How do you explain how Jesus' incarnation, holy life and death on the cross achieve our salvation? Most Protestants adhere to the so-called "legal doctrine of the atonement," which holds that the guilt for our sins was transferred to Jesus, who paid the penalty, taking our punishment on himself. On the other hand, the Eastern Orthodox Church believes that in the incarnation Jesus united our nature, God thus allowing us to grow into his likeness. C.S. Lewis thought that Jesus experienced all difficulties of this life to be able later to help us. Does it make sense to try to "explain" how Jesus' work helps us at all? -- Yevgeniy Makarov (Indianapolis)
I think explaining the atonement is necessary to some extent, since our minds must engage the lofty truths surrounding Jesus' sacrifice. Yes, they may still confuse, or boggle, but that itself may lead us to a deeper appreciation for what God has done! The Orthodox understanding emphasizes something Protestants and Catholics often miss (2 Peter 1:3-4).
As for the legal doctrine of the atonement, or imputed righteousness, I am not at all sure it is correct. If you have visited the website of Scroll Publishing, you will have seen David Berçot's helpful lessons on Imputed Righteousness and related topics. Berçot argues that Anselm's atonement doctrine is a departure from the biblical truth. Well worth the few dollars his lesson they will cost you.
Attempts at explaining Jesus' work of redemption, whether tightly-reasoned theology or homely anecdotes and illustrations, help us spiritually. They help us to appreciate the Lord, to make concrete what otherwise is likely to remain abstract. At the same time, it must be insisted that we cannot put God into a box. As Romans 11:33 has it, "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!"
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