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Relationship Restored

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : October 29, 2007

jesuswhite There has been a great deal of attention in recent years to the so-called “new perspective.” Basically, the movement has demonstrated that the Reformers read their battle with the Roman Church into the writings of Paul. While Paul was using certain legal categories to describe “salvation” to communities influenced by Greco-Roman thought, Luther and Calvin pushed these categories into increasingly abstract territory.

This is why the children of the Protestant Reformation tend to see sin and salvation in legal categories. Sin = breaking the laws of God. Salvation = restoring our right standing with God, our judge. Salvation is acquired by putting our faith in the One who takes our legal penalty. But putting our faith in this One, names Jesus, our sentence is passed along. And we, by exchange, receive the legal standing of Jesus.

In this view, what is the role of the Church? What becomes of ecclesiology? Well, the Church becomes that group of saved people that woos non-saved people into believing those things that result in this legal exchange (our sentence exchanged for the righteous legal status of Jesus). The church largely exists to communicate the message of salvation (defined in a legal way) from sin (which means a breaking of God’s law).

But what if we take the words SIN and SALVATION and take them out of legal categories and put them into relational ones? What if sin has more to do with broken relationships than it does with broken laws? Last week I heard the following definition for “sin:” sin is the destructive things I do out of my own pain.

I like this definition because it recognizes that sin flows naturally out of the human condition. We are broken, and as a result, we seek to bring relief to the pain of our own brokenness. And when, in our desire for relief, we cause pain or destruction in our relationships with others (or ourselves), we sin.

Salvation, then is the restoration of a broken relationship. Jesus doesn’t talk much about “salvation.” Paul doesn’t talk much about “kingdom.” I’m convinced that what Paul means when he describes ideas like “salvation” is the same think Jesus means when he describes the Kingdom. In both cases what he have is the healing presence of God–God’s peace–and this brings healing and peace to our relationships all around. It is Jubilee.

In this view, ecclesiology is an entirely different thing. The Church is that place where salvation is lived out–here and for all eternity. The church is an indispensable part of salvation. It is more than just a group of people that communicate a message. In a very real way, we ARE the message. We are a place where people experience God’s healing presence–his salvation–and the place where that salvation is worked out.

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Comments

9 Responses to “Relationship Restored”

  1. bunderwood on October 29th, 2007 2:25 pm

    Hey Mark,

    Loved the post! Are there any books that you’d recommend that have helped you out with your thinking in this?

    peace,
    brent

  2. forrest on October 29th, 2007 3:25 pm

    How about the Buddhist notion that we need Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha for our ’salvation’?

    That would mean, roughly:

    1) “Buddha,” meaning the mind of God–what we might call “Christ,” or “The Holy Spirit” at work in us and in our lives

    2) and the dharma, that is, a set of practices helpful for attuning us to that mind

    3) and then the sangha: a community of people for us to help, receive help from, and struggle with for our mutual development.

    The original words for “church” and “synagogue” both meant something like the “assembly,” or the “congregation.” In the case of the synagogue, this was the group that would come together to publically read the Torah, study, and praise God together. Christian church services were based on that pattern. In part this is because Judaism once took the form of a state religion… but so far as God used these religions as means of revelation to us, it is also because we were created to need each other. God teaches us via our individual meditation, but also through our interactions with each other…

  3. Mark Van Steenwyk on October 29th, 2007 3:33 pm

    Hey Forrest,

    I see where you’re going with this. I think community is essential. But, I must point out that community that doesn’t center on Christ doesn’t bring salvation. I have no problem being exclusivistic and snobby about salvation. Buddha is worthless to me. I have a profound difficulty in the post-enlightenment liberal notion that all spiritualities have common themes that lead to a sort of spiritualized humanism. Jesus isnt’ a means to an end…he is the end.

  4. David Piske on October 29th, 2007 5:08 pm

    Hi Mark.

    I’ve silently read your blog for a while; I appreciate your overall thrust to interpret and follow Jesus in ways that aren’t conventional and that don’t underwrite Americanism.

    I think this post provides a good thumbnail sketch of the “new perspective” and one of it’s possible connections to ecclesiology. I would be interested in hearing your ideas about the nature/role of Jesus’ crucifixion/atonement. I’m choking on the bone of penal substitution (which I was taught to me all through college and seminary), but haven’t settled any alternative conclusions.

    BTW - on a much more mundane issue - I like the crucifixion image you use at the top of your post. Does the piece have a title and/or creator? If not, at least, where did you find it?

  5. Mark Van Steenwyk on October 29th, 2007 5:29 pm

    I’m not sure where I got the image anymore. I think I found it a while back and then doctored it a bit for a powerpoint slide…and then doctored it again for this post. I hope I’m not violating copyright.

    I’ve shared some thoughts on the atonement in the past…but maybe I should spend some more time exploring things. I’d recommend Denny Weaver’s “Nonviolent Atonement.”

  6. forrest on October 29th, 2007 5:31 pm

    We don’t quite agree or disagree, but perhaps we misagree….

    George Fox’s theology of Christ took John’s precept that “Christ enlightens every person who comes into the world,” and applied it universally, to everyone ever born, even those who died before Jesus. This was not some “spiritualized humanism,” but an insight more akin to: “Hear, oh Israel, the Lord your God is One!”

    When Van de Wettering’s teacher found some students with a Christian Bible, he asked them to “Read me some.” So they read from the Sermon on the Mount, and his reaction was “That’s what I’ve been trying to teach you all along!”

    And no, this does not reduce to some nice ethical sentiments.

    It’s a big, complex universe, susceptible to many enlightening descriptions. So far as these are about the same thing, they have to have some terminology for who/what I call “God” and you call “Christ.”

    What we got specifically from Jesus is an introduction to his Father. We are to “be perfect”, “like God,” by doing good to everyone, the “Just” and the “Unjust” alike.

    If that is what God is like–and we know it is–It makes no sense to imagine God saying: “These people are Christians; I will save them–& those are not, I will leave them in ignorance.”

    People can say “Jesus,” “Christ,” “Lord, Lord”–and say he tells them to bomb strangers. The words may be the same, but their worship seems to have missed the proper target (for now.)

    “Buddha” is worthless so far as he is “not Christ.” But if Jesus is “God,” he can’t be confined to “Jesus as known to Christians alone.” What is there for a Buddhist to mean, when he says “Buddha”?

    I too like to recommend books. This one is a treasure: Alan Lew, _One God Clapping_!

  7. Mark Van Steenwyk on October 29th, 2007 5:41 pm

    Thanks for the response Forrest. I guess I get nervous with how much this line of thought can become reductionistic…or how this line of thought can make Jesus ahistorical.

    I’m interested in the teachings of Jesus–as confusing and complex as that can be. I realize that wisdom comes from other religious traditions, but I privilege Jesus above all other traditions.

    When a Buddhist says “Buddha” I am assuming s/he is talking about Buddha. Some of what the Buddha had to teach was worthwhile. Some wasn’t. But I don’t feel the need to say that when a Buddhist says “Buddha” it is the same thing as what I mean by “Christ” or “Spirit.”

    My view of things is that when Buddha says things that are true, or good, or beautiful, it is a reflection of the grace of God, who shines on all that is fair. It is a breaking in of the Spirit into our feeble humanity. But the same could be said for the true statements of Joseph Smith or Garrison Keillor.

  8. daniel.t on October 29th, 2007 7:59 pm

    Mark,
    I really liked the post. For me the question has been how do I understand sin in light of an understanding of my entire theological system being based on the communal trinity of God, and through Christ our invitation to community with God.

    So, in a theological system based on this understanding of God, what is sin? What is “original sin?” Rejecting much about the Augustinian notion, I have been trying to think of sin as the damage we do to ourselves and others–damage that pushes us away from the relationship God extends.

    Sin then cuts both ways. It harms the relationship of the offender and the victim.

    Perhaps then, “original sin” is the regular sin of those all around us, keeping us from believing God’s call into community, and in turn our sin against others is the perpetuation of “original sin” to those around us.

    The sin is still deadly and damaging, but it doesn’t have a life of its own. And sin, with its trappings of shame, contempt, and destruction of relationship is then rendered as nothing when we turn and face God through repentance as broken and needy people.

  9. joe troyer on October 30th, 2007 8:44 am

    Thanks for the post Mark. It was good to hear this morning.

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