Lesson 1: Are You Saved?

This will be an online version of a course on salvation I am teaching at two congregations this fall. It will be designed for those who find it difficult to attend a face-to-face class because of commuting or home responsibilities. The classes are using Kristin Johnston Largen’s What Christians Can Learn from Buddhism: Rethinking Salvation.

In many ways my online courses have been team taught with Bob Nordvall who comments almost every session from Pistoia, Italy. I have not been able to foster online the freewheeling kind of discussion I enjoy in face-to-face classes. However, a number of our participants comment online or through my email. I invite all of you to use either method, and I’ll try to report the creative conversation that ensues.

I have found taking a close look at this subject has offered a number of surprises. The Christian Bible is essentially a library of sacred writings that chart the history of salvation. Yet it never offers a conclusive definition of what it is.

Instead it offers a wide variety of pictures. Throughout the scriptures the writers describe salvation quite differently at different times. And as one of the scientists at Good Shepherd observed, if taken literally none of them makes sense in the 21st century. For example, sitting at table with Jesus would not be a very intimate experience if billions shared the meal.

The Bible also speaks of that from which we are saved. But again that changes quite a bit. We can be saved from the injustice of oppressive political empires, the control of Satan and his demons, the enslavement of sin and death, and a number of other evils. And as another class member at Good Shepherd asserted, during our lifetimes pastors have certainly changed their ideas about what these sins are.

But we should expect that! Christianity is not based on a philosophical understanding of divinity but rather on historical events in which we claim God participates. Our faith always relates its understanding of salvation to the needs of the historical time and place. In a sense, pictures of salvation reveal the ultimate questions being asked at the time. That is why we have been able to pray the Lord’s Prayer for 2000 years. It pictures salvation as the God’s Kingdom coming, his will being done, and sufficient bread being available. It speaks of being saved from our sins, evil, and temptation. These are all very general terms to which we can apply the particulars of our own time and place.

And that will be our task. We’ll try to paint a picture of salvation adequate for the 21st century. That will involve asking from what we need to be saved here and now. All around us we hear people asking, “Are you saved?” We’ll take the time to ask, “What does that mean?” We’ll find the Bible does not speak of this as simply finding entrance into a heaven and escaping a hell after our deaths. Heavens, the Old Testament does not really have a concept of life after death.

Don’t hesitate to ask questions in online comments or personal emails. Feel free to offer your pictures of salvation.

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