The Bridge Illustration: An Idea Whose Time Has Come and Gone?

I was away this past week speaking at the Ecclesia Network National Gathering along with Alan and Deb Hirsch. What a hoot that was! One of the issues I engaged for about an hour was “The Way We Speak About and Practice Salvation.” I argued that the ways we have often practiced the salvation we receive in Christ, and by derivation discipleship, have trained us as a people for moral duplicity.
Among other things, I said:

  • We separate justification from sanctification in a Lutheranized fashion. Law and Grace are held separate yet together (simul justus at peccator) in the same person. We do this because we fear any appearance that salvation can be earned via works. Righteousness can only be imputed. Any participation in that salvation must be avoided lest we think we can earn our salvation through effort. The result is an inherent disconnect between what we believe and what we do.
  • We then practice a Cartesianized sanctification, where the Bible/preacher tells us what to do, the mind hears the information and understands it, and then tells the body what to do. This never works because it takes no account for desire; the way desire is shaped and formed. The most these methods can do is repress desire.
  • We give no account for desire in our discipleship. Our soteriology is “get saved and join the military” – the white-knuckle approach. And then, when there is no where else to go with one’s desire (indeed the issue is rarely even considered), desire must by default go wherever the culture would take it. This ends in duplicity.
  • We perceive the love of God (agape) as a unilateral unconditional gift from God. We are told we can never add anything to it. Of course this is true. Yet, the impression is that a response to that gift can never be truly ours (it must be the work of God also). An ordered ever flowing response to God can never be an inextricable part of that same love- grace action received by us from God. We are therefore left passive. (I am thinking of Milbank’s work on gift here). This is another aspect of what separates our status in God from the life we live and participate in.
  • We package the gospel often into a transaction. Playing off the Reformed penal view of the atonement exclusively, we make the gospel into God has done a., you do b. and you receive c. from God as a gift. And that’s it. You’re done (in a sense) although strangely you’re not. By packaging salvation as a transaction in this way, it puts the subject in control of God and His salvation. Again, the subject cannot be formed by something it has chosen as a consumer for certain benefits. It can only receive those benefits passively.

ALL OF THE ABOVE LEAVES US HELPLESS IN THE WORLD OF DESIRE THAT FORMS US TOWARDS WEALTH ACCUMULATION, CAPITALIST IDENTITY, CONSUMERISM, PERSONAL PLEASURE AND OTHER ASSORTED CULTURAL FORMATIONS. WE ARE IN ESSENCE, IN AN UNSUSPECTING WAY, FORMED FOR MORAL DUPLICITY, EVER SAYING ONE THING, YET FINDING OURSELVES DOING ANOTHER. Worse, these inherent theological problems with our soteriology disconnect salvation, from the telos (end purposes) of God’s righteousness in the world. It disconnects salvation from the Mission of God for the whole world.

Next post, I want to illustrate some of these points by looking at the famous Bridge Illustration that many of us grew up on and is used as the primary catechetical tool for salvation in many evangelical churches. (I also want to offer some models of spiritual formation as discipleship as an alternative)

We at our church have been talking for months how we desperately need another teaching tool to initiate new coverts into God’s salvation for the world in Christ. Something that would teach in simple ways the Huge Salvation of God that He is Doing in Christ that we are invited to participate into. We (or at least I have) decided the Bridge Illustration has been a disaster for Christian discipleship in the most recent period (last twenty years) of church history in the N America.

How do you all feel about the Bridge Illustration? Do you see any of the above weaknesses in it? Do you have a tool for initiating new converts into the basics of Life in Christ and His Mission?

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