This is the subtitle of the “Salvation Today” Lent series cooked up by my local Uniting Church colleagues and myself. I did promise some context for yesterday’s “Saving puppies from a runaway train” conundrum.
In the wake of the visit of evolutionary theologian, Bruce Sanguin, we pondered the meaning of “salvation”, a word more often associated with the big top revival mission scene than its original biblical context. Such pondering led to the suggestion of a three part series:
- Karen would get us reflecting on a historical survey from Augustine to Borg.
- I would look at some contemporary cultural understandings, particularly the interplay between determinism and free will.
- Neville would project us from the present into the future, reflecting on the “salvation of the human race.”
So here’s a summary of Part One – the historical survey.
Salvation in the bible has to do with collective wholeness, health, well-being, integrity, completeness.
The New Testament is witness to the announcement of salvation in terms of the “kingdom of God”, announced by Jesus of Nazareth, demonstrated in his life, death and resurrection, and inherited by those who adopt the way he has shown.
Cultural and historical movements within and beyond the church that followed have coloured our understanding of the meaning and living of “salvation.”
Augustine battled and defeated Pelagius, asserting divine over human initiative in this matter, leaving us the dominant legacy of the doctrine of “original sin” – the idea that there is nothing we can do for our own salvation since all are born in total depravity – a legacy of the fall of Adam and Eve.
Anselm’s “substitutionary atonement” view of the cross vies with Abelard’s “exemplary atonement” hypothesis. That is, Jesus died “in our place” to satisfy the demands of a just God versus Jesus’ death as an example of the length to which one imbued with the life of the Kingdom of God will spend itself, thus turning the nature of death on its head.
Followers of John Calvin have coloured salvation with a predestination outlook as opposed to Arminius’ view of the supremacy of free will.
So “salvation today” is seen in a multiplicity of ways – not just the cleansing of personal sin, but, equally, suggestive metaphors of liberation from captivity, blind receiving sight, healing of broken hearts, restoration of the poor.
I myself favour the word I often use as a sign off – the Hebrew word “Shalom” (“Salaam” in Arabic), meaning completeness in relationship with self, the other, the whole created universe, the Divine.