What is the center of the Christian message?
In answer to Neff's question, What is the center of the Christian message?, Ware states the following:
I believe in a God who loves humankind so intensely, so totally, that he chose himself to become human. Therefore, I believe in Jesus Christ as fully and truly God, but also totally and unreservedly one of us, fully human...
The love of God is so great that Christ died for us on the cross. But love is stronger than death, and so the death of Jesus was followed by his resurrection. I am a Christian because I believe in the great love of God that led him to become incarnate, to die, and to rise again. That's my faith. All of this is made immediate to us through the continuing action of the Holy Spirit (p41).Note the Trinitarian framework as Ware explains that love is both God's essential nature and motive in saving us. Later, Ware notes that when Orthodox churches discuss what God, in love, has done and is doing to save us, they tend to focus on the biblical metaphor of Christ as victor over sin and death, rather than on the metaphors that tend to present salvation as a transaction. Here is part of Ware's comment on this point:
We prefer the image of Christ as victor over death... the kind of victory that we sense at the Paschal service Easter midnight in the Orthodox Church, when there is a constant refrain, "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to those in the tombs he has given life"...
Certainly within the New Testament there is a whole series of images. There is no single systematic theory of the Atonement, and we should make use of all these images. So, yes, we should find a place for the idea of substitution, which the Orthodox don't stress so much... The idea of the sacrificial Lamb is also a profound scriptural image.... [However,] I don't care so much for the idea of satisfaction. Satisfaction is not a scriptural word. The legal imagery, I think, should always be combined with an emphasis upon the transfiguring power of love. The motive for the incarnation was not God's justice or his glory, but his love. That was the supreme motive. "God so loved the world." That is what we should start from (p41).I agree with Ware that we should make use of all the biblical images (metaphors) describing our salvation in Christ. They are like the multiple facets of one single, stunningly beautiful gem (for this idea I am indebted to the book Salvation, Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, by Gerald Cowen). All of these facets must be seen in order to fully see (and thus appreciate) the gem. Unfortunately, legal/penal theories of the Atonement tend to emphasize only one or two facets, and overlook (or at least diminish) the others.
In the interview, Neff points out to Ware that Protestants sometimes accuse Orthodox Christians of deemphasizing Jesus by emphasizing the Trinity. Here is Ware's reply:
I would not want to contrast faith in Jesus with faith in the Holy Trinity. My faith in Jesus is precisely that I believe him to be not only truly human, but also to be the eternal Son of God. I cannot think of a faith in Jesus that does not also involve faith in God the Father.
How is Jesus present to us personally at this moment? How is it that ht is not merely a figure from the distant past, but that he also lives in my own life? That is through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, I cannot understand a faith in Jesus Christ that would not also involve faith in the Holy Spirit.
I don't think we can have too much faith in Jesus. But faith in Jesus, if it is to be truly such, is necessarily Trinitarian. If you look at the lives of the Orthodox saints, you will find a very vivid faith in Jesus. Their affirmation of the Trinity did not in any way diminish their sense of Jesus as their personal Savior" (p41).I am grateful to my Orthodox brothers and sisters (including those, like Irenaeus and Athanasius, who wrote many centuries ago) for formulating and then preserving the doctrine of the Holy Trinity - a doctrine that is essential to a vibrant, biblically accurate Christology.
P.S. For a dramatic and helpful Trinitarian, incarnational presentation of the gospel (in contrast with a legal, transactional one), watch this video, Love Wins - An Orthodox View from Orthodox priest, Steve Robinson.