Thursday, February 09, 2006

Saved from What?

Marty asks the logical question: saved from what? What is this "salvation" all about? From what are we saved and to what point and purpose, if any?
I grew up in the Bible belt in the midst of the "I found It" bumper sticker craze of the 1970s. "It" meant a personal relationship with Jesus, and "it" was clearly crucial to one's personal salvation. "It" was what saved one from a life of alienation from God and an eternity of hellish alienation. More to the point, "it" was what saved you from the wrath of God. Indeed, there's a book out called Saved From What by a conservative evangelical that argues precisely that humankind needs to be saved from God.
The image of a wrathful God is ancient, and certainly has Biblical roots. The word "wrath" shows up hundreds of times in scripture, and is certainly the subject of much artwork as Cain Fleeing the Wrath of God illustrates. Among my favorites is Exodus 32, where Moses talks God back from the brink of a wrathful destruction of the golden-calf worshipping people. Perhaps the most famous English-language example of wrath-of-God theology is in Jonathan Edwards' Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. That one will send shivers down your spine.
It should come as no surprise that I don't see it this way, but it's important to acknowledge how common such theology is, even when it comes in a "kinder and gentler" version of a wrathful God who calls his (and this God is always masculine) followers to hate the sin but not the sinner. I actually prefer the old one, whose hate was right out there!
Well, no. But anyway, as is often the case, I find John Hall's work helpful here. In Why Christian?, he asks, "Do you know (most people don't, I find) that the word at the center of this whole discussion, 'salvation,' comes directly from the Latin word for 'health' -- salus? It means to be whole, to be integrated. You may think, for instance, of the way that Jesus in the Gospels, in healing someone of some debilitating illness, tells them, 'Be whole.' ... All that kind of thing lies behind the word that we too often turn into something so 'spiritual,' religious, and 'otherwordly' that it betrays the most fundamental meaning of the word itself, which is a very earthy thing: the healing of persons, the reintegrating of divided selves, the reuniting of people with those from whom they are estranged, the equipping us for the kind of life our Creator intended us to have. 'I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly.'"
Saved from what? From ourselves, I think.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Grace and Salvation

If you google "grace" you get about 95 million hits. If you google "salvation" you get about 20 million. I have no idea what the roughly 5 to 1 ratio of grace to salvation means.
But I was pondering these words yesterday after a couple of women came to our door peddling, I presume, salvation. I'm not certain of their pitch because I wasn't at home and my partner* was on the phone and didn't answer the door.
In any case, I'm sure most of you have, at one time or another, answered a similar knock and been asked, in one form or another, "have you been saved?"
I've seen variations on that theme become the center of debate at Presbytery meetings where the concern is not so much for the salvation of folks at the meeting -- after all, we Presbyterians are God's frozen-chosen. The question at such meetings usually arises during questions to candidates for ordination who will be asked something along the lines of "do you believe God saves all people?"
It's a trap, for universal salvation has been considered heresy according to orthodox Christian theology for roughly 1600 years. The orthodox position, crudely stated, is that Christ's death on the cross was the necessary atonement for the sins of humankind and trust/faith in that saving death is necassry to receive salvation.
Of course, as with most theological arguments, there is an orthodox tenet that undermines the orthodox position. In this case, the essential Reformed tenet of God's sovereignty. When one considers the Biblical witness that God desires communion with all of humankind on the one hand and the belief that God is sovereign -- God gets what God wants -- on the other, some form of universalism seems the logical conclusion. Don't try that on the floor of Presbytery, though, because pretty soon you'll get the Hitler question -- e.g., Do you believe Hitler was saved? Actually, Hitler is a great example, because he presumably had "accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior."
Ah, salvation theology ... a sticky wicket. What do you think?

*I'm using that term just to drive a little closer to the edge all those folks out there who have had a field day speculating about my sexuality in the months since my church's stand regarding weddings was in the news.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Happy Birthday Bonhoeffer

On the 100th anniversary of the great prophet, here are some links to Bonhoeffer including a link to a birthday reflection for seekers of peace and justice, info on a new documentary airing on PBS tomorrow, a link to the Bonhoeffer society, and the Barmen Declaration -- the statement of theological principles that guided the confessing church movement in Germany under Hitler. While Karl Barth wrote the declaration, Bonhoeffer was a central leader in the confessing church and the anniversary of his birth -- especially when it falls in a time of increasing confusion about ultimate authority and allegiance -- is a good time to reread Barmen. Happy Birthday Bonhoeffer.