Salvation as Liberation 2

30 04 2008

Salvation is liberation, and liberation is salvation.

Salvation comes from Christ and Christ alone.  He is the way, the truth, and the life.

But that doesn’t mean what you think it means.  It doesn’t mean that by merely ‘praying the sinner’s prayer’ you get to go to heaven.  The sinner’s prayer, in many contexts, sells the gospel short.  It is the classic example of “cheap grace” that Dietrich Bonhoeffer talked about.  Cheap grace is the definition of God’s grace that says you don’t have to do anything to be saved.

When we say that salvation comes from Christ alone, this means that following him to the cross is our means of salvation and liberation.  Jesus cannot be known outside of his crucifixion and resurrection, and we are not Christians unless we follow him to the crucifixion and resurrection.  We must accept the “costly grace” that our Lord Jesus offers us.  “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” (again, Bonhoeffer).

It is when we die that we receive salvation and liberation.


From Jurgen Moltmann…

27 04 2008

“The death of Jesus on the cross is the centre of all Christian theology….  The nucleus of everything that Christian theology says about God is to be found in this Christ event.  The Christ event on the cross is a God event.  And conversely, the God event takes place on the cross of the risen Christ.  Here God has not just acted externally, in his unattainable glory and eternity.  Here he has acted in himself and has gone on to suffer in himself.  Here he himself is love with all his being….”

In The Crucified God, pp. 204 & 205.

Salvation as Liberation 1

24 04 2008

One of the reasons that I get frustrated with the evangelical American church is the truncated view of salvation that we have.  Our view of salvation is generally limited to “admission into Heaven.”  A lot of people pay lip service to the fact that salvation is more than that, but the lip service doesn’t play out in real life.  We say, for instance, that coming to Jesus will make your life better.  What we mean by that is you go to church now, whereas before you weren’t going to church and you were miserable.  The trouble is, just as many people inside the church are as miserable as those outside of the church.

It seems to me that the problem stems from our selfish, individualistic view of salvation.

In the Old Testament, salvation is a term used to describe YHWH’s salvation for the community of Israel.  Salvation occurs when the people of covenant practice righteousness and justice.  And in the Old Testament, righteousness and justice are deeply connected with how the nation acts towards the hungry, the widow, the downtrodden, the alien.  If the rich neglect the needs of the poor, if the powerful do not seek justice for the weak, YHWH gets mad and it doesn’t go so well for Israel.

What would happen if the American evangelical church took on the notion of salvation as social justice?  How do we act out the principles of social responsibility that are so deeply rooted in the covenant of the Old Testament?  How do we rationalize the New Testament call to care for the “least of these” with American material wealth?

These are all things that I’m struggling through, and issues I want to see the church take up both on a large scale and in local congregations.  I wish the call to end poverty struck a chord with more Christians than the call to abolish homosexual marriage, for instance.

In short, salvation is a promise for the people of God.  Yes, it is a promise for the individual, but only insomuch as they are a part of the community of God.  That might strike some nerves in our individualistic, materialistic culture, but I think that it’s true.  Liberation from oppression is a task that the people of God must pursue if they are to experience the full nature of salvation.  Because, you see, salvation is not something that I get out of following Jesus.  Salvation is something that YHWH gives to his people.

Salvation is liberation, and liberation is salvation.

Spiritual Plagiarism

1 11 2007

I am continually impressed with Baylor’s Center for Jewish Studies and its efforts to increase interfaith dialogue. Today at a luncheon in Truett’s Great Hall Susannah Heschel (pictured above), daughter of famous 20th century Jewish Rabbi Abraham Heschel, offered this theological gem (and I paraphrase because I didn’t write it down):

We cannot merely copy the faith of our ancestors – this is spiritual plagiarism.

My regret is that I do not remember her exact words. But the effect of it, I think, remains. We cannot merely do the same things that our mothers and fathers did. We must discover what it means, what it looks like, to practice our faith in our own day and time. We have very different problems to confront, different tasks to undergo. Susannah claimed that we must ask ourselves the questions that Abraham Heschel asked years ago – What does God want me to do? And what does the world need me to do?

For Christians, I think the question becomes – How does Christ want us to follow Him in our context? For me, how do I follow Jesus in Waco, TX in the year 2007? Surely, it looks quite different from someone’s answer in 1907. It is important to learn from and be conversant with the traditions of our ancestors, of course, but this does not mean that we merely copy their actions. We learn both positively and negatively. We progress by implementing the good of the past in new, creative ways, learning from and changing the evil that has been done, and altogether creating new ways to practice our faith in the 21st century and beyond.

Preach It!

16 10 2007


Dr. Cleophus LaRue at Truett Seminary’s Fall Preaching Convocation:

They didn’t put Jesus on the cross because they agreed with him. They put him on the cross because they understood him.

A Holistic Gospel

3 10 2007

All (or most) of us engaged with the emergent conversation are pretty much on the same page when it comes to the convert’em and drop’em mentality. That is, we are weary of those who want to focus on salvation as merely a means to the end of getting into heaven/escaping Hell. Clearly, the New Testament witness stresses much more when it comes to salvation. I think that most people who read this blog – even those of a more conservative persuasion – can fully agree with me on this. Salvation is both already and not yet. It is both future-oriented and present tense. As Paul says, we must continually work out our salvation, i.e., we can’t just say a prayer and be done with it.

Our interim pastor, Dr. Joe Loughlin touched on this topic last Sunday morning, and he said it well. One of the biggest failures of the last few decades in the evangelical tradition has been the overemphasis of salvation as being “salvation from Hell.” Now, to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with salvation from Hell, but salvation from Hell is merely one of the many, many facets of the bigger picture of salvation that we find in the New Testament, let alone the Old Testament. Again, I am quite sure that everyone who reads this blog would agree with this argument.

Now, we in the new generation of Christianity in America have to learn from this mistake. I am convinced, that aside from a few dying circles, we are currently getting over this stage in our history. We are beginning to realize that Christianity, that salvation means nothing apart from discipleship. Christianity means nothing without actually following Jesus. We can see this trend from a growing influx of books over the past few years emphasizing discipleship, one of the most prominent being Dallas Willard’s The Great Omission.

What I have to be careful of, though, is to stay away from the pendulum swing mentality. It’s so easy for me to see the harm that has been done in the church because of an unhealthy over-emphasis on the future kingdom of God – Heaven. Clearly, we have seen that the church has misled so many to believe that they can say the sinner’s prayer and receive their fire-insurance without any form of discipleship. We cannot as a church, though, completely abandon our belief in the eschatological kingdom (final, last things, “end times” – not in the Left Behind sense). If we abandon such belief, we lose our future-oriented hope in the gospel.

I must confess, it has been easy for me to turn from the fundamentalist emphasis on salvation from Hell, and turn to an over-emphasis on the Kingdom of God as here and now.

I have come to realize that we must live in the tension between the already and not yet. Not merely because the tension between the already and not yet is doctrinally sound. But, because the tension between the already and not yet keeps our practice of Christianity in a healthy balance.

Dr Joe said it well: Anytime we over-emphasize anything, we risk endangering the message of the gospel. We should learn this from our recent mistake of over-emphasizing salvation from Hell.

On the other side of the coin, if we look back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, we can learn from the mistakes of classical liberalism. Friedrich Schleiermacher was a leader in this movement who over-emphasized the kingdom as here and now, and he believed that humankind could bring about God’s kingdom on earth. This manifested itself in Socialism, and long story short – World War I happened. Moral of the story: neither an unhealthy focus on the here and now, nor an unhealthy focus on the not yet is helpful.

We must live in the tension, painful as it may be.

We must realize that we as humans are still humans. We cannot, aside from an act of God, bring about God’s kingdom on earth. Likewise, we cannot take an escapist attitude and simply ‘wait for Heaven.’

A healthy tension between already and not yet is important for Christian life and practice. To be sure, salvation effects our lives to the very core at this moment in time. It changes us now and forevermore. And to be sure, because of our salvation, we have a hope that God himself will redeem all things. Thus, we have a hope that we can work for change and that God is active in history. We also have a hope that someday all will be made right, and there will be no more tears, or crying, or pain.

May we live in the tension. May we live with hope for the future. May we live with conviction in the now. May we follow the Christ who is peace and justice and salvation!

I apologize for the over-use of italics.