December 18, 2005

Thinking About Salvation

I finished reading Brian Mclaren's book A New Kind of Christian, and I have started Rob Bell's book Velvet Elvis.

I have been thinking about the nature of salvation. What does it mean to be "saved"?

When I think about salvation, I often think of Peter and Andrew along the shore of the lake repairing their net. Jesus didn't say, "If you were to die tonight..." He simply said, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."

For me this calling has two components. First, it means that salvation is following Jesus. It means He is the ultimate example of how we should live our lives. His way is the best way. Second, it means that this call to follow will result in comission to a mission. Leslie Newbingin quoted another source when he said, "There is no acceptance of Christ without acceptance of His mission."

Conservative evangelicals have often thought of salvation as the finish line. That may not be the official theological stance, but is certainly the practiced one. The "holiness" movement simply pushed the finish line a little further down the road to the point of "entire sanctification." The way this has played out in the church is that people "get saved" or "get sanctified" and they have achieved the lowest common denominator to get them into heaven. All they have to do is maintain what they have received by fulfilling the proper spiritual requirements: Church three times per week, x minutes of Bible reading and prayer, and defending the "truth" of the Gospel. Occaisionally it means telling a friend or loved one about God, but not if they can help it.

It seems to me that "salvation" is less about saying a sinner's prayer or accepting the right doctrinal truths, and more about following Jesus Christ and through that participating in His mission to save the world. This seems more radical and difficult than simply saying a prayer. Deciding to follow a person is saying, "This person's ideas and concept of reality will become my own. I will allow this person's ideas to be the central framework for my understanding of the world around me. I will accept their mission as my own." The other way of salvation is simply signing on the dotted line, and rejoicing in the fact that now you don't have to go to hell and you get to go to heaven.

Rather than the finish line, salvation is only the beginning. I think there are stages to this following. God calls a person to follow, they are able to explore what it means to truly follow Christ, and then they decide whether or not to continue following. But part of the following is the doing. Doing, not to earn salvation, but doing because it is part of the following.

Salvation is more than just the act of accepting this call to follow, it is all that God does in the person's life to lead them to Himself. For Wesleyans, we call this prevenient grace, but it is really just saving grace. God is working to bring this person to a place of salvation. It should not surprise us to find God working in some very strange places. Strange by the standards of conservative evangelicals.

It is a gross mistake to think of salvation as escape from hell or entrance into heaven. Though I think these are part of it, they are not the point of salvation. The point of salvation is that God wants to re-establish a relationship with humanity, transform them into His likeness, and dispatch them to transform the world. (All of these seem to happen simultaneously. We cannot become more Christlike if we are not serving, and in the process, our relationship with God is being re-established.) By transform the world, I do not necessarily mean evangelism as we know it, and I definitely do not mean most of the "take a stand" mentality found in the evangelical churches today.

The way to transform the world is by living according to the principles Jesus set out: love God with your whole heart, love your neighbor as yourself, be generous, be filled with hope, pray always, etc.

Imagine what a difference it makes in a greedy, consumeristic society to live generously.

Imagine what it means to live in a war-torn, left vs. right, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist world with a love your neighbor mentality.

Imagining may be hard, but I at least want to try.

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