Ongoing Dialogue With David: ON SALVATION (and stuff...)

Continuing a great conversation with my friend from George Fox Seminary, David Manning.

David Said:
And my belief in the vision of Christ and the Kingdom of God is real enough that it doesn't hinge on anything but itself.

If your belief is a real thing in itself, and doesn't have to signify anything beyond itself, then in what sense can you and I—we both being Christians—be said to share the same faith? I can see how the phrase "we both believe X" has meaning if we both have a similar belief that corresponds to a thing exterior to us both, but if the correspondence to something objective isn't important, how can two individuals be said to belong to the same faith?


The Cross and Resurrection illuminated Christ and illustrated salvation. They did not invent, define or limit them (imho).
This seems to assume that there is *something* out there that corresponds to the idea of salvation. What sort of thing is it? On what basis is it founded? Whatever it is, why is it a more acceptable basis for salvation than the historical Incarnation?

*     *     *

This is a GREAT question: “can you and I… be said to share the same faith?”
David, I would answer that, by the grace of God, yes.
But qualitatively? Maybe not really...

Just as I believe that our faith in God, through Christ, is made whole and complete through the grace of God that reaches out and meets us, I also believe that our faith -- our conception of God -- and our feeble attempts at understanding Divinity, “aiming” toward truth and responding appropriately -- are inevitable failures in and of themselves. So I would say, David, we share the same faith because we share the same wholehearted, authentic desire to follow God, through Christ, although our understanding of what that means is divergent. But David, wouldn’t you agree that even if you and I used the exact same language, and had no identifiable differences in our theological constructs, our psychology/neurology, personality, and even our minor geographic and cultural, differences would all contribute to hugely dissimilar internal meanings for all those constructs? I think so. If any of us is ever on the same page, it’s only momentary, and even then we’re on different paragraphs.

This is why I’m also willing to call my neighbors from other faith traditions “sister” and “brother,” and why I call my time with my agnostic friends “fellowship.” We are on parallel paths, although our language is different. I don’t believe I am endangering or sacrificing my salvation or theirs by dropping my need (and it used to be a very strong need, indeed!) to self-differentiate.

Love your question about salvation, too. I’m a universalist, and my language on salvation gets me into trouble, because I call myself an evangelical too, and sometimes I get myself trapped! Part of that is because I haven’t worked through all of the intricacies of what it means to be a liberal, evangelical, universalist (+douchebag) and part of it is because I believe that there are inherent tensions in these identifiers that cannot be resolved. And perhaps should not be.  And as I’ve said before, I’m an evangelical for cultural reasons as much as any other factor.

So, I believe that God is an inherently salvific being, and that creation is in a process both of being created and saved, and of being maligned and destroyed.  I believe creation wins, on the long arch "that bends toward justice," but it doesn't happen by magic.  It happens by the steady, deliberate march of the people of the Kingdom of God.

I believe that Christ, as the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, Co-Equal with the [Gender-Neutral] Father, and the Spirit, demonstrated on earth the Divine nature of God and what human beings were capable of in perfect spiritual submission: forgiveness, unconditional love, subversive, counterintuitive Kingdom economics/politics (I’d rather not get into all that here).
I believe that the inevitable response of Principalities and Powers to the nature of God (true, pure, goodness) is to destroy it. I also believe that, often, the response of those oppressed by Principalities and Powers is to lash out against the “other” victim, when the system exerts itself elsewhere. This is self preservation.  So something I dealt with (briefly) in this Banned Questions book is that arguing about whether or not Christ’s crucifixion was a “requirement” of atonement by God has been an unnecessary theological exercise. Not right or wrong (necessarily) but not necessary.  Probably inevitable, in that we like to explain everything, and put God behind the reins, but I don’t believe humanity needed “atonement.”

Do I believe in sin? Absolutely! Do I believe sin distances us from God? Well, I believe sin is dysfunction and lack of health, so when we are unhealthy we have a harder time connecting to Divinity – of course. But I do not believe God needed recompense, or to be “satisfied,” or that Satan had to be paid ransom. This is more than simply “moral influence,” because I choose to believe Christ was God, and that God revealed Divine nature, Divine will, Divine Mercy and Humility, Divine love – Divine desire and intent – through Christ’s Theophany. It showed MORE than what humankind was capable of. Christ shows us what God is up to…

So I believe that the process of salvation has been in operation since the Big Bang (pow!) and that God is mysteriously, subversively (frustratingly-slowly, imho) wooing all of creation toward redemption. That salvation is working its way through every society, culture, and religious tradition, not necessarily making any of them salvific in and of themselves, but all of them marked with the presence of the Holy Spirit.

I could go on and on, and as I re-read what I've written, all of the "I believe's" strike me as more than a tad narcissistic.  But so is blogging, in general.  David, again, you asked, "Whatever it is, why is it a more acceptable basis for salvation than the historical Incarnation."  I hope that I've demonstrated that the historical Incarnation actually is my basis for what salvation is.  I simply don't believe that the historical Incarnation is the matrix in which salvation exists, or that it serves as a boundary or limitation for salvation's identity.  The Incarnation is a window through which we view something much larger - ultimately incomprehensible.

2 comments:

David Manning said...

But David, wouldn’t you agree that even if you and I used the exact same language, and had no identifiable differences in our theological constructs, our psychology/neurology, personality, and even our minor geographic and cultural, differences would all contribute to hugely dissimilar internal meanings for all those constructs?

Yes and no. I'm afraid I'm beset by a decidedly antiquated theory of meaning. On the one hand, I completely agree that our respective mental schemas are mostly independent of one another, so that what you intend and what I intend to communicate when we each write or speek the same words are certain to be dissimilar. On the other hand, I also believe that our mental schemas are significant of truths outside of ourselves. The relationship of signification is analogical: our thoughts are both like and unlike the truths they signify. Roughly, I believe that you and I can "mean the same thing" when we verbally reference ideas in our minds that respectively signify the same objective reality. Our mental schema don't need to match up exactly to each other or to "objective reality" in order to signify effectively. This is why it's possible for us both to describe the same tree in my backyard, though we each remember it differently.

I’m a universalist, and my language on salvation gets me into trouble, because I call myself an evangelical too, and sometimes I get myself trapped!

It's all good. Most of my opinions are inconsistent with something else I think. I understand the appeal of universalism; I would love to wake up in eternity and discover everyone had been saved, but I'm not a universalist. I don't try to specify who's going to end up where, but there's just too much in Scripture that points to the existence of Hell. Beyond that, I can only affirm that God is just.

But I do not believe God needed recompense, or to be “satisfied,” or that Satan had to be paid ransom.

I don't think the substitutionary / legal metaphor is the best either, but I do believe that God accomplished something via the Incarnation (not just the Crucifixion) that humanity could never have done for itself. I like to say that God saw humanity in a state of spiritual death (or at least terminal illness) and chose out of love to join with us. In Christ, divinity literally shared in our death. We don't avoid the death we owe; we all still die. However, if we are united with Christ we pass with Him through death, and back into life. So I would say that it is the union of divinity with humanity in the Person of Jesus that accomplishes our salvation. You can see, then, how the Incarnation as an historical event is a requirement for me.

The Incarnation is a window through which we view something much larger - ultimately incomprehensible.

agreed!

I want to thank you again for your generosity of time and spirit in discussing these things with me. I think we see clearly where we agree and where we don't. What more could one hope for from a good discussion?

peace,
David

Peter said...

Yeah, the difference could probably be overstated.

Regarding Hell... we don't have to get into that here (save it for another time?) but I don't have a problem believing in hell or something like it. I just don't believe whole people go there. I think that whatever can be saved will be saved, that there is redeemable goodness in everyone, and that the parts of us that are not compatible with eternity with God will be burned up. For some of us, there may be less remaining, I'm afraid...

I think God accomplished something through Christ, as well. But I think the Incarnation itself, apart from the resurrection, is the most compelling revelation of God: the humbling of absolute power into mortal limitation. I don't think very much contemporary Christian theology focuses enough on its meaning or its implications.

Hey, thanks again to you bro, talk to you soon,
Peter

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