Thursday, February 21, 2008

saved? (iii)

Wright’s popular level book ‘Surprised by Hope’ was written to give a practical way of understanding what the Christian hope is. He dismisses the idea that salvation is simply about a concern for post-mortem destiny and expresses that Jesus’ primary mission was not about ‘saving souls for a disembodied eternity’ but rather to rescue people from evil in the present time so that they could ‘enjoy, already in the present, that renewal of creation which is God’s ultimate purpose… (Wright, 2007:204). Wright shares his dismay that much of Western Christianity sees salvation as primarily a personal thing between them and God.

The problem arises if ‘we see “salvation” in terms of “going to heaven when we die”, because the main work of the church is bound to be seen in terms of saving soul for that future’ This is a problem if it takes the emphasis off the Church’s much needed work within the present (Ibid. 209) Wright defines salvation as ‘being raised to life in God’s new heaven and earth’ (Ibid. 210). Wright’s understanding of the future bodily resurrection for all believers in Jesus is what he is alluding to in this section. Rather than righteous souls going up to heaven, the new Jerusalem will come down and be completely enjoined with earth to form a recreated and restored heavens and earth (see Revelation 21) and the physical bodily resurrection of all those who followed Jesus will occur as part of this recreation. Alongside this Wright believes that God’s future recreation act has already ‘broken in with the resurrection of Jesus’ meaning that ‘the future rescue which God had planned and promised was staring to come true in the present.’ This means the Church has the responsibility of rescuing people in a holistic way. ‘We are saved not as souls but as wholes.’ (Ibid. 211)

Wright believes that we are very often asking the wrong questions when discussing salvation. He sees how these questions will affect our understanding of the atonement itself. If we are concerned with how we escape hell despite all the wicked things we have done, then the answer will be ‘because Jesus has been punished in your place.’ If on the other hand we are concerned with how God’s ‘future purposes’ to recreate and restore the world will be carried out despite ‘human rebellion’ then the answer will be ‘because on the cross Jesus defeated the powers of evil which have enslaved rebel humans and so ensured continuing corruption’ (Ibid. 211-212).

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

saved? (ii)

The Hope of Israel and the World

We begin the critique by taking a look at the work of Church of England Bishop of Durham Dr. N.T. Wright, particularly his series of books under the sub-title ‘Christian Origins and the Question of God’. In volume one: ‘The New Testament and the People of God’, Wright goes to great lengths to argue that the question of salvation must be seen within the wider view of the hope of the nation of Israel. He states that in this context, the hope of Israel’s salvation is to do with their liberation from their ‘national enemies’ and for the ‘restoration of the Temple, and the free enjoyment of their own Land’ (Wright, 1992:300). Wright stresses that in 1st Century Jewish thought the idea of an individual’s salvation would come from their being a part of the ‘membership within Israel’. This ‘covenant membership in the present was the guarantee (more or less) of salvation in the future’ (Ibid. 334)

In volume two of the series: ‘Jesus and the Victory of God’, Wright sharpens up this argument by focusing on how Israel’s hope of salvation is brought to a climax with the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The hope of salvation according to Wright comes under Jesus’ proclamation that the Kingdom of God is now here. When Israel’s ‘god becomes king, the whole world… would at last be put to rights’ (Ibid, 203). Wright makes it very clear that Jesus believed himself to be the means in which God would become King over Israel and thus would bring redemption and liberation to the nation. The climax of this vocation, of course, is found within the crucifixion of Jesus and the strange consequences it entails (Ibid, 594). We must not miss the crucial point that as well as declaring that the time for God to restore Israel had come, Jesus was also declaring Judgment upon Israel. Wright believes this to be because of Israel’s failure to live faithfully as the ‘covenant membership’ in relation to God, ‘for their failure to be the light of the world’ (Ibid, 608). Paradoxically Jesus’ vocation meant that he would take the fate that was lying in store for Israel upon himself. In doing so he would be bringing about the victory over what, Wright calls, the ‘real enemy’, the satan. Through the death of Jesus, God would go beyond simply defeating the pagan oppressor of the time (Rome) but would in fact defeat evil in its entirety, including the quasi-personal powers that opposed God and therefore bringing liberation not just to Israel but to the whole world (Ibid, 608-609).

Thursday, February 14, 2008

saved?

I'm going to be dropping off sections of my dissertation on to this blog. Here's the first few paragraphs of it (which will actually make up the 3rd chapter):

Much has been said both inside and outside the Church about this particular doctrine [salvation]. Many books have been written explaining detailed theories of how one is saved, why this is the case and what the consequences are of this. There are of course various disagreements as to how one actually is saved. Calvinists believe that God has already foreordained an elect group of people to save and has likewise foreordained those outside this election to eternal wrath and judgment. The Armenian would of course disagree with this and would state that salvation is subject to the freewill of the one who is presented with the gospel message. The receiver of the gospel has the option to accept or reject salvation.

On the theme of how one is saved certain denominations stress the importance of the full-immersion baptism of a believer in order to secure their status of being saved. If one is not literally baptised then one is merely a nominal believer and not a fully saved Christian (this view is particularly prevalent in certain strands of the charismatic movements). Others believe that infant baptism is enough; others say that a conscious decision and knowledge of the ‘baptisee’ needs to be in place; others again (the term is Universalist) believe that everyone whether they have accepted the gospel or not, will finally be ushered into the Kingdom of God, saved by God’s grace and love which will conquer all hard-heartedness and resistance.

It is important to state that much of mainstream Christianity appears to have a very narrow scope of the Soteriology doctrine often reducing it to concerns about post-mortem destiny (what happens when after death and where do I go). If you were to talk to most Christians, either young or old, and ask them what it means to be saved, you will most likely get a reply that says to be saved means that ‘I will go to heaven when I die’. It appears that for many people salvation is the ticket that has bought them out of hell. They were once heading for torture and damnation but thankfully Jesus has done something on the cross that has reversed all this.

We need to ask the question: Is this really what salvation is all about?