A few posts ago, I proposed that the way we evangelicals speak about and practice salvation forms us for moral duplicity, for moral schizophrenia, for believing one thing and doing another. Among other things, I said:1.) Our way of salvation has no account of what happens with desire. Therefore our desires are left untouched by our salvation.
2.) We have separated justification from sanctification, something I called the Lutheranizing of our soteriology (this got some comments over at the much beloved blog: the Boar’s Nest – my response to that is that I was not blaming Luther himself, who was living at a different place and time. Rather I was referring to the ways we evangelicals took later developments in Lutheran theology and crassly made salvation all about justification by faith in separation from sanctification. To me, this is so patently obvious that I still believe I need take no additional space to defend myself on this).
3.) This development opened us up to make salvation a transaction between two individual entities (God and humanity) as opposed to the participation of me, a human creature, in the work of God to restore the whole of creation to Himself out of which I as individual am also justified, renewed and reconciled to God.
4.) As a result, we are left passive, to receive God’s great salvation is Christ almost as consumers. All of this works to separate our newfound salvific status in Christ from the outworking of a life lived as doxology to God in Missio Dei.
If any of this is not making sense, please read the prior post where I might have done a better job explaining all this. I closed that last post by saying that the classic Bridge illustration “illustrates” (no pun intended) some of these problems. Here’s why.
The Bridge Illustration I think illustrates some of these problems with our ways of initiation.
First, the Bridge constructs a “contractual” transaction. We recognize our “need.” We receive Christ as the “solution.” Then the “benefit” of this salvation is described. Then there is an individual decision to “believe.” At the conclusion, we pray this prayer which guarantees me of eternal life. Recent versions construct the need in terms of our broken relationship with God and the solution as a birth into a new relationship with God. This version of the Bridge has significantly improved prior versions like this. Nonetheless, it still has its patented “If you’ve prayed this prayer and are trusting Christ, then the Bible says that you can be sure you have eternal life.”
What’s wrong with the Bridge’s “transaction” approach? It has the effect of initiating the unbeliever into a salvation “for me” in the worst sense of those words. For in a consumerist society, the words “for me” can longer mean what they meant when Paul spoke them or Luther spoke them. Consumerist society has trained all of us to think, feel and breathe all things as products to be consumed “for me.” Jesus, Son of God, very God, has been reduced to an object to be used for some benefit. At this point this simply is no longer a salvation recognizable by Paul, Luther or the Christian church.
Granted, what the Bridge says is true. Yet it has abstracted this truth from the story, which makes it into a consumable. This is what Guder refers to as the constant temptation towards reductionism in the missiological efforts of the church. The church as a result must be continually converted. To me, it is safe to say, that time has already long since arrived.
Second, the Bridge separates justification from sanctification. Although improvements have been made in the recent versions of the Bridge, salvation is still considered static! The plus in recent versions of the Bridge has been that salvation is articulated in terms of one’s relationship with God as opposed to the singular penal transaction so common before. Nonetheless, it remains individualized and static. The problem is separation from God. The solution is “bridging the gap” to God through accepting the cross’s payment. This makes the relationship with God static, you either have it or you don’t.
The effect of this static account of salvation is to separate life with God from the moment of conversion. After praying the prayer, we now have the relationship as if it is already accomplished. The relationship we have with God is like this Thing. And the directions we are asked to follow on how to live the Christian life appear to be hollow individual exercises that hopefully keep you on the right path. They are not written as invitations into an endless expansive life with God and His Mission.
Last, the Bridge Illustration takes no account for what happens to desire. To me this is the most condemning problem of all with the Bridge. It is like once we accept Christ’s provision for sin and the separation from God, desire takes care of itself. We are now told to read the Bible as intake, talk to God in prayer, tell others about our new found faith and go to church and serve. These all appear to be individual exercises, which can easily turn into legalistic works to secure a life after conversion. But unless the re-formation of desire is addressed, these directions for life after conversion inevitably produce failed Christian life and moral duplicity.
At our church, the pastors and leadership have started a conversation on this issue. WE NEED NEW WAYS OF INITIATING STRANGERS INTO THE GOSPEL THAT TRAIN THEM INTO BEING PARTICIPANTS IN GOD’S MISSON AS OPPOSED TO CONSUMERS OF THE GOSPEL. WE NEED A WAY OF INVITING PEOPLE INTO THE COSMIC RECONCILIATION THAT GOD IS WORKING THROUGH JESUS CHRIST (not just a transaction), WE NEED WAYS OF IMAGINING THE ONGOING LIFE WITH GOD THAT IS MORE THAN ONE’S PERSONAL PIETY (although it must include that as well). WE NEED COMMUNITIES OF THE SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES for new converts to be invited into THE RE-ORDERING OF ONE’S BODY (soul and spirit) INTO THE GLORY OF GOD THE CREATOR AND REDEEMER.
On the next post, I hope to discuss my initial thoughts on this as well as what other people are coming up with as well. In the meantime, Do you think I’m overly critical of the Bridge? Which criticism has the most merit in your experience? I could tell you endless stories of people converted through the Bridge at large church, mega church or evangelistic events who simply cannot cross the line towards life in God (and His Mission). Or who struggle endlessly with the issues of re-formation of desire. Does that resonate with your experiences?