So, the semester has started and I taught my first class yesterday: Soteriology [the doctrine of salvation]. This is one of my very favorite classes to teach, because I think the gospel message really can be boiled down to two words: “Jesus saves”–but the problem is that the church hasn’t done a very good job of describing what that really means, and why that matters for our life in the world today.
So, one of the main points we talked about yesterday was how there are a wide variety of different models and images for understanding Jesus’ saving work in both Scripture and the tradition. Sure, we have the most familiar, “Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins,” but we also have Zacchaeus’ transformative encounter with Jesus [“Salvation has come to this house today”], the multiple healing miracles of Jesus that restored those individuals both to health and to life in community, the victory over death and powers of evil, and even the incarnation–the taking of the whole world permanently and irrevocably into God’s own being. All of these are valid ways of understanding and describing the saving work of Jesus Christ–work that is not just about a place in heaven, a final destination, but also grants us new life in the here and now, and inspires us with the power to see the world differently, to see each other differently, and to see ourselves differently–through the eyes of God’s loving grace.
That’s the other main point we talked about: the church needs to be able to speak about salvation in such a way that it is not only true to Scripture, but also means something in the daily lives of people today. Salvation is not just about “not yet,” it’s about “now”–and it points to the power of Jesus [and his body on earth, the church] to make a difference in people’s lives today, at this very moment: salvation really and truly matters, not just in the future, but right now. And, if the church has given people the impression that the message of salvation is basically “repent, believe and you won’t go to hell”–which says nothing about the marvelous, overflowing grace of God that comes to us even when we cannot come to God, that lifts us out of the darkness into the light and creates a new life for us today–we are not handling with care our greatest treasure. In fact, we are disparaging it. Ultimately, salvation is a radically inclusive, radically transformative message of God’s abounding, steadfast love for the whole world, incarnated in Jesus Christ–God-for-us now and always: it’s the best of the gospel message–the “goodest” good news there is. And that’s something worth talking about.