REDUCTIONIST SALVATIONBefore looking at Paul’s wider view of salvation, we will look at the consequences of a truncated or reductionist view of salvation. Truncated and reductionist mean to reduce something down to be less than what it really is.
Because in our modern evangelical view of faith, we have opted for a very individualistic view of salvation, it has produced a lot of very negative consequences in our communities. These are many, and we will try to list just a few here.
Earthlessness is not our Destiny
First, it means that we believe heaven is our destiny. This produces a very negative view towards the earth, which we justify by misinterpretations from the scripture. We believe God has no purpose for this world and will destroy it. We believe the earth has no renewed eternal purpose.
One consequence of this is that we evangelicals can be among the most non-conservationist people on the planet. We don’t have to talk about controversial matters, such as whether global-warming is a reality, or what may be its causes. Aside from that, there are key issues related to the conservation of our natural environment. It’s not just about conserving our biosphere, but it involves other very important issues.
These include, how do we view the world? Is it there to be spent on our personal desires, to be consumed for our personal interests? Is it there for commercial empires to exploit, for the competing interest of our global corporations, economies and nations? These matters bring up questions that go to the very centre of what human life is all about.
That is, do we have a privatised view of the world in which we live? This goes back to how we interpret the message of God in scripture. For example, when we see in Genesis 1 that God made man in his image, how do we read this? Do we see that as referring to our self, or to mankind in general? Is it referring to the community of the human family?
We have built up a theology over the years that allows us to put aside the people in humanity that we regard as fallen, who are not part of our denomination, or for some other reason we don’t agree with. Then we can go about our lives as individuals, using the creation from a mainly privatised viewpoint. When we speak of humanity as a wider community, we call that compromise, antichrist, or humanism.
But all this is to cover over a self-centred view of the world. We can go on exploiting the world, rather than seeing it as part of our community, something to be cared for by us, and something to be lived in on a shared basis, on the principles of a wider justice for all people. So, our convictions about our use of the earth in which we live don’t really stem from godliness, but from a privatised self-centeredness. This was the state of the Pharisees, when Jesus approached them about their supposed private holiness.
Colluding with Injustice
We have invented an eschatology that isn’t Pauline, to cover up our individualism and injustice in the world. Seeing end-times as a destruction of our enemies, as we “fly away” in a rapture to heaven, covers up a selfish individualism that allows us to deny justice to a greater majority of people in the world.
This cancer in evangelical theology in recent years, has spread to far fields through our missions and books. It has produced a gospel of uncaring individualism. The majority of the world can go on suffering, as we call it the judgment of God, and as we replace the clear teachings of Jesus with a gospel of national preservation and self-interest. This has come to the fore in recent fascist style politics, that has been strongly supported by evangelicals, putting hope in military, rather than in helping the poor and refugee. Isaiah said the latter brings peace.
Our shrunken perspective has blinded us to our national politics and economics that has placed millions of lives in harm’s way, and we have colluded with such injustice because it serves our own interest. Things like rampant corporate profits amongst the poorest people, illegal deposits from poorer nations held in European bank, crippling debt and interest payments by the poorest people in the world, buying up resources cheaply from poor nations, speculative investments raising prices, all go on year after year without us blinking. Rather, we profit from the loss of others. The Old Testament prophets would never have been quiet in such conditions.
Salvation – People of Justice
The early church did not see salvation this way. They saw themselves as one family, bringing justice to each other through mercy, across empire and national borders. They sat at one table, refusing to be divided by the world of their day. The early church was explicit, “Don’t join this empire of exploitation of the poor, but come together in one baptism as one family, from all racial and economic backgrounds, and support each other, not counting what you have as your own.” Living otherwise denies our baptism.
Ours is the same eschatology that Jesus corrected during his ministry. When the Jews looked for the destruction of Gog and Magog, the Samaritans, sinners, and Romans, to make Israel great again, Jesus instead called the Jews to serve those people. To Jesus, this was holiness, this was the way in which his kingdom comes to the world, even if we suffered in bringing it about. To Jesus, our suffering for the world is more important than our using the world for our desires. To Jesus, this is life. “Life does not consist in the abundance of the things we possess.”
Our view of creation must change, from something to be used for our individual desires, and then cast aside. It must change from seeing the world as something to be exploited and consumed. We must move from a covetous view of creation, from a private consumerist model of life, to see the world we live in as a community. The biosphere is part of a community, to be cared for. And it is to be used responsibly to produce justice for all the world’s people, and not competitively for those in control.
God is a renewing God. We live in a throwaway society. Relationships, people, enemies, foreigners, the poor, sick, sinners, members in bad standing, plastic, resources, are very easy for us to use and then throw away. We have become used to it. What we throw away pollutes the world, including throwing away bitter relationships. We believe one day we will throw away the earth itself. God renews our lives, even his enemies. He renews the creation. We need to embrace renewables, in resources and in relationships, in character with our Heavenly Father.
Idolatry Destroys Creation
Our view of salvation, in so far as it focuses on the individual, fails in the specific intention of the gospel. It fails to nip in the bud the whole problem with fallen creation, that is, our idolatry. In as much as self is still central, another god is central.
To bring God back into centrality, then it must be the God we see in Jesus Christ, in his selfless incarnation and cross. This is Paul’s focus in Philippians 2. We are to have the mind of Christ, which he had towards this world and towards his enemy. He didn’t put himself first, but instead he suffered to serve everybody else. This deals with our idolatry, healing our community and creation.
This is the reason our view of salvation is so unable to meet the challenges of our day. We are up against terrorists that have adopted a worldview that encompasses all parts of their life, that even means the laying down of their own lives. In our popular view of Christianity, we are utterly unable to face such a threat. We don’t face it with opposite violence, but with a restored worldview.
Our restored worldview means that our faith extends beyond the borders of our suburban home and our family unit. Our faith must be equally self-giving, but this time for the common good, not for the common destruction. We must regain the cross and the view of faith that Jesus passed onto us, a faith that encompasses our whole social, economic and political lives, where we serve in self-giving.
Our view of salvation has often ignored the main teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. Jesus taught a holistic salvation, not individualism. He focused on our whole community. We have often said Jesus wasn’t teaching the gospel, but was speaking about other matters, maybe a kind of “preevangelism” law, to ready the Jews for “Paul’s faith message.” First, we have misconstrued Paul, and then used him to misconstrue Jesus, just to maintain our individualism.
But Jesus spoke of a community being spearheaded and developed by the church, as the expression of the kingdom of God in the world. This would necessitate a complete reorientation, in which we lay down our own lives, and take up our cross, to put the interests of others first. This is what the scriptures call “redemptive living”. It means self-giving, that draws in the sinners and enemies through a service community. This way of life demonstrates the gospel, in actual living, and opens the opportunity of renewal to our enemies.
Jesus spoke of a salvation that builds community and is redemptive towards enemies, building bridges to offer a regrafting of others back into the kingdom of God. This whole emphasis of the gospel intention is completely lost in an individualistic view of salvation. Salvation is about the whole community. It is about a redemptive life style towards the outcasts, that sees enemies as potential community members and inheritors of the salvation plan. Salvation is learning an inclusive, nonselfish, lifestyle. It is retraining our heart towards a renewed world, where self isn’t first.
Ok. So, if salvation is not simply private, but includes the wider world in which live, how did Paul view salvation in his letters to the churches?