Friday, July 08, 2005

The Problem with Salvation

Yesterday I found myself in the middle of the Nashville Cohort Meeting at Flying Saucer. During the course of an hour or so, we transformed a back billiard room into a scared space as we discussed both the eternal and existential aspects of that scary Christian word: salvation.

Being emergent types, we had more of a “here and now” application to the idea of salvation, and did not hold it as an exclusively “then and there” type of event or process or phenomenon. Of the 8 men gathered there (Lynnette was there in spirit and got the ball rolling with her previous post), we did not speak as scholars or rote theologians. We didn’t even speak as pastors. We spoke as individuals profoundly affected by the grace of God. We knew that our lives had been changed and that we lived differently because of some action we received and in which we participated. We believed in that experience enough to talk about it, which is a great first step.

As good discussions do, we left with more questions than answers. We struggled with issues of justice, inclusivity, evangelism, math, Scripture, and the eternal. But I was comforted by the words of a Buddhist I met in Cambridge: “Nothing great theologically comes without struggle.”

What is this problem then with salvation? Is it a definition problem, one of mere words and prepositions that will have us wrangling over what we are saved from, to, by, because of, with, or for? Is it an ontological problem, one that leaves our minds grappling over how this salvation exists, whether it happens in an instant, whether it happens for eternity, or what forms it takes either in the present or in the forever? Is it an epistemological problem, one that makes each person wonder if their experience was real, if their assurance is justified, and well, whether or not it all makes sense? Or is it a different kind of problem entirely, one that no one has yet thought about, but will inevitably hit someone in the worst possible moment, like the night before a big test, or the day before a wedding, leaving us shaking and sweating, and wondering if we said the prayer right, if our baptism counted, and if Jesus was even paying attention during all of this or instead was out bowling with the disciples?

We can do word studies, we can read Scripture, and we can debate intent, cause and result. But, yesterday, I saw the reality of salvation. It was a reality that brought people together from different walks of life, and different theological backgrounds to drink some beer and eat some chicken fingers. And it was in the middle of a setting like that years ago that Jesus stepped in and said: “He or she who believes has everlasting life. (John 6:47)”

Some walked away and grumbled to themselves, and some walked away and believed. (John 10)


Bob Donnelly said...

maybe if we looked at salvation as a spiritually dead person receiving spiritual life? Maybe that spiritual life is the ability to know God personally/intimately rather than just know 'about' God.

maybe the issue of salvation isn't, in large part, focused on the future (heaven/hell) but on our present personal relationship with Jesus that will continue apart from this world.


Phil said...

I really enjoyed the dialogue last week and the ability to get together across denominational lines and talk about a very important subject.

It was a good conversation and I'm looking forward to getting to know the Cohort better and maybe talking a bit less than I did.

Matthew said...

It was great to talk to those who made it. Phil, I would like to say I look forward to talking less too, but who am I kidding?
I liked Dixon's open set handout. It's one thing to say we are saved eternally, it is another to live into the reality of that salvation- "We who are being saved", coming to an ever emerging awareness of how knowing and following Christ saves us from meaningless, and saves us for a life in service to the ever-coming kingdom.

Phil said...

Lends more credence to Paul in Philippians talking about "working out our salvation."

I would quibble about the ever-coming Kingdom idea. I would just say that it's present and still coming. Now and not yet.

But that's just me.

Matthew said...

By ever-coming I was trying to name that dynamic of now/not yet, or the 'kingdom come near'. It is a reality that continues to come to us in the work of the Holy Spirit among and through us. Just as our salvation comes to us every day, so do our opportunities to see and participate in the kingdom as it comes.

Phil said...

I gotcha. Thanks for the clarification.

NLock said...

Do you think people tend to put human limits on God's Devine infinite grace by putting starting and stopping points on salvation? And do we worry about it too much?

Matthew 10
29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father's will.
30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.
31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Thomas+ said...

Hey all,

I am sorry I was not able to join you at our last gathering, I was on vacation con mi familia.

Since I already know everything about salavation, 'cause its in the Bible and all you got to do is look it up, it doesn't seem like I missed anything.


See you next time.


Lars said...

Maybe we can safely say that "there is none other name under heaven,given among men, whereby we must be saved" because that is God's own definition.What do we do with Jesus Christ in our minds and hearts is the issue. N'est Pas?