Posts Tagged ‘ salvation ’

Literalism and apocalypticism

A (typical) quote from N. T. Wright that I forgot to publish:

„Yesterday’s literal statement may become today’s metaphor; tomorrow things may reverse again. Nobody takes all the Bible literally, and nobody takes it all metaphorically, whatever they may say; we are none of us as wooden as our slogans suggest. In order to interpret any passage, particularly any passage of apocalyptic, the way of wisdom is to go through it one step at a time, deciding what is literal and what is metaphorical on the way. When Daniel says “I saw four beasts come up out of the sea” (Daniel 7.2), the “beasts” and the “sea” are metaphorical (the “beasts” are human empires, and the “sea” is the source of evil), but “four” is literal. When he says that “the little horn was making war on the holy ones and prevailed against them” (7.21), the “little horn” is metaphorical (referring to an actual human ruler), but the “war” is literal. And so on. This, of course, requires caution in serious Bible study, something that is not always much in evidence.

Though I dislike technical terms in general, I find it helpful to use the word “apocalypticism” to denote the worldview in which certain people come to believe that their group is set apart from the rest of humanity, that it is righteous and all others are sinners, and, more particularly, that an event will soon occur which will sort things out once and for all. The sun and the moon will be darkened, literally not metaphorically; the Lord will descend from heaven and snatch the saints up in the air, literally not metaphorically; the Mount of Olives will be split in two, and rivers of fresh water will flow down to the Dead Sea, literally not metaphorically. And of course if you believe this sort of thing about yourself and your group, certain social practices follow: a tight drawing of boundaries within the group, a rigid exclusion of those outside, a carelessness or even downright rejection of most of the concerns of ongoing society, a focus on particular styles of worship and holiness. As history both ancient and modern will show, such groups are often internally fissiparous, fragmenting into smaller groups that then reserve for one another their bitterest anathemas.

My point is this: the duality between heaven and earth is very different from the dualisms of sectarian religion. The mindset that tends towards apocalypticism normally thinks of the heavenly realm, or the spiritual realm, or simply the non-physical realm, as always good, and the  earthly, material, physical world as always bad. Hence the readiness to imagine the present physical world being blown apart in some great Armageddon, and the sublime confidence that “we” – whichever group that might be – will be rescued from the ruin in a “heavenly” salvation that has left earth far behind.“

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The Wesleys and Ecumenical Spirit

Quote about the ecumenical spirit of the Wesleys:

„The Wesleys were able to hold together a „Protestant“ understanding of salvation (justification by grace through faith) and a „Roman Catholic“ vision of the Christian life that is oriented more toward holy living or perfection in love (sanctification). While the Protestant traditions have always tended to emphasize faith as the means to salvation, the Catholic heritage has stressed love as the goal of life in Christ. The Wesleys wanted to hold this means and this end together. To become a loving person, you must put your trust in Christ (faith is the means to love’s end). But faith in Christ is not the goal; to become loving, as Christ is loving, is the purpose of your discipleship (love is the end toward which you move from faith’s foundation). Some have claimed that this vision of the Christian life is what makes the Wesleyan tradition unique in the history of the church.

Along these same lines, Albert Outler, one of the greatest students of John Wesley, once described him as an „evangelical-chatholic“. While pessimistic about humanity in its brokenness (Protestant evangelicalism), Wesley was supremely optimistic about the potency of God’s grace (Roman Catholicism). What holds these two perspectives together is the Wesleyan conception of God’s grace as relationship. Always initiated from God’s side, the process of salvation is reconceived as a relational process, the purpose of which is healing and the restoration of wholeness in our lives. Not only did Wesley bridge the gap between evangelical and Catholic; he also opened up the possibility of dialogue with the Eastern Orthodox tradition, which views salvation essentially as the restoration of God’s image in our lives and communities.“ (Paul Wesley Chilcote; Recapturing the vision of the Wesleys)

Christen und Heiden/Christians and Heathen

Menschen gehen zu Gott

in ihrer Not,

flehen um Hilfe,

bitten um Glück und Brot,

um Errettung aus Krankheit,

Schuld und Tod.

So tun sie alle, alle,

Christen und Heiden.

Menschen gehen zu Gott

in Seiner Not,

finden Ihn arm, geschmäht,

ohne Obdach und Brot,

sehn Ihn verschlungen von Sünde,

Schwachheit und Tod.

Christen stehen bei Gott

in Seinem Leiden.

Gott geht zu allen Menschen

in ihrer Not,

sättigt den Leib und die Seele

mit Seinem Brot,

stirbt für Christen und Heiden

den Kreuzestod

und vergibt ihnen beiden.

(Bonhoeffer)

translation:

people go to God

in their need

beg for help

ask for happiness and bread

to be saved out of sickness,

guilt and death.

so they do

both Christians and Heathen

people go to God

in His need

find Him poor, rejected

without home or bread

see Him engulfed by sin,

weakness and death.

Christians stand with God

in His sufferings.

God goes to all people

in their need

feeds body and soul

with His bread

dies for Christians and Heathen

the death on the cross

and forgives them both.

Question: Is uncertainty spiritual?

I read something else which I feel balances what I wrote before. It is from P. T. Forsyth’s book „The person and place of Jesus Christ“, Lecture 1: Lay Religion.

„The root of all theology is real religion; of all Christian theology, and even apologetic, it is Christian religion, it is saving faith in Jesus Christ. It is justifying faith, in the sense of faith in a forgiving God through the cross of Jesus Christ. But this religion cannot be stated without theology. If theology can be shewn to be irrelevant to a living and evangelical faith, then the Chruch can afford to treat it with some indifference, and to leave its pursuit, lie philosophy, to the Universities. But the Christian religion is theological or nothing. We are but vaguely and partially right in saying that Christ is the Gospel. Years ago to say that was the needful word; but it is now outgrown and inadequate.“

A question I ask myself at this point: Is it enough to say that Christ is the Gospel at this point in time? In my culture? The first edition of this book came out in 1909.

„The Gospel is a certain interpretation of Christ which is given in the New Testament, a mystic interpretation of a historic fact. It is the loving, redeeming grace of a holy God in Christ and His salvation alone. Theology, it is true, does not deal with thoughts but with facts. That is the great note of modern theology. But the Christian fact is not an historic fact or figure simply; it is a superhistoric fact living on in the new experience which it creates. The fact on which Christian theology works is the Christ of faith and not of history only, of inspiration and not of mere record, of experience and not of memory. It is the Christ of the Church’s saving, justifying faith.

A Christianity without such faith is not Christianity. Spiritual sensibility is not Christianity, nor is any degree of refined unction. A spirituality without positive, and even dogmatic, content is not Christianity; no are gropings when stated as dogmas; nor is a faith in the broad general truths of religion. Christian faith must surely dogmatise about the goodness of God in Christ, at the least. A conversion which is but a wave of spiritual experience is not the passage from death to life. Religion can only be made more real by a deepened sense of the reality of the salvation. An access of religion which does not mean, first or last, a deeper repentance and more personal faith in Christ’s salvation may be sincere enough, and it is certainly better than worldliness and unconcern; but it is not believing unto life. It is not New Testament Christianity. And, tender as we should be to it as a stage, we must be very explicit when it is offered as a goal. Gentle as we may be to it as a search, we must be quite plain with those who proclaim it as the great finds.“

A clear warning and call to only accept uncertainty about who Christ is and what he’s done for us as a stage but never as a goal. That would fly in the face of all who are trying now to promote even uncertainty about Christ’s nature as a higher form of spirituality. It is not. Even though the disciples started out that way, Christ was constantly teaching them and revealing himself to them – all his revelations centered on himself as a person.

I understand that this teaching might be a reaction to the over-emphasize on the new birth as a „at-one-certain-point-experience“. Now while of course a birth by itself is a one-time-event and not a process, there is a whole process leading up to that point (pregnancy) and another process starting at that point (growth).

So is uncertainty spiritual? No. But if this uncertainty leads you to seek, knock, and ask, it can be helpful in leading to a deeper understanding, a deeper trust and a closer walk with Jesus. There is some things which we can never know in an intellectual sense. But that doesn’t mean that we should look up to a state of ignorance as something noble. Blessed are those who don’t see (intellectually), but yet believe.

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