Blogmatics: Salvation

blogmatics2

This is the ninth part of a series I’m calling Blogmatics. It’s an attempt on my part to lay out as best I can in as brief a manner as I can all the theological assumptions behind my blog posts.

 

A couple of weeks ago in my post on what I believe God can and cannot do, I mentioned a scene from the book The Last Battle.

If you recall, in the scene a group of dwarfs are huddled together on the ground in the new Narnia, but they don’t realize it. They are convinced they are still trapped in a dark, dirty barn in the old Narnia. Even when Aslan tries to help them see the reality of where they sit by bestowing a succulent feast on their laps, they are unable to enjoy it for what it really is.

With just a bit of tweaking, I think C.S. Lewis provides a wonderful illustration of my understanding of salvation.

Salvation is, of course, at the heart of the Christian faith. It is the good news of the gospel. And yet the church has long wrestled with not only what all salvation entails (other than a trip to heaven), but how exactly we are saved in the first place.

Yes, Jesus is the one that saves us, but how exactly does that saving work occur and what he is saving us from and what are we to do once we have been saved?

Throughout the centuries many theories have been put forth to explain how Jesus saves us, or atones for our sins. Each has their strengths and weaknesses. Though some have mistakingly come to believe that one or another atonement theory, usually substitution or ransom, is the orthodox theory of the atonement and any rejection of said chosen theory is a rejection of Christ himself. This is, of course, not true. The church, for at least as long as there was just the church and not 40,000+ churches, has never affirmed any particular atonement theory over and against all the rest.

Why?

Because the Bible uses multiple metaphors to describe salvation and the reason it does so is that ultimately the precise mechanisms of the atonement are a mystery.

So, even though I prefer the model I’m going to describe, it is no more definitive than any other. However, I do believe it captures the core essence of Christ’s atoning work and the purpose of that work, while avoiding some of the pitfalls of traditional atonement theories.

So how do I believe we are saved?

I think that humanity finds, or at least found, itself in a position much like the Narnian dwarfs in C.S. Lewis’ famous work. We are deceived by the delusion that we can be gods of our own lives, but rather than freely ruling over creation we find ourselves bound by our pride and idolatrous visions of lordship. Christ, then, comes to set us free from this prison of our own creation.

How?

Through an act of worship.

What I believe we witness on the cross is a doxological response to our idolatry. I believe that in emptying himself,

“he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

It was this act of worship that restored creation to its proper order. By refusing the temptation to grasp at divinity, the temptation Adam couldn’t resist, Jesus placed humanity back where we belong at the feet of our Creator. Whereas the old Adam tried to steal life away from God and found only death, the new Adam freely gave himself up to death, so that all might live.

In rejecting the idolatry of Adam and Eve, Jesus liberates us from the only thing we were capable of creating for ourselves – a prison of death. So, when we walk out of the tomb with him into the resurrected life and turn to see our jailer, it is not Satan we behold, nor is it a blood thirsty Father.

When we look at the face of our jailer we see ourselves.

That is to say, Christ came to free us from us.

From our idolatrous self-love, our pride, our hate, and the self-centered path that leads to destruction.

We demanded a ransom, a tribute to our delusional glory and Christ paid it the only way such an idolatrous ransom could be paid – with a doxological sacrifice. In so doing, Christ confronted us with the reality of our sin, that in seeking to place ourselves on the heavenly throne we were in fact seeking to destroy God. But in giving himself up to death, rather than fighting back to save himself, the incarnate God met our idolatry with love and conquered our self-imposed sentence of death by giving us his life.

As followers of Christ, set free from our idolatrous prisons of death, we are called to embody this same sort of doxological sacrifice. We are called to a life of worship embodied in our sacrificial love for others. This is why we have been saved. So that as the body of Christ we might participate in God’s atoning work in the world, as God works through us to reconcile all of creation back to its Creator.

It is not that our sacrificial love is salvific in the same way Jesus’ once for all act of sacrificial love granted salvation to all of creation. It’s that our sacrificial love is an incarnate witness to the good news of the gospel, that in shining that light to the world “they may see [our] good deeds and glorify [our] Father in heaven.”

In other words, salvation is not simply about a confession of faith or a moment of intellectual assent. Our salvation is a call to live a life of sacrificial love for others. That is our true confession of faith.

This does not mean that we are saved through works. But neither does it mean we are saved by our faith alone. It’s not our faith in Jesus that saves us. It’s the faithfulness of Jesus to the will of the Father that saves us. If it were our faith alone, our simple confession to intellectual assent that forced the hand of God to save us from death, we would be back in the very same position of delusional idolatrous control that Jesus came to atone.

Finally, and perhaps most important of all, regardless of exactly how we are saved I believe this gift of salvation from death has been extended to all.

Not only does it strike me as utterly incoherent to claim that God has predestined but a few for salvation when the New Testament makes it abundantly clear that Christ died once for all and that God so loved the world, not a part of it, but such a God who would create some for salvation and some for death (and no matter what ridiculous mental gymnastics you want to try if God predestines those who will be saved God necessarily predestines those who will be condemned), that sort of God is utterly abhorrent, totally perverse, absolutely contradictory to the radically inclusive nature of Jesus, and altogether unworthy of worship.

Either Christ died for all, that all might have life, or the news of the gospel is that Christ died that we might have privilege, exclusion, and death and have them more abundantly.

 

Grace and peace,

Zack Hunt

 

*For a more thorough treatment of my understanding of the atonement, as well as what I believe occurred on the cross, you can check out my master’s thesis - Idolatry and Doxology: A Reexamination of the Cry of Dereliction Through a Trinitarian Ontology of Relationship. Just be kind. I wrote it many years ago when I was wee little theologian in training. :)

  • Joshua Shope

    Interesting that you talk about the Narnian dwarf part and not the scene at the very end where the servant of Tash finds out he’s been serving Aslan the whole time. The salvation implications in that part really got to me when I read it when I was younger.

    • ZackHunt

      Oh yeah, I loved that scene too. Honestly didn’t think about or I might have included it. On the other hand, that opens up a whole other can of worms that would require a whole other post or ten.

      That’s the catch with the series. There’s only so much space and so much I can cover in one post without making it more unbearably long that it already it. But you’re right. That’s a great scene that would make a good addendum to this post.

      • http://nebraskabolt.wordpress.com/ revgregbolt

        I once wrote a blog post entitled, “CS Lewis is Better Than God” in reference to his treatment of the Creation of Narnia in The Magician’s Nephew.

        I, too, have used that scene from the Last Battle as an explanation or/for heaven/salvation.

        I’m glad I’m not the only one and you fleshed it out in much greater detail.

        thanks

  • http://beingperfectlyhuman.blogspot.com/ Eric Fry

    I really enjoyed this post, Zack. Atonement theory is a great topic where we should be able to enjoy Christian intellectual freedom to place weight to each theory as we see fit, not make it a point of doctrine to identify the in-group.

    I had a feeling you would be going this direction after reading the Sin post. I think this Christus Iconoclast thought lines up well with the Christus Victor. It certainly appeals to my CoC/DoC sensibilities.

    Thanks for doing this series, and for inspiring me to learn more about the Nazarenes!

  • Seth Gleaves

    I tend to agree with your ideas here. I would probably be called a heretic in my own denomination as I reject the reformed view of imputed righteousness. You pointed out very nicely that is was Christ’s faithfulness to God’s will, and I am far more secure in Christ’s blood bringing atonement as a sacrifice to bring the opportunity for salvation. By righteousness, meaning faithfulness to God’s promise (or plainly said God doing what he said He would do), by Christ’s death we are accepted as righteous to be given the opportunity to be given atonement. Without the cross, we are still considered unrighteous as a people group, just as the Jews would be considered righteous of God’s revelation. So then, as Arminius once stated, it’s the imputation of faith and not moral status that brings us to a saving knowledge.
    Also, the reformed view points to salvation as an event and not a process, which is dangerous and unbiblical. Sanctification should never be separated from justification. Or if you’d prefer to say, without one you cannot have the other. It isn’t possible to loose your sanctification without loosing your justification, and visa versa.
    Zack, I’d like to hear your thoughts on the theology of imputed righteousness.

  • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

    I have a question when you have a moment, Zach. I very much enjoyed and largely agreed with this post and the last one I read, which was about sin. I, too, don’t think that the idea of the cross being little more than a credit-card transaction paid to a bloodthirsty God has much biblical support. It is far more complex than that, and I agree with you that the ultimate “bad guys” in the overall story of salvation is not God, not even Satan, but ourselves.

    However, if sin is to be primarily defined as idolatry, then wouldn’t it then mean that very devout Jews or followers of other faiths would not be found guilty? Even if their conception of the divine is not entirely correct, they still are not propping themselves up as God, but are instead submitting themselves to what they understand God to be. Paul apparently saw such religiosity among the Athenians in Acts 17, but considered it insufficient, concluding that, “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.”

    This relates, I believe, to the Emeth character that C.S. Lewis created for “The Last Battle” and which another commenter has already brought up. And, I understand it doesn’t have a particularly short or easy answer. But I’d be very interested in your thoughts or those of anyone else reading this.

    • http://nebraskabolt.wordpress.com/ revgregbolt

      Karl Barth takes on Calvin’s doctrine of predestination holding Christ as the last reprobate. Christ died for all, whether they like it or not. So for Barth all other religions/expressions of faith were false and it was Jesus who saves. Then would fall in line with Emeth realizing he had always served Aslan.

    • ZackHunt

      Good question.

      I would say no. My concern with idolatry is how we replace god with ourselves. I’m less concerned with the traditional sort idolatry that we might associate with worship idols/graven images or other religions. So I would argue that devote Jews, etc. are not setting themselves up as god simply because they have a different faith. I would also be hesitant to put too much weight in one verse, as we could take Peter’s vision of the sheet of unclean animals and make an opposite argument that god is more inclusive than in the past.

      All that to say, the sort of idolatry I’m talking about is a self centered life. If, like Emeth, someone outside the Christian faith lives the sort of selfless live we would call Christian but does it in the name of another religion I wouldn’t want to call that idolatry. I would call it prevenient grace.

      Anyway, good question and I’m sorry it took me a day to get back with you. Crazy busy day yesterday.

      • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

        Oh, OK, I see where you’re coming from now. Thanks a lot for the reply, and no worries about the “huge delay” of a whole day before you responded. :) I’m sure you’re very busy, and responding to blog comments is not the preeminent, No. 1 priority for most people, nor should it be!

        Best,
        Tyler

  • Steven Harrell

    Zack-

    Love it! I’ve followed your blog/twitter for awhile and have really enjoyed reading your thoughts.

    Quick question of clarification (which is not at all meant to be a “gotcha!” or a trap or anything like that): Do you consider yourself to be a Christian Universalist? Is there a traditional Nazarene position on Christian Universalism?

    I wouldn’t normally ask, as the word “universalist” seems to be the lowest of theological slurs in some traditions, and especially in internet comments, but these two lines stuck out to me: “It’s not our faith in Jesus that saves us. It’s the faithfulness of Jesus to the will of the Father that saves us” and “I believe this gift of salvation from death has been extended to all.”

    Just curious. Thanks!

    • ZackHunt

      Man, you guys are hammering me on the universalism stuff. :)

      Seriously, it’s a good question.

      Long story short, I don’t consider myself a universalist, nor would that have a place in the Nazarene tradition. At least I don’t consider myself one in the sense that I think everyone will be saved. Personally, I take Jesus at his word that some will be raised to life and others won’t, not because of a vindictive God, but because God granted us free will and some will choose to reject God’s offer of grace/call to live a life of love for others.

      That said, I do believe that we will get to heaven and meet people there we didn’t expect to see. But I believe their salvation will have occurred through the work and person of Jesus whether, once again like Emeth, they realize it or not.

      And thanks for following the blog, I really appreciate it!

      • Steven Harrell

        Christian Universalism — It’s so Hot Right Now.

        Seriously, thanks for the reply. I didn’t think that you were implying CU, but clarification is always fun. I consider myself to be, at the very least, a hopeful universalist, so I’m always looking for hidden friends on my “team”. CHEERS!

  • http://www.lifeofcuriosity.com Cara

    Very interesting post. I have been thinking a lot about atonement theory lately, and this idea that “we demanded a ransom” immediately struck me as both true and profound.

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