Saturday, December 27, 2008

Problems with Salvation Language

I've been reflecting a lot on how frustrating evangelical speak can be. There was a thread a while back on the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association's yahoo group that was dissecting the idea of "inviting Jesus into your heart". The consensus was that this is not a very helpful analogy. We love these quaint little sayings that actually say absolutely nothing. And we wonder why people outside of the evangelical world do not take us serious.

The one that really bugs me right now is the saying that God/Jesus "saves our souls". Think about that for a minute - what does it actually mean? After trying to tease some meaning out of that hopelessly Hellenistic slogan I had to conclude that unless one does a careful exposition of the concept of soul from scripture - this pretty much means God is only concerned with some disconnected part of me that can neither be proven or disproven, so is easily bifurcated from the tangible aspects of life. Let me explain.

Most Westerners think of soul as that part of us which lives on after death. I suspect that many think of it as a composite of our beings, sort of a seat of personality, but that is a much more lengthy study than I'm prepared to undertake in a blog post. The idea is that soul is related to heaven - it is what we rationally connect with an after-death experience. Death being the great bugbear against which a saved soul is the perfect ward - or is it. What it really boils down to is purely semantics, that is it is just words we use to comfort ourselves in the face of the inevitable unknown. If having my soul saved is nothing more than this then I think I'll pass. Fortunately, there is another way of approaching the soul issue.

In the Christian tradition the idea of resurrection should challenge Hellenistic notions of a separation of soul and body. Unfortunately this supposed separation has led to the vilification of the flesh, another thread for another time. But we must not be so quick to separate our realities, as if the body was just some disposable husk we can't wait to shirk off. This devaluation of the body has been employed to justify all kinds of injustice - slavery and human trafficking continue today because we can somehow commodify the body. In scripture soul and body are not so quickly isolated (if at all).

The second issue is that if Jesus came just to save an abstract part of our being, albeit one that seems quite important and possibly the animating aspect, then why incarnate? What model does condescending into bodily form produce? For Jesus it is all connected. Body, spirit, soul - however you want to slice it up, it is all met together in the person of Jesus. If it was only our souls then would not ecstatics suffice? In point of fact they do suffice for many and serve as convincing arguments for obscuring ones own hermeneutics.

The third issue is that if the soul is really our animating whole seat of personality - how can be excuse our bodily existence? How can we ever justify bodily actions that do not prove a change in our souls in the here and now? I guess this is what frustrates me most - that Christianity is reduced through popular images to a pie in the sky religion while the world goes to hell in a handbasket. That sort of Christianity is not worth participating in.

Not enough effort is given into the trite little sayings we Christians throw around. Less thought is given to the worldviews behind our sayings. When we do so we risk making God into a god of convenience and a god of escapism. Neither is the God who so loved the WORLD (COSMOS) that John's gospel speaks of. Let me quote a bit of proverbs by way of conclusion. Let me first affirm that God saves all of me(you) and that must mean everything or it means nothing at all.
Do not withhold discipline from a child;
if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.
Punish him with the rod
and save his soul from death.
My son, if your heart is wise,
then my heart will be glad;
my inmost being will rejoice
when your lips speak what is right.
Do not let your heart envy sinners,
but always be zealous for the fear of the LORD.
There is surely a future hope for you,
and your hope will not be cut off.
Listen, my son, and be wise,
and keep your heart on the right path. (Psalm 23:13-19, NIV)

1 comment:

steven hamilton said...

thank you, thank you, thank you

amen, amen and again i say amen

great post frank!

happy new year!