Fall 2021 · Vol. 50 No. 2 · pp. 235–237 

Book Review

Deification through the Cross: An Eastern Christian Theology of Salvation

Khaled Anatolios. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2020. 464 pages.

Reviewed by Jonathan N. Cleland

Along with the ecumenical movement comes the opportunity for people of different traditions to learn from and engage with one another. In Deification through the Cross, Khaled Anatolios (John A. O’Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame) has provided a masterful work that models gracious and constructive interaction with historical and contemporary sources from both Eastern and Western traditions to offer fresh insights into the mission and work of Jesus Christ. It is truly a work that people from different traditions can learn from.

Throughout the book, Anatolios argues for a view he terms “doxological contrition,” which involves two theses. The first is that Christ saves us by fulfilling the original vocation of humanity to participate (in the Son) in the mutual glorification of the persons of the Trinity. The second is that Christ saves us by repenting for humanity’s rejection of that vocation, a rejection that violates and distorts the glory of the Trinity. The first thesis involves deification, whereby humans are included in the “interrelated life of the Trinity” (179), and thus integrated into the “intra-trinitarian {236} mutual glorification” (248). The second thesis expands on the role of Christ repenting on behalf of sinful humanity. Repentance is meant to cause one to turn from disobedience to obedience, and it is by Christ’s representative repentance that he brings people back to the glory of the Trinitarian life. Together, these two theses reveal aspects of doxological contrition: in Christ, people are moved away from sin (contrition) and toward the glorification of God (doxology).

The first part of this two-part book is entitled “Foundational Sources for a Soteriology of Doxological Contrition.” Chapter 1 looks at Byzantine liturgy, chapter 2 at select Scripture passages, and chapter 3 at the first seven ecumenical councils. Much of the second part of the book is dedicated to systematic theology. Here, Anatolios engages in a theological retrieval of insights from numerous historical and contemporary authors representative of a variety of traditions. This retrieval involves not only the exposition of the theology of different individuals, but also the synthesizing of these different views and their subsequent application for contemporary readers.

A notable chapter in the second part of the book is chapter 8, “Soteriology of Doxological Contrition in Dialogue.” Here again, Anatolios models a humble and charitable spirit as he engages in dialogue with liberation theology, Girardian mimetic theory, and the doctrine of penal substitution. An example of what this dialogue looks like can be found in his discussion with penal substitution. Anatolios sees common ground between his view and the view of penal substitution in the belief that “Christ pays the penalty due human sin” (418). However, his view of doxological contrition would not see Christ as suffering the wrath of God in the place of individuals, as the penal substitution view would. To the contrary, Anatolios speaks of Christ as “[taking] the place of sinners as the ideal penitent who lovingly accepts God’s rejection of sin as an inalienable element of the adorable glory of God” (419). In this vein, Anatolios points to both similarities and differences between his doxological contrition view and other popular soteriological views.

Although this book is not an easy read, it will reward Western Christian readers with a different way of thinking. Anatolios is strongly indebted to the writings of Byzantine liturgy and Eastern theologians, many of them obscure to Western readers. Byzantine theologian Nicholas Cabasilas, for example, is not well known in the West, but he is one of Anatolios’s key sources for developing his theology of repentance. Anatolios’s engagement with Cabasilas and other theologians from outside the Western tradition enable him to challenge readers’ assumptions of what scriptural sources are available to make sense of repentance. Anatolios speaks about the account of the Golden Calf in Exodus, for example, where Moses makes an “intercession as an expression of contrition for the people’s sin” {237} (110). This account is not normally referenced in atonement studies. Part of the reason for this oversight is most certainly Western Christians’ preconceived notions of what Jesus accomplished for his people. By offering Eastern perspectives, Anatolios helps expand our understanding of Christ’s role as modeled and fulfilled in Scripture, which in turn gives us a more expansive understanding of the work and mission of Christ. But Anatolios’s most helpful practical insight might be the significance of repentance in the lives of believers. He shows us how important our own call is to a repentance that turns us away from sin and toward living lives that glorify God.

I have come away from this book with a desire to think more deeply about repentance, the incarnation, the Trinity, and the glory of God. Anatolios’s brilliant elaboration of these themes will make patient readers grateful to have immersed themselves in this important book.

Jonathan N. Cleland is a doctoral student at Knox College, a member college of the Toronto School of Theology at the University of Toronto. He also serves as Pastor of Family Ministries at Glencairn Mennonite Brethren Church in Kitchener, Ontario.