As Holy Week approaches, it is good to contemplate the core doctrines of our tradition, especially atonement. The three categories linked by the classic formula: salvation by grace through faith are abslutely central. The formula of salvation is complex and rich. I am wondering what to make of each of those terms we say so often their meaning can get rubbed off like the face of coin.
What is salvation anyway? I grew up in a church where it was understood as a legal term. It meant essentially the commutation of a justly deserved sentence.
In seminary, I learned that the Greek sourse of the word in the NT is actually a medical term. It is closer to cure of an illness, but more than that it signifies wholeness and fulfillment.
Throughout all this time there was a joke about a bank advertisment "Jesus saves at 1st National Bank of Tyler." Funny but maybe not that far off base. I've just noticed that the financial metaphor could say something theological. "Jesus saves" could mean he keeps us to himself, reserves us in love, preserves us in love, rather than spending us for some secret cosmic project. That idea repudiates the "God's secret plan" theology that so enraged Ivan Karmazov.
Somewhere along the line, I leaned that Richard Hooker (not so far from Calvin on this point) used "salvation" as an umbrella term for three processes: justification, sanctification, and union. And that the normative spiritual course was understood in the Middle Ages as purgation, illumination, union.
Within all that abstraction runs personal memory. I remember being in despair and having that despair cut through by the prayer, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for we have been born a new to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." But I know salvation is more than that. It isn't just a lifting of my individual spirit. It is not for those who have the right experience. It is, as Paul said, the redemption of the cosmos.
So what does "salvation mean to you" this Year of Our Lord 2009 as Holy Week draws near?