"The Victory of the Cross" by James Payton Jr. A Review
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
We've been friends for years, one a Presbyterian minister, and the other a one-time Lutheran parishioner now Orthodox priest. It has been a warm relationship filled with frankness and humor from day one. And though we are in the same spiritual solar system, we both know that we are, at the least, on different sides of the same globe; and at the most, on different planets altogether. But we have grown in learning and understanding from within each other's frame of reference, which has built goodwill and affection. That is the value of a new and thoughtful 224-page softback, "The Victory of the Cross: Salvation in Eastern Orthodoxy" penned by James R. Payton Jr., author and emeritus professor of history at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario, Canada. Payton, a Western Protestant, draws in years of research to help readers better apprehend Orthodoxy, especially in the area of salvation, and clear up misunderstandings. The style is easy, and the content cordial.
The author consciously works his way through the kaleidoscopic aspects of what salvation encompasses for the Orthodox. He rightly notes that "Orthodoxy asks different questions than Western Christianity typically does - and when you ask different questions, you get different answers" (5). That is an important observation while a person delves deeper into the book as it addresses the victory of the cross, sin - both original and actual, atonement, salvation that is cosmic as well as personal, and finally deification or theosis. To aid the reader in hearing Orthodox answers to Orthodox questions, Payton draws heavily on important voices from the past and the devotional dialect of the Orthodox one will hear in the present. Not only is the volume a good introduction into the theological framework of Orthodoxy, but it also is a handy inauguration into the church's earlier theologians and pastors.
The two areas that most Protestant readers will find of interest are the atonement and deification. Payton methodically walks through the whole concept of ransom and redemption, how these are traditionally seen in Orthodoxy, and in what ways they differ from Western Christian conceptions. Though I think the author teases out more difference than may necessarily be there, especially with regard to penal substitution, nevertheless he does a nice job focusing on aspects of the atonement most Protestants and Evangelicals rarely acknowledge. Further, the author's careful unpacking of theosis is very useful in clearing up most mischaracterizations and misunderstandings.
In the end, "The Victory of the Cross" is a valuable manuscript for those wanting to get into the heart of Orthodoxy without feeling like they are being proselytized or put down. Many of the subjects covered in this book have been the topics my Orthodox friend and I have kindly wrangled over for years as our friendship has continued. From my experience and discussions, Payton has portrayed Orthodoxy's understanding of salvation fairly and in a friendly tone. I gladly recommend the book, especially for those who want to know the whats, whys and warrants of their Orthodox neighbors and relatives. Like me, you may not always agree, but you will have a better understanding.
My thanks to IVP Academic. I requested a copy of the book used in this review and they sent it speedily. I'm also appreciative that they made no demands on me other than that I assess the volume and write it up, which I have done.
If you're interested in obtaining the book you may get it here: The Victory of the Cross
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