Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Salvation (?) By Grace Through Faith

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?


The Rev. James Richardson said...

Hi Bishop Dan -- I took up your question over on my end of the blogosphere. Thanks for the spark!

Gary said...

I believe that traditional Christianity can be proven false in less than five minutes, simply by knocking out the three pillars of the Christian Faith (belief system):

1. The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus
2. The Accuracy of Old Testament Prophecy
3. The Witness of the Holy Spirit

And here is the evidence that destroys these three superstition-based claims:

1. Based on cumulative human experience, it is much more probable that the early Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus was due to one disciple’s bereavement hallucination (probably Simon Peter’s) than a once in history reanimation of a three-day-brain-dead corpse. Persons who experience hallucinations believe them to be real life experiences. If Paul was able to convince first century Jews in Asia Minor that he had seen a resurrected Jesus based on a “heavenly vision”, then Simon Peter was surely capable of convincing first century Jews (including the other disciples) in Palestine that he had seen the resurrected Jesus, even though his experience had really been an hallucination. The remainder of the “appearances” of Jesus listed in the Early Creed of First Corinthians 15 could simply have been static images (illusions) something we see today with alleged group sightings of the Virgin Mary. The Early Creed gives no details whatsoever of these appearances. The detailed appearances in the four Gospels may well be literary embellishments, very common in Greco-Roman biographies, the genre of literature in which most New Testament scholars, including many conservative Christian scholars, believe the authors of the Gospels were writing.

2. The Book of Daniel is a blatant fraud. The book very accurately portrays the events in the Greek Empire down to abstract minutia but makes major errors regarding the Babylonian and Persian empires, the empires during which the book’s author infers the book was written. Jesus quotes from this fraudulent book. Jesus, who was not a scholar, was fooled by the author. Modern scholars are not fooled.

3. The “witness of the Holy Spirit” is a joke. Christians can no more prove that the voice that allegedly speaks to them is their god than can the Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, Jews, and others prove that the voice that speaks to them is their god. Watch this powerful video for proof: