Monday, September 29, 2008

Salvation: What on Earth Do We Mean?

This is the title of the final chapter of Marcus Borg's book "The God We Never Knew". Borg discusses the difficulties inherent in mapping out the details of an afterlife. He confesses to being 'agnostic' about this subject - essentially he believes that there is something beyond death but he has no clear conception of what that might be. It's a refreshingly honest account in the face of many Christians who claim to know more about their eternal destiny than even the Bible makes clear. He concludes with these words:
But we can know what salvation means in this life. At the center of the biblical understanding of salvation is a relationship with God in the present, whose gifts are freedom, joy, peace, and love and whose fruits are compassion and justice.

This relationship with God, and all that flows from it, are the purpose of the Christian life. The invitation of the Christian gospel is to enter into that relationship in which our healing and wholeness lie, that relationship which transforms us by beginning to heal the wounds of existence and makes our lives in the here and now a life with God.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

The concept of hell is one that I have great difficulty with. Doctrine 11 is pretty clear on what the Army's position is, and many of your fellow bloggers love the "it's Jesus or hell" line. However whenever I try and challenge this thinking I am largely ignored - comments and questions I put on blogs are usually deleted.

I usually like to give a basic scenario along the lines of - 16 year old comes to youth group, hears the message about Christ, is given the opportunity to accept Him as saviour, but isn't sure about it all and heads home without becoming a Christian. On way home gets hit by bus and dies. They have heard the message but rejected it. Therefore according to standard Christianity they are now being tortured in hell forever. Except that no one who espouses "Jesus or hell" ever seems to have the guts to come out and say that this is the fate of this 16 year old. Why is that? Is it because whilst they may love to talk about God's perfect justice as being the reason for an eternal punishment, when you try and personalise it the very idea becomes so unpalatable.

If hell is real (in an eternal punishment sense) then the whole concept that God/Jesus loves you goes out the window. This great love that He supposedly has for us turns to infinite hate upon our death if we do not 'repent and believe'.

We sometimes compare God's love with the love a parent has for a child. However if your child steals a pencil and doesn't say sorry, do you lock them away in their room for the rest of their lives and beat them to a pulp every day? Because if you do, you are treating them a lot better than what God's got in store for them when he sends them to hell.

If hell is real, is there really some 'age of accountability'? I don't believe there to be any clear biblical grounding for this idea, but obviously the idea of God sending babies to hell is too gruesome even for the more hardcore fundamentalist.

If hell is real, and there is an age of accountability, then it creates other logical problems. For example, surely it would be a good thing to let a 2 year old with cancer die rather then seek medical assistance, grow up, possibly reject Christianity and go to hell? Should we then also be supporting abortion, as we are ensuring the eternal salvation of these children rather than take the chance that they will not accept Christ when they are older?

If hell is real, how can we possibly enjoy heaven knowing that we have friends and relatives suffering eternally?

It just doesn't make sense. I've rambled enough, and I hope you get what I am trying to say. Thanks.

David said...

Once again, it all sounds good and applicable to real life, but what does it actually mean?

For example, what is freedom? The ability to ride nude on public transport?

And joy, is that having the appearance of smiling, drooling fool with a vacant mind?

Look behind the theology and what do you find? A empty mind.

JDK said...

Anon, I'm sympathetic to your quandary about the idea of hell. You may have gathered from this blog that I don't fit into the 'Jesus or hell' mould - for many of the reasons that you have outlined. Frankly, the arguments against hell are much more convincing than the arguments for it.

Interestingly, our doctrines don't mention either heaven or hell. Doctrine 11 refers to the 'general judgement', 'eternal happiness of the righteous' and the 'endless punishment of the wicked'. The correlation between these things and the traditional concepts of heaven and hell may not be as clear as some people claim and in my view has only minor support from the Bible. For most of the time before Jesus, the Israelites didn't even have a belief in an afterlife.

I don't know what happens after we die. I believe that there is something more but I'm content to leave the details up to God. If I only lived a good life in order to get to heaven, my motivation would have no integrity anyway. I'll try to be good because being good is the right thing to do and because I hope it will help to make my corner of the world a little better.

I doubt this helps much, but it's at least an honest answer.

Regards, JDK

David said...

If you logically extend the "traditional evangelical" doctrine of hell you can end up with some ridiculous conclusions. In addition to those stated in anon's reply, what about the idea of bombing the entire human population to extinction: this has the advantage of putting an end to the filling up of Hell, and puts the onus back on God to sort it out en-masse - wouldn't it be a wake up call if God suddenly had 6.2 billion souls transferring to eternity knowing that was the last batch (He'd probably have to abort Jesus' mission to return to earth again, or at least change His plans).

Also, doesn't this same doctrine of Hell excuse "leading souls to Christ" using extreme methods such as torture? In fact, it morally justifies such techniques when you realise that the finite harm inflicted is infintely preferrable than eternal suffering. And won't the people thus saved be eternally grateful, in Heaven, once they realise the kindness and good intentions of your "soul winning"?

I don't understand how some Christians can be so definite and detailed with a belief for which others find so much uncertainty. It's as if there are two Holy Spirits "authenticating" two different messages.

What would happen if you got two such opposing Christians in a room together to sort out their differences? After much prayer and discussion would they come to an agreement? If not, what does that tell you about the Christian faith?

What do you believe in if there is no propositional content? A happy, blissed out emotional state?

Pull the other leg, it plays jingle bells.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your further comments Jason. It is very interesting hearing viewpoints that are so radically different from mainstream Christianity and Salvationism. I have been closely examining my Christian beliefs for some time now, trying to make sense of it all. Quite honestly most of it doesn't make sense and I've been going through something of a deconversion process for a while now. However I'm trying to work out how much (if any) I can hang on to in order to still stay within my church community with any sense of integrity and honesty. Much of what I read of yours seems closer to secular humanism than mainstream Christianity, which is not at all a bad thing. When you talk about being good as the right thing to do and hoping to make the world a better place, surely that is far purer motive than because of fear, love and/or obedience of God?

I would love to hear some comments from others of these matters, particularly the 'turn or burners', but I don't think this is their type of blog. Perhaps it's just you, me and our militant atheist friend. Maybe the three of us should have lunch together sometime.

JDK said...

David,

Have you ever considered that you put forward more 'traditional evangelical' viewpoints on this blog than I do? If you have to put them up just to knock them down, isn't that a bit self-serving?

I will address your question about what I do believe in today's blog.

Anon,

Glad to hear that you're understanding where I'm coming from - though it may be more mainstream than you realise. I certainly don't feel radical when I talk to friends in the Uniting, Baptist, Anglican or Catholic churches and I have a quite a few TSA officer friends that share my views as well. It seems that popular Christianity has been characterised by the voice of the conservative, evangelical right (certainly a loud voice but not necessarily representative of all).

I'm happy to catch up over lunch if you think that might be helpful. Send me an e-mail (jason.davies-kildea@aus.salvationarmy.org) and we can work out a time/place. I'm happy for David to join us as well if he's interested - we'll promise not to fight over your soul :-)

Regards, JDK

David said...

Is there an official Salvos position on Hell and the afterlife? One would think that is needed given the importance of these matters.

The 'traditional evangelical' view is held by many of your fellow Salvationists, is it not Jason?
Why not discuss/pray and arrive at a unified position? Don't you feel it is imperative that these matters are sorted out? How can you preach a message of hope when you don't know what it's ulimately all about? When what you say is contradictory to what another Salvationist teaches?

JDK said...

Being part of any religious group holds no guarantee of absolute uniformity of thought and I wouldn't want to be part of one that did. I have far more in common with other Salvationists than we have differences - why shouldn't we be able to live with those?