Posts Tagged ‘salvation’

So I’m reading along in a pretty good book about commitment to God, going the distance, a true discipleship that is more than going through the motions (Radical, David Platt). The author talks about how very much we in the church have it wrong, that we confuse our culture and its values with the call of the Gospel that is really something altogether different. I’m nodding in agreement. And then he tips his hand to reveal his underlying theology, Christology and dominant model of atonement. I stopped nodding. I began shaking my head. It’s a familiar construct, what he describes, and it’s dead wrong.

A few quotes:

“Why was he (Jesus) trembling in that garden, weeping and full of anguish? We can rest assured that he was not a coward about to face Roman soldiers. Instead he was a Savior about to endure divine wrath…All God’s holy wrath and hatred toward sin and sinners, stored up since the beginning of the world, is about to be poured out on him … wrath due your sin and my sin being thrust upon his soul. In that holy moment, all the righteous wrath and justice of God due us came rushing down like a torrent on Christ himself…at the cross, Christ drank the full cup of the wrath of God…This is the gospel. The just and loving creator of the universe has looked upon hopelessly sinful people and sent his Son, God in the flesh, to bear his wrath against sin on the cross and to show his power over sin in the Resurrection so that all who trust in him will be reconciled to God forever.”(34-36)


First, wrong God. Wrath isn’t what defines God and justice isn’t all about wrath. There are many attributes of God, many taken from our human grab bag as we attempt to describe the ineffable in our tiny ways. Basically this is a strict/punitive father model, the cosmic disciplinarian who is going to discipline the children for their own good, in his own way. Insisting on this model of God continues to alienate and send people away from any engagement with the faith, not because they are cowardly or lost, but because it is untenable. It is untenable for me. Wrong God.

Second, wrong God punishes his own son to placate his rage: Bad Dad, cosmic child abuse. Hope he feels better afterwards. Somebody has to pay, says strict Dad, so I’ll send son to suffer because the perpetual sin of humanity enrages me. How dare them. After I’ve been their strict father for all these centuries and I get what? Ok, kick the dog, the scapegoat, mmm, my son. Ok, now we’re good. He’s taken a beating for you, and don’t forget it. Jesus isn’t afraid of suffering, no, he’s afraid of Dad’s wrath.

This is substitutionary atonement, very popular in some Christian circles, the backbone of Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ. The more blood spilled, the more strict father god is satisfied, the more we are now OK. It’s an absolute failure.

Third, this is far from the only way to understand God, the saving work of Christ and how we are reconciled and made one with God and one another. For example:

The loving God who created and is creating the whole world and all humanity always desires that we be in faithful, loving, committed relationship. But we are separated from that love, by our own designs and the ways of circumstances, and our lives are often in bondage, enslaved to everything but God. The creator of the universe never gives up on the beloved and always reaches to restore relationship through love, sacrificial love, love such as took his faithful son all the way to the cross – not to endure God’s wrath, but to express the boundless love that suffers for the beloved. God’s truth spoken is punished by the world that does not want to be known for what it is. When you see that sacrificial love it breaks your heart and turns you back to the divine lover who never gives up. Until we do turn, our souls are withered, small and pale, lifeless when cutoff from our source. We experience that separation every day. But through the mercy and grace of God, through Jesus, God’s wisdom become flesh, we are given a new way, a new path and life in Christ. And as he is lifted up on the cross all humanity is drawn to the love that will not let us go.

Like that, for instance.

Holistic Salvation

Posted: May 9, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

So a few of our church friends just returned from El Salvador and spending time with the ENLACE ministry in that place. They’ve witnessed true partnership between churches, community and a faith-based helping organization. The scope contains everything from sustainable agriculture to faith development. And an issue arises about salvation.

In many evangelical circles, in Latin America and elsewhere, that term, salvation, is defined very narrowly. For many it is solely a matter of the individual soul that knows itself saved from a life without God. And grace is the movement of God to get  it there. Some ontological (being) change has occurred at one moment of time, the dividing line of before and after.

Acts of kindness, compassion and justice-making are, in this understanding, fruits of  the sanctified life, what you do as a result of being saved. They are not God’s primary agenda but rather hang like good fruit on a healthy tree. Seeking justice and other things like it would not be a part of the official and authorized plan of salvation. Those kinds of pursuits would just comprise what the spiritually enlightened soul does, evidence that the real mission of God, the salvation of the individual soul, has been accomplished.

Others have defined that word, salvation, in ways more consonant with the ancient Biblical witness itself. In beginning of the 20th century it was called the social gospel movement. People like Walter Rauschenbusch described the Gospel in much broader ways that included the Christian’s action in the world as part and parcel of the theater of God’s sacred history. He and others like him were roundly reviled by evangelicals who accused them of seeking some salvation through works.

In the Hebrew scriptures it is clear that God is always saving somebody from something. People are saved from suffering, death, enemies and injustice. God is the one taking people out of bondage and ushering them into a new land. In the ministry, teaching and healing of Jesus it is the same. People are saved from the death-dealing forces of life, including illness, dark spirits and the blindness of a life without God. Ever so often he says something like, “Salvation has come to this house.” But it’s usually after they’ve seen the light about some ethical issue, like bilking the poor for their own benefit. Later, in the Pauline letters, we find that a relationship with God, intertwined with just relations in the community of faith, creates peace in the soul and the world. It’s both, not just one.

Hope has many beginning points, and any one point may lead to any of the others. Different strands of the new emergent Christian movement are discovering this new faithful activism along with other ancient practices. Everything matters and God is everywhere.

So back to the word, salvation. In Latin America and North America and everywhere it’s time to redefine it. Put most simply, God is the creator of all and cares about all. God cares that our spirits are in harmony with the Spirit of the universe. God cares that people suffer and we can do something about it. God cares about the planet. God cares about now, this life, and is the author of then, whatever comes next. God cares about the physically blind and spiritually blind. God cares about a pure soul and pure water. God intends the peace that passes understanding and peace between the nations. God cares about our baptisms and the flooding that washes away hope. God cares about everything because everything is what God created and is creating still.

Therefore, God saves everything. We’re going to call it Holistic Salvation. And we will interpret the parts according to the whole and not the other way around.