Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Other ways of speaking salvation?

I am in a foul mood. A little depressed, withdrawn, edgy, suspicious, tired.

My wife comes to me and I snap at her.

She does not respond by snapping back. She offers me a drink and a chocolate biscuit.

In a sudden, I am overwhelmed by her grace in the face of my behaviour. She doesn't deserve my ill temper.

My realization changes me. In graciously giving of herself, my negativity is absorbed. In an instant I am saved and restored.

I notice similar transformations involving everyday grace. Here's another:


My toddler guilelessly joins in the circle we form around the communion table in Church. I pick him up.

He comments without any concern for others' opinions that there is bread and wine being handed around. When it comes to him he holds out his hand, too.

His presence brings smiles to other faces. The mood of the circle is lifted.

Why? It is, I think, because of the grace of the gift of himself to us. His unconcern for himself - his living his life without calculation - brings a glimpse of grace.

We see him, just briefly, as a gift. And that glimpse momentarily transforms those of us around him who witness it.
There are many biblical models for salvation and atonement, all of them inadequate on their own. One of them almost comes close to this - Abelard's idea that the free self-giving of God in Christ overwhelms us and transforms us.

(There's a touching example of this 'economy of grace' triumphing over the 'economy of hatred' right at the moment of the crucifixion. A Centurion who sees the way Jesus dies - his treatment by others and his refusal to respond with hatred - is in that moment converted: 'Truly this man is the Son of God'.)

Often though such a 'moral example' theory puts the emphasis on us to choose to respond to grace, and that is its weakness: that it is too 'subjective'.

My experiences described above though involve no moments of calculated choice. I am simply overwhelmed by grace, I have no choice in the matter at all.

The Church has never given its approval to any particular theory of salvation. None of the early Creeds focused on it. Pragmatically speaking every theory is a rhetorical construction of its age whose aim is to help us recognize our salvation for ourselves.

What would the rhetoric of salvation look like today if it traded on twenty-first century experiences, anxieties and dreams?

Generous answers on a post card...

3 Comments:

At 11:04 pm, April 19, 2006, Blogger Dave K said...

One of the biggest problem I have with the 'moral influence' theory is that it fails to take into account how Jesus came at 'the right time' (Rom 5:6). Jesus could not have been born an American, Indian or whatever and acheived what he did. All time, all the OT had been building up to the time when Jesus would represent the people of Israel in exile and lead his people out of Egypt again.

Look at me... the mearest mention of atonement theology which doesn't mention penal substitution and I presume it is being questioned. (Once a reactionary evangelical...) And I didn't even disagree with a word you said.

Still the question you ask at the end, while not invalid can lead to a temptation to ignore the historical rootedness of the event, and make it a 'timeless truth' which has been much critisised.

The best sermons I have heard recently which answers your question by example are some sermons on hope by Tim Keller which focused on the materialness of the New Creation and on how our current dreams are only truly fulfilled in the New Creation achieved by the cross (engaging with our suffering) and resurrection of Jesus (displaying our perfect hope).

Got to go to bed.

Thanks for your post. I will try to think of a better answer to your q.

 
At 9:43 am, April 20, 2006, Blogger Jem said...

Answer by comment -- I think you'll be unsurprised when I say 'Christian Peacemaker Teams' in Hebron / Palestine, Iraq.

 
At 9:55 pm, April 20, 2006, Blogger Mark Laynesmith said...

Thanks guys. Like what you mention about new creation, Dave, be interested to hear more.

I found it an enormous eye-opener to read a female theologian, Frances Young, unpack some of the birthing language Paul and others use for the Easter event.

Stupid bloke that I am, it never occurred to me to connect the word 'travail' in Romans 8 with child birth, and then to link that with language about being born again, children of God etc etc. How dim can one be?

Young makes a series of stunning links of the OT tradition of the sinfulness of Israel and it's failure to 'deliver', (i.e. to birth God's new creation - there are quie a few humourous images of a pregnant Israel giving birth only to wind!) with the new birth brought to pass in the painful travail of Christ on the Cross and the new life of Easter.

Her reading, of course, comes out of her experience of birthing children - one of them diabled. It is such a grounded but unusual image of what's going on at Easter, and thoroughly scriptural, but I've never heard it preached on, alas. And of course, dare I admit it, only a woman could have noticed it...

 

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