This is Part two of our series on Evangelical discussions on salvation.
II. The Theology of the Roman Road is incomplete because:
1) It separates Jesus’ teaching from his salvific work.
a.What we do is we separate the teachings of Jesus from His work for us, and what we get is a Jesus who dies to save us, but not necessarily to make disciples. We get a Jesus’ whose call to take up your cross has nothing to do with being able to call yourself one who belongs to Him.
b. This is problematic because The great commission teaches us to go make disciples, people who follow the dust of the master’s feet, the people who walk in the way of Jesus, the visible followers of this Rabbi Jesus. Further, this commission seems to hinge not on “teaching them to pray in the name of the father the son and the holy ghost,” Though certainly more people need to learn to pray to the Trinity. It hinges on “Baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.” (Matt. 28.18) Baptism seems to be the basis of discipleship, and as we will presently see, discipleship is what salvation means.
c.The gospel’s power is not as much in making converts or making people say the prayer with their words, but believing on the Lord Jesus in such a way that their actions change from serving false idols such as lust, militarism, greed, nationalism, self interest, ignorance, pride, power, money, capitalism, postmodernism, relativism, among others, etcetera. Without a conversion of allegiance, it’s not really a conversion at all is it? Making Disciples isn’t an afterthought, it’s the first and foremost step towards salvation for all. Following Jesus is what saves, nothing more, nothing less.
2) Specifically separates worship from being a Christian
a.This view separates Christ from the Father, in making Christ the bearer of God’s wrath that was meant for us. It pits God against God, and as we all know, a God divided cannot stand.
b. This view makes the prayer salvific and excuses Christians from developing deep relationships with neighbors and strangers and drawing them into rightful worship, which is what being saved is all about. Being saved is about learning to rightly worship the God who is Love itself. This prayer becomes a substitute for having to learn to develop a relationship with others, and instead of doing drive-through evangelism, stay with them, care for them and not treat them like disposable objects.
c.If becoming an Israelite meant being enjoined to a whole people, why would being a Christian be any different? There doesn’t seem to be any legitimate reason to see salvation as a primarily “personal relationship” but joining a peoplehood. Of course Christ wants to know all of us, but we’re also being constituted into a nation of priests as a whole. We can’t set ourselves on a pedestal against others, rather, if we have the Spirit of Christ, we join the people of Christ, not become isolated super-heroes against the whole church, as is often the case with modern well meaning christian liberals too influenced by existential concerns.
d. The underlying statement of this theology is “Jesus died instead of me.” This could not be further from the truth. Jesus died so that we as followers of Him might learn from Him how to also rightly expend our entire lives in shame-bearing, cross-bearing worship. Salvation is not easy, it’s about following to the end. No one really believes that someone could be a Christian if they don’t follow Christ, so why do we allow for a theolgy that says the opposite?
3)The Bible has a rich history of theologies, viewpoints and ideas, and here’s a brief outline of a few Paul is using when he talks about Justification.
a. Salvation History- The Jewish/Christian view of History is that God has been carrying out a plan since the dawn of the ages, and that plan was first truly definitively unveiled in the covenant with Abraham, where God promised Abraham a family exceeding the number of stars. History centers around Israel and Jesus and Church as central players in this salvation-history. The primary focus is on joining the people of God.
b.Apocalyptic in Paul- The Unveiling of God’s Hidden Plan happens in Jesus. That’s why Paul has to do salvation-history when he speaks of Jesus. Because Salvation History has just hit either a speedbump, a brick wall, or a radically decisive unveiling that opens an unsuspected but completely coherent way forward. Paul goes with the third option. He sees the law as a sign and a tutor, it’s purpose is to keep Israel and protect her, not to save her. The law which was meant to protect Israel has now become a hindrance to her mission of drawing all nations to Zion to worship the God Who is Love. Under the rebellion of the powers of sin, death and empire, Jewish identity has become perverted into an excusivist movement, where none save the circumcision can enter. Paul’s answer is that God has unveiled a new definitive word in this Jesus, the messiah that establishes a priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek, because the covenant goes back to Abraham.
c.Justification by Faith- This is Paul’s answer to the coequality and harmony between Jews and gentiles. The question that goes with the answer “justification by faith” is what is the people of God; Who is Israel? We have to remember this. The Israel of God are those who are justified by faith in the Messiah and have begun to grow the new creation that was planted inside them at baptism. It’s also how the individual is brought into the covenant community of New Creation.
4)The evangelical view deviates from actually being salvific and becomes primarily economic interpretation of atonement.
a. Basically this view, again separates Christ from His work, his “payment” from his Lordship. It makes the life of Jesus all about payment, without a proper understanding of Messiah, covenant, justice or Lordship.
b. The word Lord isn’t just a quaint idea used to attach deity to Jesus the Christ after his resurrection. It fits in the whole schema of salvation history. What happens is that in the evangelical interpretation Lord, becomes an afterthought, payment becomes the first. Substitute becomes the controlling metaphor, instead of the rightful celebration of Christ’s ascension to the right hand of the Father from which He now administers His wise and just rule of the world.
c.Colossians in the hymn of chapter 1, 15-20, the lordship is what gives Him dominion over our lives, not some idea of blood demands, and unlimited credit lines due to deity. Paul does not have an economic interpretation, his is primarily salvific, via salvation history’s culmination in Jesus. The incarnation doesn’t hinge on crucifixion. The incarnation is about God’s reaching into the world to redeem and affirm it, sacrifice is only a piece of the larger picture. The whole point of the incarnation is drawing humanity into the inner life of God. (Colossians 1:15-20)
5) An improper understanding of Justice is at work here.
a.What I often hear is: “Justice is getting what we deserve, because of our sin, we deserve death.” The bible doesn’t say that. It says the wages of sin is death, the payment we get for sin is death. Meaning if we experience death it is because we have brought it upon ourselves. People often say “What we deserve is death, but Jesus steps in and gives us mercy,” but this statement again is guilty of being essentially not what the apostles were saying.
b. The biblical authors celebrate God’s justice because it’s His faithfulness to the covenant with Abraham. God’s justice demands our redemption that’s Who Christ is. He’s not the exception, he’s the rule. Humans are God’s creatures who deserve the lovingkindness He intends to show them and does in Jesus. Jesus’ love is simply the continuing act of God’s graciousness that was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, because God is Love itself, and love is God’s essential being.
There can’t be a goodness to creation if we simply reject the idea that God’s justice is manifest in forgiveness and redemption. It’s illogical to believe in the goodness of creation if we say that before Christ humans are basically worthless. That’s not the message of the apostolic witness to Christ. The apostles celebrate Christ as the culmination of the Creator God’s plan, not as a radically different rescue mission. God’s justice is his faithfulness to perpetuate Life, as the God of Life, his righteousness is manifest in defeating the power of His true enemies, sin and death.
c.The only way that we can have justice is if the whole process of salvation is something far larger than myself. Because I know sin isn’t just a problem with me, it’s spreading across the universe through the corrupted though still somewhat good image-bearing creatures. Sin isn’t just about me, it’s spread to the creation so that creation groans for the unveiling of the sons of God, when the proper stewards are made manifest in full and begin to rightly steward God’s good creation. This means that salvation (gasp!) is not just about my soul or me, or a personal relationship with Jesus, though it certainly embraces these things.
6. This interpretation doesn’t even touch on sin’s relation to creation, or how sin leads to cosmic not just personal death.
a. The universe was created by and for and through love, and where love fails, the universe is in disorder, and it continues to spread. The doctrine of the first and second adam makes this connection, the first image bearing human became subject to sin and by him sin entered all creation. It’s not an absurd idea, if we think that responsibility for sin hinges on man’s special relationship to God and the rest of the created order, and that this divine image when led astray creates things like the rampant lack of stewardship we see in modernity.
b. Humans themselves are only part of the problem because they’re in bondage to a power called sin, and that power is causing chaos in the universe. As reflections of the Divine Trinity, created in their image, we reflect this eternal cooperating self-emptying absolute love, or we do not. When we do not, we are actually spreading the decay of death and its corruption of the universe.
c. The problem of the bible is not as much that you might be a bad person, but that this badness is causing widespread destruction in the universe and is merely a symptom of a deeper illness. This illness is a rampant virus that is unleashing widespread and uncontrolled decay, corruption and destruction on the universe the Good Just and Loving God of Israel created in accordance with His love’s overflow in the inner-Trinitarian life.
d. Only the Church as a whole can answer the problem of sin in the cosmos. Radically individualistic salvation has to ignore this, or else it brings up important questions about the relation of sin to the world and forces us to see the Church and her role in salvation as more than a self-help club or gathering to sing songs. The point of salvation is the process of growth into new creation. The Church becomes the locus of God’s conquering the old orders through serving them as faithful stewards of the right worship of God and proper service of neighbor, widows, orphans and the least in loving-kindness and patience. Through showing them a community that lives out what reality is meant to be, we are announcing in our communal life the already present reign of God.
7. Downplays the role of the church in salvation.
a. You’ve been saved(at least according to this model). But now what? You’re saved by your faith in Jesus, rather apart from faithfulness to Jesus, which makes no sense of the life of Jesus. Why didn’t he just tell people to believe he was the messiah? Why start a church? Why call disciples? Salvation is living the discipled life. In Jesus’ jewish mind there was no separation between faith and faithfulness. Love is the same way. We don’t expect a lover to please us with their words and ignore us with their actions.
b. The prophets, Jesus, they’re all saying the same thing: faith is action. No one can be saved apart from living the life that is salvation. Salvation gives life a new character, and this life is what it means to be saved. Church is what salvation means and is for. Salvation happens in the church, we can’t be saved apart from the church because to be disciples we have to be disciples together.
c. Ultimately it’s about us coming together to be a community where new creation is manifest so that people might see the Church, her good works, and praise the God we worship. The Church has to be a picture of the type of society God makes possible, not a bunch of self righteous or even well meaning individuals who kinda come together to sing songs and share an hour long sermon together on sunday. The church is a part of what salvation means, she’s an advance sign to the world of the new world that God is creating in and through these communities that are kind of like sleeper cells in a conquered world. Without working together for the conspiracy of divine love, the conspiracy of love your enemy, pray for them that persecute you, we will fail in our subversive mission to overthrow the powers.