Saturday, March 21, 2015

What is Salvation?


I will soon be preaching a series of sermons on salvation, because I believe it is a doctrine that is poorly understood within the church. Among mainline churches, it has become problematic because of the link to the idea that salvation is simply an individual decision to get on the heavenly bandwagon. But surely there is more to salvation than this.  I have long found that Liberation Theology provides important resources for our conversation. Liberation theologians such as Gustavo Gutierrez have reflected on the question and have helped understand the "this-world" implications of salvation.  As we move toward the series, and through it I will be sharing reflections that can stir the conversation.

Gutierrez points us to the move from a quantitative approach to a qualitative one. The former has to do with getting humans into heaven, usually by way of the church. This life is merely a test in preparation for the next. A qualitative approach seeks to understand the implications for this life, and outside the walls of the church. Gutierrez finds support for this in Catholic doctrine.

I want to share a paragraph that includes a citation from the proceedings of CELAM held in Bogota in 1968. CELAM is the acronym for the Episcopal Conference of Latin America.  
Salvation is not something otherworldly, in regard to which the present life is merely a test. Salvation -- the communion of men with God and the communion of men with themselves -- is something which embraces all human reality, transforms it, and leads it to its fullness in Christ: "Thus the center of God's salvific design is Jesus Christ, who by his death and resurrection transforms the universe and makes it possible for man to reach fulfillment as a human being. This fulfillment embraces every aspect of humanity: body and spirit, individual and society, person and cosmos, time and eternity. Christ, the image of the Father and the perfect God-Man, takes on all the dimensions of human existence."  [Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation, (Orbis, 1973).
How do we reclaim the broader implications of salvation? How should we understand the work of Christ in this world transforming it so that all humanity, the creation itself, reaches its fulfillment?

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