Christus Victor for Pentecostals
Review of 'Saved, Delivered, and Healed' by Tony Richie
Outsiders describe Pentecostals as people of the Spirit. After all, we practice spiritual gifts regularly. Our distinctive doctrine teaches that tongues is the initial physical evidence of Spirit baptism. People of the Spirit is even the title of an official Assemblies of God history.
And yet, for us, Spirit baptism is a means to an end. Jesus promised His disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8, emphasis added). The Spirit empowers mission that points to Jesus, whose name reveals why He came to earth: “Yahweh saves.”
Consequently, Tony Richie writes in Saved, Delivered, and Healed, “as far as Pentecostals are concerned, the subject of salvation is of greatest importance, not only for personal salvation but for theological understanding itself.” His book articulates a distinctive and dynamic view of salvation.
Those two characteristics are a matter of emphasis rather than of innovation, however. Richie’s hermeneutic is “a generally literal, straightforward interpretation of Scripture.” And, as he demonstrates in Chapters 1–2, “the general theological orientation of Pentecostal theology [is] evangelical Protestant and Wesleyan-Arminian.” Pentecostal soteriology, then, is biblical and orthodox.
So what makes it distinctive and dynamic? Chapters 3–5 answer the question.
Chapter 3 examines salvation models and atonement theories. The models identify the end, or telos, of salvation. They include deliverance, justification and sanctification. The theories identify means of salvation and include Christus Victor (Latin, “Christ the Conqueror”), satisfaction (or penal substitution), and moral influence.
“As far as Pentecostals are concerned, the subject of salvation is of greatest importance, not only for personal salvation but for theological understanding itself.” —Tony RichieRichie affirms that each model and theory has some merit. They are like facets of a diamond. Consequently, he says, they must be viewed in an “integrative manner” rather than a “reductionist manner.”
Even so, Richie argues that deliverance and Christus Victor hold special resonance for Pentecostals. “Salvation is deliverance,” he writes; its goal is “freedom from sin’s tyranny for divine service” (emphasis in original). Richie points to the exodus event, the ministries of both Jesus and the apostles, and the Christus Victor theme itself as examples of deliverance.
Richie adds an important qualifier, noting that “the exodus event, while primarily a spiritual event, was not solely a spiritual event.” Salvation, understood as deliverance, encompasses spiritual and social dimensions. This both/and approach is commonplace in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition that shaped early Pentecostalism.
According to Richie, Pentecostals should reclaim deliverance and Christus Victor for four reasons: (1) We already emphasize themes of deliverance and victory in our preaching and teaching. (2) Pentecostalism appeals to the socially marginalized, and these themes speak directly to their experiences. (3) Both themes take the spirit realm seriously. And (4) they intersect with Pentecostal traditions of narrative and testimony.
Chapter 4 builds on this understanding of salvation as deliverance by describing our “soteriological ethos.” In a justification model of salvation, our ethos is forensic: We are criminals on trial before a judge. In a sanctification model, our ethos is therapeutic: We are impure people who need cleansing.
In a deliverance model, writes Richie, “salvation has an antagonistic element in a cosmic context with an impossible scenario requiring an omnicompetent champion.” This is a heroic ethos. “Any version of Christianity that does not have a double portion of the fighting spirit is unworthy of the title,” he writes.
Notice, however, that Richie’s emphasis in Chapter 4 is on Christ as the hero, not us. Jesus is the “omnicompetent champion.” At the same time, the fact that Christ is Conqueror does not lead to passivity in Christian living. Chapter 5 thus turns to the theme of spiritual warfare.
Given their generally literal hermeneutic, Pentecostals affirm that the devil and his demons are “actual entities malevolently bent on destroying [people] and damning them,” Richie writes. Consequently, people are unable “to rescue themselves or win victory.” Christ the Conqueror can and does deliver them, however.
That being the case, how do believers engage in spiritual warfare? Drawing on the language of Ephesians 6:10–20, Richie argues they do so by “occupying ‘ground’ or ‘territory’ that has been won but must be maintained in the present age against constant assaults.” Christians withstand these assaults through “faith, obedience, and prayer.” The objective is both “present and permanent victory over evil.”
Richie goes on to discuss other soteriological issues in the remainder of his book, including salvation’s eternal goal, its this-worldly impact, and its relationship to baptism in the Spirit. He describes Spirit baptism as “distinct from and subsequent to conversion but not as distinct from and subsequent to salvation.” That is an excellent reminder that conversion does not exhaust the meaning of salvation.
Even so, the primary value of Saved, Delivered, and Healed is reclaiming the emphasis on salvation as deliverance, as well as the self-understanding and spiritual practices that flow from it.
Tony Richie, Saved, Delivered, and Healed: Introducing a Pentecostal Theology of Salvation (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2022).
This review appears in the fall 2022 issue of Influence magazine.