Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Thinking About "Salvation"

Michael Spencer riffs on a post from the White Horse Inn considering whether evangelical Protestants really believe in justification by faith. If you want to find out the truth, apparently, just ask them what happens to Christians who die with unconfessed sin.
I could tell these stories all day. If you ever take a group of evangelicals who have heard the gospel for years and ask them to explain it to you as if you’d never heard it, get ready for a real wake-up call. If you apply a question like the WHI folks did- “What if you die with unconfessed sin?”- you’ll hear a cafeteria of works, merit, synergism, cooperation with God, credit for good intentions, God waving the standards, points for sincerity and so on.

What will really shock you is how seldom Jesus is ever mentioned. I hear testimony after testimony from people who have grown up under Baptist preaching- preaching that I know is about Jesus a good bit of the time- and they speak of God in terms most any Mormon, Jew or Muslim would not find particularly offensive. The person and work of Jesus is like wallpaper. We know it’s there and we don’t have to talk about it.

The big question is this: Why are evangelicals so ignorant of the basic, fundamental concepts of their own gospel of salvation? How is that so many of them sound like they’ve been catechized in a pre-Vatican II Catholic setting?
He then offers a list of reasons why many evangelical Christians have no idea what justification by faith is and means, and I think he's right.

It makes me wonder - do I believe in justification by faith? I can only guess what some of my readers think, and others make it more clear, but I think I do. I happen to believe that participation in the fellowship and the sacramental practice of the Christian Church is absolutely necessary for our ongoing healing and sanctification/transformation on this side of death, but I believe that justification comes by trust in Jesus. But I wonder, do the other things I believe undercut that?

I believe that unbaptised persons are not-yet-Christians, regardless of who or what they trust. I do believe baptised babies are going to be alright if they die. Baptising babies kind of makes sense to me.

I also believe that apostasy is possible - not the idea that someone can be a complete moral failure and God will damn them for it, but rather that choosing over against God is in itself a choosing of the things that destroy our humanity and degrade us to the point of "damnation."

Hm. I'll think of more later. What do you think?


Anonymous said...

Reminds me of a post of Michael Bird's recently:
The Meaning of Faith in Paul

Faith necessitates action through obedience, which includes baptism and participation in The Church.

I also think that a certain group of people need to start being serious about what they think the word "only" means.

Peter said...

Good questions. ere are my thoughts, FWIW.

I confess belief in the reformation version of justification by faith -- as I best as I can see I think it makes the most sense of the New Testament witness -- especially the writings of Saint Paul. So I am happy with saying I believe in justification by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone.

That being said, I believe the way most contemporary evangelical protestants (CEP) script this doctrine is wrong. CEP's are the children of the 2nd great awakening (2GA). Among other things, the 2GA left the heritage of decisionalism and conversionism. The key to being Christian is a momentous decision/conversion whereby one is "born-again" and "justified." In this approach justification is something that is abstracted from union with Christ and faith gets ossified into a momentary decision.

The historic reformation script is very different than this (and very catholic I might add). In this script one participates in the life of the Church centered in worship in word and sacrament. Word and Sacrament are certain and sure signs of the presence of Christ and his good will towards us. By participating in the visible Church and her minstry one participates in Christ. By virtue of participating in Christ one is justified (as well as adopted, regenerated, sanctified, glorified -- its a package deal). Faith is also conceived differently. Faith is a living reality. Faith is a continual posture. In a symbiotic manner, it is both -- in a sense -- a prerequisite for participation in the life of the Church and her ministry and, at the same time, faith is nourished by participation in the life of the Chruch and her ministry.

On the ground it looks like this. Daily I am living in to and out of the gift of justification. Weekly, I renew my faith in this gift through Word and Sacrament -- but especially when I approach the Lord's table and the gift of himself is present there. Justification is not a rubber stamp of righteousness I received the day "heaven came down and glory filled my soul." Justification is a living reality that I come daily/weekly.

This is long enough.

+ simonas said...

so, an unbaptized baby or child who dies will go to hell? that would make sense if one needs to baptize children for that reason - so they are christian...

+ simonas said...

RE: Fr. Matthews comment. While I agree with most of what follows in your post, i.e. about a reaction to the "decision" metaphor for describing faith, about participating in the life of the Church through Word and Sacrament, I cannot accept paedo-baptism. My main (sole?) objection is that the covenant that God makes with humans now is not by belonging to a group of people, be it the People of God through circumscision (Israel) or a Christian family (children of devout baptized parrents, as Kyle puts it). God makes His covenant with people through faith in the efficatious sacrifice of Christ, which calls us to respond by allowing Him to realine our lives to His will and purpose. Ones for whom it is a reality, are called to express their faith through the Sacrament of Baptism and join the Church, the New People of God (much like Rev. N. T. Wright calls it in one of his books).

Kyle said...

You know, it's that darned "faith" word that continues to confuse the heck out of me.

I honestly don't think I have anything intelligent to say about it.

+ simonas said...

Hi Kyle,

I hope you don't (or didn't) take my comment as a snap or sorts. I have been thinking about this quite a bit. For a while I also considered the baptism-as-a-continuation-of-circumcision metaphor, but found it lacking. Faith? I agree, it confuses me too, but evangelist John keeps retelling those stories of Jesus where he keeps saying, "Believe in me, believe in the one who sent me". Looking back in history to the so called Christ event, I suppose, a believer is the one who accepts God's self-sacrifice on his or her behalf, participates in it (hopefully, through Eucharist), and remains in Him (with a lot of room for the outplay of all of that). Through baptism one consciously enters into that covenant. That's my proto-definition of being a Christian.

At any rate, I have heard that even in the teaching of the Church (of Rome), the normal way of baptism is for adults. Even in the event of paedo-baptismal liturgy, the baby is treated as an adult. Go figure.

Kyle said...

Thanks, Simonas, I didn't take your comment as anything ugly. :0) I'm just seriously quite a bit in the dark about the whole matter. When I finish this degree, I'm going to have to spend my time on some Pauline studies, that's for sure.