the same way you would think of the sentence, "You see that the sky is blue because you looked up at it." Does your looking up at the sky cause it to become blue ? Of course not! The sky's colour is not dependent upon our looking up at it, but it is by looking up at it that we recognize that it is blue. It is the same case with faith and works. Our justification is not grounded upon whether we perform works or not, but the works that faith produces becomes the evidence that vindicates our claim to having been justified by the blood of Christ. This is the gist of James' answer to the "someone" he responds to in James 2:18 when he says, "Show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works." The NET translation note helps explain this, stating that "James’ reply is [intended to mean] that faith cannot exist or be seen without works." (link)

Needless to say, James 2 is not really a problem for those who affirm justification through faith alone. Thoughtful exegetes have grappled with the text plenty of times before and have worked out what the proper understanding of it is.

(1:35-1:45) - Kabane sets up a false dichotomy here. He seems to think that either one accepts a substitutionary view of atonement, or the classical "Christus Victor" view which the Eastern Orthodox Church has adopted as its official position. The fact is that scripture teaches both views to be true. The loosening of the bonds of death is indeed affirmed by Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians when he writes,

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

"Death is swallowed up in victory."
"O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?"

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
(1 Corinthians 15:54-57)

Also, in his epistle to the Colossians, he states that through Christ's death on the cross, "He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him" (Colossians 2:15). Notice, however, what he says in the verses preceding this. In verses 13-14, he states that God "made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross." There is also Isaiah's prophecy concerning the Messiah, wherein the prophet proclaims that he "the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6, ESV). The word הִפְגִּיעַ, which is often translated as "laid," actually denotes attacking. At this point, the NET translation note on the verse helps shed light on the meaning of this verse:

Elsewhere the Hiphil of פָגַע (paga’) means “to intercede verbally” (Jer 15:11; 36:25) or “to intervene militarily” (Isa 59:16), but neither nuance fits here. Apparently here the Hiphil is the causative of the normal Qal meaning, “encounter, meet, touch.” The Qal sometimes refers to a hostile encounter or attack; when used in this way the object is normally introduced by the preposition -בְּ (bet, see Josh 2:16; Judg 8:21; 15:12, etc.). Here the causative Hiphil has a double object – the Lord makes “sin” attack “him” (note that the object attacked is introduced by the preposition -בְּ. In their sin the group was like sheep who had wandered from God’s path. They were vulnerable to attack; the guilt of their sin was ready to attack and destroy them. But then the servant stepped in and took the full force of the attack. (link)

Thus, the verse literally means, "the Lord caused the sin of all of us to attack him" (NET). These passages, coupled with the various passages that talk about the wrath of God against sinners (Romans 1:18, Ephesians 2:3, Ephesians 5:6, Colossians 3:8, 1 Thessalonians 2:16, etc.) Jesus delivering us from this wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:10,5:9, etc.) certainly prove that there is a legal and propitiatory aspect to Christ atonement, does it not? It is as Peter wrote,

He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.
(1 Peter 2:24-25)

(1:45-2:45) - Here, Kabane expounds the Eastern Orthodox doctrine known as "Theosis." Interestingly enough, the two passages that Kabane cites in support of Theosis are the same passages which are used to define glorification. In fact, in John Piper's reflections on the life of Saint Athanasius, he points out that what those in the eastern church refer to as deification is really the same thing as what we in the western church refer to as glorification (link). If this is indeed the case, then I should not have to worry about the idea of Theosis per se, even though I think that the language that is being used to explain this doctrine sort of makes it harder to understand.

Also, while Christ's incarnation was certainly a necessary step towards our atonement, I would disagree if what Kabane actually meant was that the incarnation itself brought about atonement in some sense. This is very similar to an outdated doctrine known as the recapitulation theory, which was formulated by Irenaeus of Lyons back in the late second century. Of course, I am not sure if this is what the Eastern Orthodox mean when they say that redemption is accomplished through incarnation, so I will leave it to Kabane et al. to explain what they mean by their words.

(2:45-3:30) - In his attempt to discredit the Protestant use of Romans 3:24-26, Kabane sets up yet another false dichotomy. The fact is that ἱλαστήριον can mean "mercy seat," yet at the same time also carry the connotation of propitiation. For this, I will once again refer to the NET translation notes:

The word ἱλαστήριον (Jilasthrion) may carry the general sense “place of satisfaction,” referring to the place where God’s wrath toward sin is satisfied. More likely, though, it refers specifically to the “mercy seat,” i.e., the covering of the ark where the blood was sprinkled in the OT ritual on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). This term is used only one other time in the NT: Heb 9:5, where it is rendered “mercy seat.” There it describes the altar in the most holy place (holy of holies). Thus Paul is saying that God displayed Jesus as the “mercy seat,” the place where propitiation was accomplished. See N. S. L. Fryer, “The Meaning and Translation of Hilasterion in Romans 3:25,” EvQ 59 (1987): 99-116, who concludes the term is a neuter accusative substantive best translated “mercy seat” or “propitiatory covering,” and D. P. Bailey, “Jesus As the Mercy Seat: The Semantics and Theology of Paul’s Use of Hilasterion in Romans 3:25” (Ph.D. diss., University of Cambridge, 1999), who argues that this is a direct reference to the mercy seat which covered the ark of the covenant. (link)

Also, to refer to "modern scholarship" to back up your claims without actually citing the relevant people and materials isn't exactly the best way to go about proving your case. If you have worked with skeptics, semi-informed Muslims and liberal scholars before, you would probably already know that claiming that "scholars say" or "modern scholarship has proven" this or that thing without giving the citations is a convenient way of proving just about anything, which is why I have always gone out of my way to make sure that I provide proper references when making statements such as these.

(3:35-4:00) - Kabane here attempts to lay a case for the idea that becoming born again is dependent upon baptism. He cites several texts in quick succession, not really taking much time to exegete them, so I think it would only be fair to go through the texts he cites in the order that he cites them and see what they really mean. So, we begin with this passage:

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.
(Titus 3:5)

Kabane has taken this passage out of its context. It must be taken note of here that Paul specifically excludes the addition of any kind of works done by us when we are saved, even works that "we have done in righteousness" (οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων τῶν ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ). Thus, simply citing the phrase "washing of regeneration" does not help here, as the context precludes the idea that it is referring to baptism. For more information on this verse, Dr. James White has a well-written article explaining why this passage cannot be used as proof for baptismal regeneration. Next:

Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."
(John 3:5)

It is astounding that some are quick to seize at any instance of the words "water" like this and automatically assume that it is referring to baptism, especially when baptism is nowhere mentioned in the context of this passage, and it is unlikely that Nicodemus would even know about Christian baptism. The key here is the fact that there is no definite article between "water" and "spirit," which would indicate that these two words are describing the same thing. This would make sense in light of the fact that Old Testament often uses water as a symbol for the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit (cf. Psalm 51:2-3, Isaiah 1:16, Jeremiah 33:8 and Ezekiel 36:24-26). Check out J.P. Holding's article on this topic as well, not to mention this article from Evidence for God, as it provides some very helpful insight. Next two passages:

Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.
(Acts 22:16)

Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
(Acts 2:38)

I would like to make a few points here. First, remember that God had already touched Paul even before being baptized. Also note that nowhere in Luke-Acts is baptism mentioned alone in the context of salvation, but is always used in conjunction with repentance and/or calling upon the name of the Lord. Also, to be baptized "for the forgiveness of sins" is a rather ambiguous phrase. The preposition εἰς in this context could be translated as "because of" rather than "for" or "into," and it would not do too well to stake too much on an ambiguity such as this.

Also, do not think that receiving the Holy Spirit is dependent upon baptism. The book of Acts alone presents plenty of evidence against such a causal relationship. As examples, in Acts 2:4, the apostles receive the Holy Spirit apart from baptism. In Acts 8:16, we see a number of people who have been baptized but do not yet have the Holy Spirit. And in Acts 10:44, the Holy Spirit comes down upon the people while Peter is preaching to them, even though they are not baptized until later on (this could perhaps be seen as evidence in support of believer's baptism).

At this point, I don't have time to tackle the remaining proof texts offered, and I have only given my answer to the first four minutes of Kabane's video. Lord willing, I will continue my discussion of this issue and examine how well the rest of his arguments for Eastern Orthodoxy hold up.

In Christ,


  1. I think it is great that High School students are "digging" into what they believe and why, and I have enjoyed reading this little debate. As an old man (67 years old) and a Christian all of my life, I would offer a little advice; To Kabane: Avoid controversy! For it will never bring real agreement, only confusion. The real timeless truths are found in Dogma and Theology, not in doctrinal issues. Learn of these things and hold fast to your Faith, you are doing well!

    To Fisher (Luis Dizon): The most difficult of all of the "passions" for Christians to overcome is Pride. Spiritual Pride brings arrogance and deception. My advice is for you to read the Patristic writings of the Early Church Fathers. Make it a point to find out what they believed and why. To read the Patristic writings and to understand them, is to cease to be Protestant. I believe that you love God, now study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman who needeth not be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth. Seek to know thyself and understand the passions within, then you will come to have a deeper understanding of God and the christian Faith. Stop using "Rationalism" or"Empiricism" to gain knowledge of the Faith. Only God can give you light! The true understanding of Christianity is not found in "pat" ideas, but in a Mystery of Faith where you come to have the Mind of Christ.

    God Bless you both! Christ is Risen!


  2. I don't know what you mean by telling me to stop relying on rationalism or empiricism, given that I rely on God's divine revelation rather than human reason and experience.

    And as for patristics: If you look through my blog post categories, you'll note that there are at least 9 posts tagged under "patristics." I don't claim to be an expert patrologist, but what I have read has not really convinced me to cease being Protestant. Newman's aphorism may be popular among RCs and EOs, but I must say that he (and those who quote him) are wrong at this point.

    Glad to have your input on this issue. I am not sure from what position you are coming from (I'm assuming EO, but I can't be totally sure). I hope that we can be able to have more fruitful dialogue.

    Xαρις και ειρηνη απο θεου πατρος ημων και κυριου ιησου χριστου.

  3. I am assuming you are in your late teens. This is a wonderful time in life in which much can be learned. However, one only learns when he practices humility, not as an exercise, but as a state of Grace. One cannot learn who already knows! Dialogue will not help, only God can help. If you ask Him to give you a Godly understanding of yourself, He will begin to deliver you from pride. If you are sincere in this, then over time you will begin to see yourself differently. (This is repentance) As humans, we are are all sick with the passions and our thinking is distorted. Clear thinking comes from God as we gain a clear understanding of ourselves and others. I wish you well as you trudge the murky road to happy destiny. Guard your heart, for out of it are the issues of life.

    Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.