Monday, May 18, 2009

Enough with salvation already!

OK, time to stir the pot a little. Our particular corner of the blogosphere has been buzzing fow a while now on the subject of atonement. I've enjoyed it, I don't think we've nearly closed the topic, and I certainly intend to return there myself at some point. Nevertheless, I think we need to step back and pause for a reality check.

First of all, whatever the mechanism by which sin has been atoned, the clear message of the gospels and the epistles is that Jesus has done it. It's not conditional on us understanding or believing any point of detail as to how he did it. It's not even conditional upon us knowing or understanding that there WAS a problem! It should suffice us to recognize that Jesus had--and has--both the means and the authority to deal with the problem, whatever problem it was.

More importantly, though, the whole question of atonement for sin, at least as it's discussed in most definitions of "the gospel," presupposes that sin and its remedy are the central focus (or at the very least one principal focus) of the mission Jesus came to do. While I do not dispute that Jesus' death and resurrection had a beneficial effect with regard to human sin, it was never the point of the process. Salvation was always a means to an end, it was never intended to be the end in itself.

The story of Jesus' time on earth is replete with redemption and healing. This is indisputable. But the point my Mom just made in her word study on repentance is also true for the rest of Jesus' redemptive acts: the healing, the repentance, the salvation of people from whatever mess they were in, was always and only a beginning. What really mattered wasn't the key that got them in the door, it was the life they were called to live on the other side of that door.

For this reason, while we may continue to debate the mechanism by which Jesus dealt with sin, the vista we must regain shows us that the process actually doesn't matter. Jesus' message was, and is:

If you're sick or hurting or wounded, I can take care of that. Follow me!

If you're feeling guilty or worried about the sin propitiation you've been taught you need, I have taken care of that. Follow me!

If you've learned "every man for himself" all too well from your society, I can take care of that and lift you out of yourself. Follow me!

If you are afraid of the others--human or supernatural--who are exercising the power of fear and death over you, I've defeated them; I took care of that. Follow me!

If you're worried about your life beyond the grave, I'm already beyond the grave. I took care of that. Follow me!

If you're oppressed by any of the ills that have afflicted my Father's creation, whether poverty or injustice or disease, I've now sent my followers to take care of that in my name. Join them in following me!

If you're one of the oppressors that are helping to perpetuate the abuse of my kingdom and my followers, I can free you from the tyranny of power. I can take care of that. Work with me to lift up what has been trampled down, and follow me!

And perhaps most compellingly to us amateur theologians (and the pros too, if they'll listen): If you're wrapped up in endless controversies over how I took care of all that, let go, accept that I DID take care of that, and follow me!


Anonymous said...

Great post Dan. I guess personally I have accepted the fact that for reasons that I will never fully fathom that it was necessary for Jesus to die form MY sins. Like you say just follow Jesus.
Your post reminded me of the installation of our pastor in my church a few years ago. It so happens that our pastor came to the ministry later in life; in fact his son was already a minister when he decided to go to the seminary. His son gave the sermon at his installation as our pastor and his point was to "give them Jesus" and everything else will fall in place.
I will never fully understand many of the mysteries of Christianity but I am fully on board to just following Jesus and let the questions take care of themselves.

Unknown said...

Your conclusion here is probably the best summary statement of the real "Gospel" that I have encountered -- in more than 50 years of study! Forget defining all the problems: Jesus has it ALL under control! I had to wonder if it is too "irreverent" to imagine Jesus and the Father "high-fiving" each other, and exclaiming, "Somebody FINALLY got it!!!"
After all, it should be a no-brainer that Jesus himself is the most valid authority regarding his own purposes -- and "follow me" was his constantly repeated invitation. (It is an interesting exercise to go through the Gospels and list only what HE said were his reasons and purposes in coming. Most folks are surprised.)
If we would concentrate on following, we would have no time for the endless arguments in which so many folks delight. And don't forget -- that invitation is usually issued in the PLURAL. We need each other to follow faithfully.

Josh said...

This comment may not be what you want to hear, Dan, but your premise sounds quite Reformed. The logic of the Reformed emphasis on God's sovereignty in all things leads to the conclusion that God does it all. Put simply, God alone saves. To this good news we are called to respond out of gratitude, following the teaching and example of Jesus.

Ironically, it is sometimes members of the Reformed theological house who seem most preoccupied with doctrinal details--as if right doctrine, rather than God, saves.

Dan Martin said...

LOL Josh, I can see why you'd take it that way, and it doesn't bother me. While I think the Reformers missed a lot, they got a lot right too. Where I would differ with them is that every stanza of my post ends with the command "Follow me!" I believe that is a command to which we are expected, and created able, to voluntarily respond. Therefore, yes, whatever one's objection, Jesus took care of it. But he still expects US to do something about it, and that's where I part ways with at least the Calvinist branch of the Reformation.

And vis-a-vis Luther I would only say, as I tried to say in the post, that getting our knickers in a twist over whether it's all grace/faith or works that "saves" us isn't the point, because "salvation" it self, isn't the point. Following Jesus is.

Josh said...


I've enjoyed reading your various posts on the atonement (think I've read them all now)--interesting stuff. I'll be starting my own series on the subject soon. Hope you'll participate.