Thursday, January 13, 2011

Saved from God or by God?

From A Thinking Reed:

Ted Grimsrud, a professor of theology and religion at Eastern Mennonite University, … has a series of essays on his site looking at core Christian doctrines. I read the chapter on salvation and really liked the way he framed the problem:

The theology I was first taught as a Christian implicitly told me that it was God from whom I needed to be saved. God is furious at each of us because of our sin. So we are doomed—and we fully deserve our doom. Our only way out is through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. God visits upon Jesus the violence we deserve because God must punish sin. Jesus is our substitute who saves us by paying the price required to satisfy God’s righteous anger.

I’ve never heard it put quite that way, but this really pinpoints the problem with what often passes for “traditional” atonement doctrine: it portrays Jesus as saving us from an angry God rather than portraying God in Christ as the origin and agent of our salvation.

Prof. Grimsrud goes on to argue that we aren’t saved from God, but saved by God. More specifically, God is not bound to some cosmic cycle of retributive violence that requires inflicting punishment on Jesus in order for God to forgive us, but instead seeks to heal us from the damage we inflict on others and ourselves when we turn away from trusting in God and put our trust in various idols.

He sees the salvation taught by Jesus as fully continuous with the salvation story of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. God acts to save without needing to be appeased, sacrificed to, or otherwise bought off, because it’s God’s nature to be merciful. “Contrary to many Christian soteriologies, for Jesus the salvation story of the Old Testament remains fully valid. He does not tell a different story, but proclaims the truthfulness of the old story.”

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