Hamilton does a great job expressing the relationship between the social and evangelical gospel as the total mission of the church never to be separated from one another. Great stuff. Reflections to come…
So the other my New Testament professor pointed out a text from Paul used in both Romans and Galatians. In Greek it is Pistis Christeou. Translated it is “Faith Christ.” Now the debate is whether this text refers to “faith in Christ” or “faith of Christ.” And the implications of the translation could be very meaningful to the text and its interpretation. “Faith in Christ” refers to the traditional Xhristocentric claim that salvation comes through belief in Christ alone. But if one translates the phrase to mean “faith of Christ” then universalist claims could be given more validity. In other words, if we are justified by the faith of Christ then is that exclusive for Christians alone or for everyone? And what is the nature of our understanding of salvation? I will say that I don’t know and don’t have a clear stand on either option. The discussion served to raise more questions for me than answers. But it did make me reflect on a couple ideas:
- What is salvation? For Paul it definitely was not “going to heaven when you die” as we have come to understand it. Throughout his letters he argues that salvation is inclusion in the community of saints and the inclusion into God’s holy community (i.e. the Church). There was a definite tension for the communities Paul writes to. Some are too focused on the “already” aspect of the Kingdom of God and are not living holy lives as examples of this faith (remember that Faith = obedience for Paul). Some were so focused on the “not yet” aspect they were fearful of what would happen to them and their loved ones who died before Jesus’ return that they retreated from community life and stopped living as examples. But there are not really texts we can point to for Paul that define salvation totally as the notion of one’s going to heaven when they die.
- Why are we so threatened as evangelicals (or orthodox) if Paul does not make exclusive claim to salvation meaning one’s going to heaven? I fear that for too long we in the church and as Evangelicals have used this notion of heaven=eternal reward and hell=eternal punishment as a bullying tool to manipulate people into a one-time experience of “being saved.” Now I know I am breaking from tradition-especially the one I grew up in as a United Methodist in the South. But I am beginning to think we have really missed the mark by stressing such notions and especially by neglecting to stress other and more important notions pertaining to salvation. Salvation means life with God right now and that life is lived out in community. This life is required (not merely suggested) to be lived seeking and working to bring the Kingdom of God to earth through holy living where we seek to edify one another with the love of Jesus Christ. This notion of limiting salvation to ONLY mean where one might spend eternal life has, I’m afraid, given Christians the permission to be soft on issues of justice and righteousness right here in THIS LIFE. We turn a blind eye when injustice happens because, after all, at least we know where we are going. We turn a deaf ear to issues of life or death for others because, after all, we are banking on being swept up in the “by and by” before things get too bad-mainly because of a bad reading of Revelation either by ourselves or Tim LaHaye.
- Does salvation “happen” when we “accept” it or “ask God” for it? I have a real hard time with this idea of the transactional nature of salvation. I would love to think I can simply ask God and he grant me something as large as my salvation. But then we are reminded that it is but for the GRACE OF GOD that are included in God’s holy community. When Christ died he died for ALL of us then, before, and those to come after (which is us). This inclusion comes to ALL-and even us. We can’t limit it nor can we act as gatekeepers to the Kingdom. And thank God because I’m not sure if I get in if anyone other than God is gatekeeper.
I know for some this may anger you that a self-avowed Evangelical Christian writes such things that go against the very tradition of Evangelicalism. I know for others you may be glad to hear that maybe I think a more universalist notion of salvation is in order-well don’t put me over there either. I wonder if the real answer here is the non-answer? Maybe the beauty of this particular debate is that we aren’t the ones who have to give the answers? Maybe we shouldn’t worry about the after-life nearly as much as we always have. And if that’s the case, then what does that mean for how we live the life we have RIGHT NOW???