Friday, June 19, 2009

salvation's focus

Tom Wright in his latest book now coming to me in the mail points out how our theological thinking, even among the Reformed* who profess a God-centered theology, is man-centered, orbiting around man. As important as humanity is, and humanity is at the pinnacle of God's creation, God is at the center, and we along with all else, revolve around God.

That in itself is not the radical point Wright is trying to make in what little I've read of that book so far. Rather, when it's all about our/my justification, our/my salvation, our/my sanctification, our/my home someday in "heaven", then we've lost our way. Such a view is a misreading and often truncated view of Scripture, might be the thought here. God's salvation in Christ is much bigger, and our lives and sense of mission should reflect that.

God's salvation in Christ is for the entire creation in the new creation which begins now through God's saving of people and through those people to others and to God's world. Not to lose sight of our salvation because that's important and essential. But not to make that the end all, because through it God sets us in motion by the Spirit in his new creation work, both in sharing the gospel and in fulfilling his creation mandate for humanity.

This for me makes my tuning in to keep up on something of the news important. While never letting go of the primacy of the gospel, but also realizing its scope is bigger than we think. That it's not only about me and God, (or even us and God). To think it is, suggests Wright, is to hear the serpent's whisper, and not God's voice.**

What do you think on this? What thought would you like to share?

*To be fair, the Reformed do emphasize God's glory, but in their exegesis and telling of Scripture, it's all too often about how that relates to man's salvation, so that the glory given to God is in reference to that and then fails to see the bigger picture that Scripture itself presents, I believe.

**To be fair to Tom Wright, I think his reference to the serpent's whisper is the thinking that God's salvation is all about me, so that it's what I can get out of it, the serpent's pitch in the garden in its lie to Eve.


Andrew said...

I appreciate that you said a view toward "personal salvation" is a "truncated" view, not a wrong view. I agree that the gospel is about the reconcilation of the world (2 Cor 5); however, does that mean "all peoples" or "all things"?

I think, however, it's erroneous (Wright et al.) to caricature Reformation/Reformed theology as "all about me and my salvation" / "How I got saved." It's true that many evangelicals read the Bible as a guidebook to "How can I get saved?" instead of as the historical unfolding of God's plan of redemption of his creation. But that's not the Reformed view and never has been.

It's also erroneous to think that "personal salvation" is NOT in the Gospels/gospel. The situation as we have it was that the Jews saw themselves still in exile, awaiting their messianic day of redemption. The Essenes and Pharisees believed that only strict Torah-keeping would pave the way for Messiah, without whom Israel's eschatological hopes would not be realized. As these sects pushed righteous Torah-keeping, the fervor and expectation was that Messiah and the Day of the Lord would come soon, so they were also concerned about whether or not they would exhibit the circumcised hearts called for by the prophets and whether or not they would join the resurrection. Hence we see several times in the Gospels people asking, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Personal salvation IS a large part of the gospel.

This is especially true when we consider that the cosmos is fallen only because man, God's viceroy and image-bearer on Earth, has defected in his mandate to exercise proper dominion over the earth. It is only the redemption of Man (namely, in THE Man, Jesus Christ) that the earth, as secondary, has hope.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks for your instructive words, here.

You do know Reformed theology better than I. And when I think of Kuyper, certainly God's salvation is bigger than just "my own relationship with God." And getting other people into that same relationship.

I also want to say that this is MY general impression of Wright and what he's saying. Though you'll have to read his new book on justification if you choose, and then decide yourself.

Yes. Salvation for the INDIVIDUAL is big in Scripture, throughout. If my words on this post read as a denial of that, I miscommunicated. The salvation of individuals is part of what is at the heart of the gospel, Christ died for sinners. And it's about salvation of a people, as well.

What Wright I think is complaining about in the book, in part, is that the exegesis of people like Piper, fails to take into account the full scope of what is meant in the passages themselves, and in light of the entirety of Scripture.

As to salvation, reconciliation involves not only humanity, but all things in heaven and on earth, as Colossians points out. So whatever is a part of salvation, I would take to be a part of the gospel, hinted at in the Gospels through Jesus' works, and stated by Paul.

But again, I don't want to be misunderstood as speaking for N.T. Wright here, and precisely what he's saying. I am speaking of my understanding of him, which is MOST CERTAINLY NOT as from him.

While I think I'm in basic agreement with your point about the Essenes and Pharisees, from Paul's writings I think it's evident that the Jews in the main thought they were IN, because they were under the Torah. They considered themselves, already, children of the resurrection to come, at the last day.

Thanks for the excellent push back. This is the only way I can improve my understanding. And I appreciate it!

Author: Bob Robinson said...

I think that both you and Andrew are definitely in the same ballpark as to how to understand the gospel.

Reformed theology, at its best is indeed, as Andrew states, "the historical unfolding of God's plan of redemption of his creation," and that it would be erroneous to say that personal salvation is "NOT in the Gospels/gospel."

But Wright never denies that the gospel includes personal salvation. Wright's insistence that personal redemption is found in placing our trust in the literal death and resurrection of Christ is what makes liberals unhappy with him.

But Wright is stating that Piper's brand of Reformed theology truncates the gospel a bit too much toward an individualistic gospel. Piper so majors on T.U.L.I.P. (which are five aspects of how God glorifies himself in saving individuals), that the cosmic redemption that is the whole gospel gets watered down.

Wright takes "world" (Greek, "cosmos") to mean primarily the created order (with exceptions where context makes it mean something more specific). Piper takes "world" to mean primarily the people of the world in need of salvation (with exceptions where context determines it to have a more broad meaning.)

Piper and Wright have a lot more in common than they have in difference. But the differences are significant enough for us to study and interact and discuss!

Kurt Willems said...

When I first learned that the gospel is not all about my salvation and security in heaven... it changed my view of God in a refreshing way. Like you have said, it is not that the traditional evangelical message is lost in regards to salvation... it is that the message is even BIGGER than we knew. It is for the whole Cosmos! This has implications on how we do mission, much of which I am currently wrestling with...

Anonymous said...

Hey Ted,

How are you? I'm doing MUCH better. After 15 months of torture, I finally feel like I'm getting ME back...the Me God created me to be, not the poisoned one fighting for the return of her health. But God is GOOD through it all.

I wanted to point to a video that is worth the watch. One of my students from my teaching days sent it to me with the following message:

"ok so I watched this video this afternoon and felt like I was hit by the Mack truck...EVERYONE in my address book is getting this so here goes.

I love you enough to tell you that Christ came to the Earth to die for you. He hung on the cross and suffered for your sins so that YOU ....if you choose to believe in Him, can have life ETERNALLY in Heaven with Him. He is the ONLY WAY. When I was saved it took someone point blank saying this to me....He died so that you may live forever. Do what you want with it....but its the truth.

Kinda strange maybe that I am attaching a video of an atheist to this email...but it made me realize that this is the only way I can truly love you." PLEASE Watch.....

This is pretty profound.

Hope you are well. Keep spreading the Good, Good News!!!

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks for your thoughtful and truth full mediating comment.

I do need to keep reading. I do wish I could have just three months to do nothing except read, along with Deb, somewhere. And pray, and think. But I'll just have to keep trying to intersperse that here and there in normal life.

Thanks for stopping by, and for the helpful comment!

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks. And great comment over there from you on "Jesus Creed" in Scot's last posting on N.T. Wright's new book.

Yes. Me, too. I'm trying to sort it out, but it is becoming a bit clearer to me, as I go along, though not as clear as I want.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Good to hear from you, and glad that you are better! Sorry to hear what you've gone through. Exciting to see what God is opening up for you in your writing.

I'm fine; the Lord is good to us.

May we be faithful to the Lord, and to the gospel, the rest of our days here.

Thanks for sharing.

Ted M. Gossard said...

By the way, Jennifer, a good video indeed! Everyone ought to give it a look/listen!

Halfmom said...

Interesting discussion - I guess it never dawned on me that anyone would think that salvation was personal only and didn't include the planet and the rest of the physical universe that fell as well. My goodness, I'm ever so glad that my physical body is going to get resurrected!!! I suppose that if salvation were personal only, then it would only need to be spritual and not of the body at all - and then where would I be!? I'm very much looking forward to that resurrected body in a restored world that no longer groans in waiting.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Halfmom, Susan,
Amen to that! It will be wondeful in God's wonderful new world. Reminds me of the end of "The Chronicles of Narnia", I believe, in C.S. Lewis. And of "the Great Divorce" from him, as well!

Good point on spiritual from you. Spiritual I take to include the material, seeing the dichotomy as essentially man-made, and not true to God's revelation in Scripture. Though we may see language used in bringing out certain aspects or perspectives (can't think of word I'm wanting here) of who we are. But the real us includes our bodies for sure, and the resurrection is our hope, in Christ. Not our life in "heaven" after death, but in the new heaven and earth united together as those of the resurrection.

I do like N.T. Wright's thoughts on how our work in the present as those of the new creation can bring something of that creation into the old creation here and now- both to humans and other dimensions of creation, as well. And how that can carry over into the new creation when heaven and earth are one. I'm wanting to understand that better, but I think he's on to something, which is Scriptural, and can be helpful for us.