Ed Stetzer is provoking (in a good way) a syncroblog discussion on the theological issues of Missional church. I appreciate that. I think it’s needed. Today’s question on his blog relates to the question of salvation. How does Missional church deal with the idea of salvation.
Ed argues that the idea of salvation in Christ took a turn in the Enlightenment. He says:
“The response of church and mission to the challenge of modernism was generally twofold among Protestants. The first response was simply to disregard the challenges of the Enlightenment and carry on as if nothing had changed. The second response took the challenges of modernism more seriously, to the point of a fairly uncritical accommodation. Instead of maintaining Jesus as God-incarnate who fulfills all righteousness and satisfies divine wrath on behalf of sinners, in modernist Protestantism he became the ideal human being to imitate, the moral exemplar. The person and work of Jesus was no longer at the center of mission, but rather the example and cause of Jesus took stage. The teaching supplanted the Teacher; the kingdom of God obscured the King.”
There are parts of this statement I agree with. The characterization of how protestant mainline Christianity (as it later became described) has some merit to it. Yet we must not ignore the part of the protestant wing that carried forensic atonement to new individualistic heights primarily under the influence of the Enlightenment. I don’t think either Luther or Calvin imagined what modernity would eventually do in isolating and reducing the atonement to a forensic transaction between each individual and God. This view of salvation became fully flowered in American revivalistic evangelicalism. This view of salvation, I would argue, has done as much damage to the furtherance of Mission in the world as the protestant mainline development. Do you agree? So I see Ed’s point, and I agree that the Missio Dei as it became used by the Ecumenical mainliner councils erred in this way. Today, as a result of both developments, we are left with a monstrous problem of a over hyped, individualized salvation that takes the shape of either people individually promoting a Kingdom enlightenment agenda for justice (de void of the actual power of God’s reign manifest in Jesus as Lord), or people promoting a version of a ticket out of hell for individuals. To me this is now almost old news and now we need to explore where God is leading us theologically and in practice. This is one the strengths of the Missional movement as led by leaders such as Ed Stetzer.
So Ed asks the question:
So what is your understanding of salvation and how it is mediated? Do you agree that missiology is closely connected soteriology– that one’s take on the “reach” of salvation determines the range of one’s missionary enterprise? Do you have any concerns that within the missional conversation some emphasize the example of Jesus over the salvific work of Jesus? Or that the vertical dimension of the God incarnate, Jesus Christ, saving men and women unto Himself is under-emphasized by some and rather a horizontal “conversion” towards one another is the primary focus?
To these questions I reply that salvation – to paraphrase N T Wright – is the working of God in the world to make all things right. In Jesus Christ, God is fulfilling his promise to the world – in the covenant of Israel – to make all things right. This is the work God has begun in Jesus Christ, of reconciling the whole world to Himself (2 Cor 5:17-22). This salvation is inextricable from the sacrificial atonement in Christ to bring us into a justified relationship with God thru Jesus Christ. But this new relationship with God is inextrricable from the horizontal reconciliation God is working every where in the world. The personal and social are so inseparable that to even talk as if they are two (like I just did) is to do violence to God’s work. We move therefore from asking people “have you made a decision to accept Christ as your personal Lord and savior?” to inviting others to join us in entering the salvation begun in Jesus Christ that God is working for the sake of the whole world. This to me is what it looks like to be saved witjin the Mission of God. This includes, and cannot be brought to fruition, apart from a conversion to the dying with Christ and resurrection with Him into the new life with Christ. I think theologians like N T Wright, Michael Gorman and even John Milbank help us see how this salvation has been birthed in a people through Christ’s life, sacrificial atonement and resuurection and his ascension to the right hand. They show how His Kingdom has been inaugurated in His rule, and that we can enter it now and by so doing invite the world into it. This births a peoiple, in communities, to live and witness to this life engaging the world in the New Kingdom life God is doing. (this is how this salvation is mediated).
I don’t want to be labor this post (I’m finishing up an entire book reframing the evangelcial doctrines and practice for participation in God’s mission). There is much more that could be said. But this approach I believe avoids the problems Ed talks about.
Does anyone else want to fill this out? Push back? Answer more of Ed’s questions in this regard? Chime in please.
This discussion will continue this week on the blogs below as well as Ed’s. I invite you to follow along! and chime in! and thanks Ed Stetzer for provoking this discussion.