This is my counter argument to the Roman Road, sinner’s prayer, way of the master, idea.
In the early Church, people spent 40 days preparing for conversion, you had to build real relationships, and train them as disciples, teach them the basics of the faith as well as moral and spiritual development. You had to teach them prayers, and how to fast, what the faith was all about. Making disciples was not an easy just “how do you do? have you sinned? say this prayer. now you’re a Christian.”
What we forget about the evangelism in acts is that Paul was speaking in synagogues for the most part, to his fellow Jews who were already in Paul’s mind worshiping God, but not completely. Their conversions were simply coming into the fullness of faith. They were baptized because it was not common among the faiths of the day, and they received the holy spirit to be sure. But Cornelius was a God-Fearer, a gentile who though uncircumcised took seriously Israel’s faith and God. Conversion may look, snap-bang-boom to us, but that’s a far cry from what’s really going on even in the text.
So, now that we’ve looked at the Roman Road path to salvation, from some really poor exegesis, let’s look at how people might really be brought into the Christian faith the right way.
I suppose we’d need to talk about what salvation is, in the first instance. Salvation from what? Why? Who is this salvation for? When does it happen? Where is it located?
What is salvation?
Salvation is the end result of God’s justice. Only where there is salvation is there God’s justice. The end result of God’s project in and through Christ is the redemption of creation, and the establishing of rightful worship to Him and none other, for He alone is love, and sacrifice to anything else can only be evil. Salvation is understood in the Pauline corpus as what God has done through Christ to bring about deliverance from sin and death and manifest wholeness moral and physical transformation and enduring new life as an advance manifestation of the new creation. Believers are united with Christ and so will share His suffering as well as His glory when he is revealed.
In the synoptic gospels, miracles and exorcisms are manifestations of the Kingdom of God/God’s salvation. The forgiveness of sin and moral transformation of persons who come in contact with Jesus are also seen as salvific moments. For the synoptics, salvation is the reign of God brought about in Jesus particularly through His work to overthrow the powers of darkness and challenge both the authorities and the people in their understandings of God’s reign as present in the world we are already in. Acts, being the second half of Luke sees this as continuing through the work of The Holy Spirit.
The Johannine works see salvation as the gift of life, and light. It is central and explicit to the message of Jesus and is most expressly manifest in the relationship to the Father as possible through the Son, and all those the Son brings with Him. Particularly, in the gospel of John salvation is seen as happening in and through the Son, who makes the Father manifest and is the reign of God Himself (If I be lifted up…)
Salvation from What?
In the synoptics salvation is from the visible workings of the devil, the forces of evil and the sinfulness of an adulterous generation. It is being set free from crippling ailments, physical maladies, moral insufficiencies and the works of darkness. Salvation is expressly here, being set free to praise the Father in and with the Son, and it is often manifest to outsiders and the morally deficient, in order that people may see the good work of the Son and recognize the Father’s work in and through Him.
The Gospel of John sees salvation as being saved from death and darkness, being brought into the light, and being given eternal life. The gospel of John specifically sees this salvation as an entering of the kingdom(nicodemus) and it requires a rebirth in order to take place. This rebirth is of water and the Spirit, and must take place t enter the kingdom of light. Since light has come into the world, when people turn from light and love darkness they have forsaken the goodness that comes to them from the Son who desires to bring them to the father and away from the “world” and darkness.
The writings of Paul I think have an explicit exodus typology at work, where Paul sees salvation as liberation from sin and death. I Corinthians 15, Romans 6-11. Though I think all the new testament writers appeal to this typology in some respects, I think Paul makes it most explicit. Paul sees Jesus as the New Moses in that He has through his resurrection opened a hole in the endless chaos and watery abyss called death that goes back to the proto-mythology of Genesis. The problem of Paul’s theology is that sin and death are the forces of chaos, and they are corrupting the creation’s power to rightly worship God, and even the people who were supposed to be a light have become idolatrous and have fallen captive to the power of sin and ultimately death because sin has corrupted the right purpose of the law. In Paul’s mind we’re being saved from idolatry, sin and ultimately the final or “second” death and set at rights as one people of God justified by God’s gracious promise to Abraham.
This is the kicker.
The calvinist answer is: So God will prove he’s sovereign and gracious to the elect.
The liberal answer is: so we can be better humans, live more fulfilled lives, be happier, etcetera.
The answers in the New Testament in Brief:
That we might be what God intended when He made the promise to Abraham and continued in David, This is done ultimately to end Israel’s exile among the nations and call into an existence a people that already lives in the end of Israel’s subjection to foreign powers and in exile. This has already happened in Christ, who is the first to come out of Israel’s exile and into the fullness of the Kingdom. The old epoch of sin and death has been eclipsed by a new light, whose purpose is the right rulership of God in communities that are advance signs of this lordship.
Synoptic Gospels and Acts:
That Christ might establish the kingdom of God which has come near, in and through the disciples who bear the fullness of the Spirit and the eschatological power to make manifest the reign of God through miracles and worship ordered lives. Christ gives his disciples the tools to continue the work which he began. This happens in and through the miracles and actions that overthrow the work of the devil and the powers that be. The restoration of a liturgical kingdom through love of God and love of neighbor is what Jesus is after in the synoptics. Though he doesn’t expressly state that it seems that according to his actions Israel is more than her nationality, or her special relationship to God.
Jesus is the long awaited prophet like Moses in Deut. 18:15, and is the fulfillment of the jewish feasts, as the light of the world he is the true dedication of the temple, he is the true dedication over against all other claims. As the living water he fulfills the feast of tabernacles, and brings light into the world, to make manifest the will of the Father, that light might have its place in a world of darkness. John also points to Jesus as making real a new exodus.
What it boils down to:
These books offer different but united interpretations of why salvation is, and in their diversity they give us a multifaceted wisdom about what it is that God is attempting to say to us in and with Christ, and their Spirit. But to begin to understand how salvation happens we’ll have to take seriously the Christian emphasis on baptism and the Spirit for entering the Christian fold. Peter says that it is baptism that saves us I Peter 3:21, as an appeal to God for a clean conscience. Baptism is our prayer, it is the original sinner’s prayer, it is how early Christians made their appeal to God for the forgiveness of sins. We must be saved through water, reborn as children of water and the Spirit, ready to suffer in the flesh that we might cease from sin.
If we are not conformed to the worship of this God of Israel, and His power to liberate us from idolatries, and sins, and if we are not being liberated from sin and death as a real part of salvation, with baptism at the center, what kind of Christianity do we have? not much of one, i reckon.
Coming up in the series is a proposal on baptism and confirmation.