December 11, 2017

Writers’ Roundtable—Salvation

roundtableThere is a chill in the air, the leaves are falling, the days are shorter … and there is a sudden gathering of iMonks at my kitchen table. Somehow they think I have leftover Halloween candy. What a surprise for them to learn all I have are some Dum-Dums and Smarties, plus some floss the dentist down the street hands out. But not wanting to disappoint, I ran out to the store and procured a bag of candy corn and a can of salted peanuts, poured them into a bowl, mixed them up, and there you have it—instant PayDay bars.

We have gathered to have a fun and friendly discussion of a topic most of us refer to every day of our Christian lives, but perhaps don’t really think through very often. The topic I’m referring to is salvation. In the circle where I grew up in the faith, as long as you could answer the question, “Are you saved?” in the affirmative, you didn’t really go any further. I wondered if that was the case with my good friends here at the iMonastery, so we have gathered to discuss what we each mean by some common terms and phrases.

Gathered ’round the table are two Catholics (Martha of Ireland, Damariz Zehner) and two Protestants (Lisa Dye, Adam Palmer). And then there is yours truly, a ‘tweener. This should prove to be a fun and lively discussion—especially if the treats hold up. Let’s begin.

JD: Thanks for being here, especially Martha, who swam across the sea. I thought we would talk about salvation today.What are the first thoughts that come to mind when you hear the term “saved” in a Christian sense? Lisa?

LD:   “Saved” wasn’t a term I was familiar with until after I became a Christian. I grew up going to various churches, but for the most part I was in a Presbyterian church when my family attended or in a Catholic church when I spent the night with my best friend. I never heard that term in either of those places. I went to church for a long time before it dawned on me that one could have eternal life. I thought the name of the game was being good and not sinning and having God like what you were doing while walking around on earth. Whether innately or due to the reverent atmosphere in both of those churches, I knew deep down that the God with whom I had to do was holy and perfect and I felt a distance from him that I longed to close.

When I finally was given the Gospel very directly by my stepsister, she told me that I needed to make a decision about Christ. Did I believe he was God in human flesh? Did I believe he came to save me from my sins and give me eternal life in Heaven? If so, I needed to “receive Christ.” Yes, the word “save” was in there, but the term that stuck was “receive Christ.” At the time I was fourteen and a girl who always tried hard to be good and mostly was, but I felt lonely for God. Salvation for me was getting to have Christ live in me. It wasn’t until later that I became aware that I wasn’t just saved “for” something, but I was saved “from” something … my sin, my self and my selfishness. Gradually, the naivety of youth wore off and consciousness that I had a nature bent on opposing God took me by surprise. I needed to be saved. That conviction only intensifies with each passing day.

DZ:  My thoughts are complicated by the fact that I’m an English professor.  First I think of verb tenses:  I was saved, I have been saved, I am saved, I am being saved, I will be saved.  In some sense all of these tenses express part of the truth of my relationship with salvation.  I was dead in my sins, and at the call of Jesus’s voice I was saved from death.  Having been released from the tomb, I am now in the midst of the battle, so day by day I am being saved.  On the Day of Judgment, by God’s infinite mercy, I will be saved to eternal life.

Second, I think of prepositions:  saved by, saved for, saved from, and saved to.  Some Christians consider saved at a particular time or place very important.  Although I experienced a time of choice and overflowing delight in God when I was sixteen, salvation to me seems too complicated to pin down to a single time or place.  Perhaps I was saved from death only once (although I’m not sure I know when that was), but each day I am saved by grace and saved for the good works that God has prepared in advance for me to do (Eph. 2:8-10).

Third, I think of the meanings of the word saved:  “rescued” is the first meaning, and that equates with I was saved from death; “preserved” is the second meaning, which equates to the ongoing work of God, or I am being saved for eternal life.

M o’I: The cross of Christ.  Membership in a Christian community through baptism.  Hearing the Gospel preached – that God made us, that our First Parents broke the relationship though sin, that the Fall affects us all and the entirety of creation, that God promised us redemption, that God fulfilled this promise through sending His Son to us, that Jesus died for us for love and to pay the debt we could not, that the mercy of God is poured out for us forever, that we are sons and daughters by adoption.

AP: I immediately think of that Carman song “Saved” (which is a hilariously pale rip-off of David Bowie’s “Fame”) and the implicit threat behind the question Jeff mentioned earlier: “Are you saved?” I grew up TERRIFIED that I wasn’t truly “saved,” which, when coupled with all the rapture rhetoric that dovetailed nicely with Cold War paranoia (the ’80s represent the meat of my childhood), left me frequently flipping through news channels when my parents were late getting home from work, convinced they’d been raptured and I’d been left behind. I abandoned the term “saved” in adulthood and haven’t looked back.

JD: Now I have David Bowie stuck in my head. Thanks, AP. How does one get saved? Is there only one way to do so?

DZ: I have no idea how God counts these things.  We are only saved through his grace, but I’m sure that the way that grace has worked in different people’s lives is as varied as the people themselves.  The older I get, the less I want to narrow the door of salvation.  The door is narrow, no question, but I’m not sure if the narrowness consists of being baptized, doing good works, praying a certain prayer, having a certain attitude of heart . . .  In any case, it is God who determines its width.  I trust him for the means of salvation, and I look to the successors of Peter, to whom God gave the keys, for guidance on my journey to and through the gate.

JD: Damaris, you went and made our Protestant readers, especially one Lutheran in particular, rush for the comments section with that. Lisa, what is an evangelical perspective?

LD:  I heard someone say that there are many ways to Christ, but only one way to the Father and that is through Christ. He is the narrow gate. I’m always intrigued to hear people tell about their journeys to Christ, as they are diverse and usually more interesting than mine. Many of those journeys resulted in the person praying some form of a sinner’s prayer and that is essentially what I did. I don’t think so much in terms of formulas for coming to Christ or walking through life with him, but one thing about the sinner’s prayer is that it crystallizes contrition (which literally means “ground to pieces”) as the most basic element in turning to God. Whether contrition happens in a moment’s epiphany or as a process over time is an individual experience. Yet, who’s to say that God doesn’t embrace us even in our failures to be contrite enough? He’s merciful and Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. That seems to indicate a willingness on God’s part to venture forth in the relationship even when we are not all there … maybe especially when we are not all there. So very many times as I pray now, 38 years after I gave myself to Christ, I am conscious that though I tell him I love him, my love sometimes lacks passion and though I long to worship him, my worship seems inadequate and though I strive to follow him, my pursuit feels lazy and pathetic. Still, I believe he has not let me go. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

AP:  I don’t think God’s so much concerned with our salvation as He is with our redemption and restoration. So much of what I grew up with was a concern for me NOT to go to hell, which is the most backward way of spreading good news, and which took me a long to sweat out of my system. I can’t remember if I’ve made this analogy here before, so I’ll make it again: getting “saved” to avoid hell is the same thing as getting married to avoid getting deported. It isn’t love; it’s a legal transaction. So I think God’s looking for reasons to welcome people into relationship with him, not keep them out.

JD: I’m sure none of us is promoting universalism, so are there some who will not be saved, some God does keep out?

M o’I:  The thorny question of “What about those outside Christianity”?  The question that ruffled a lot of feathers recently when Pope Francis, in an open letter to the atheist editor of an Italian daily newspaper, seemed to be saying that “Atheists go to Heaven too!”

A lot of ink and pixels were spilled over that one, with the ‘social work’ side of Christianity (as I tend to call it; others may call it progressive or liberal or ‘damned heretics who will all be frying in Hell’) and of course the mainstream media took it as meaning “So long as you’re A Good Person, it doesn’t matter what you believe”  and quoting it with approval, and the more conservative (or Traditionalists, or “It’s the Spanish Inquisition all over again!” as the fancy takes you) agreeing with their view and quoting it as evidence that the present pope is leading us all straight into the clutches of Satan.

What Francis was saying, of course, was that the primacy of conscience in how one behaves cannot be over-ridden.  It has to do with the gift of free will – but that’s going a bit further afield from the question at hand.

So – is the pope in this instance saying that yes, you can come to salvation through another means than Christ?  No, he’s not.  Is this more of the wishy-washy Vatican II watering-down of the principle “Extra ecclesiam nulla salus” (Outside the Church, there is no salvation)?   No.  What is meant?  Always holding to the principle that all salvation comes through Christ alone, and ultimately that all who are saved are saved through Him, and that “good works” alone are not sufficient for salvation but that we are saved through and by the grace of God, there is more acknowledgement of mystery (and less certainty that “We – in this particular group right here at this time – constitute the entire known Church as God sees it”) regarding who is part of the Church as the Body of Christ: other Christians through their common baptism are also children of God.

What of those who are not Christian?  Those who never heard the Gospel, or those of other religions, or those who live in Christian countries but who have fallen away or who reject belief?  Surely they are outside salvation?

Okay, so a faithful Jew can receive salvation.  Even a Muslim.  We’ll even stretch the point and accept a pagan. But an atheist?  Someone who has heard of Christ, who has been preached to and at, who knows about the faith, and still rejects it?

Yes, even an atheist – if it is God’s will.  If that atheist is sincerely, genuinely unable to believe because their intellect is not convinced and God has not given them the gift of faith.  If nevertheless they try to live a moral, ethical life according to the natural law.  If they are following their conscience (and really their conscience, not ‘I’d like to do this or I wouldn’t like to do that’) in good faith in what they do.  Even they are not outside the mercy of God.

It’s what Lewis was saying about Tash and Aslan in The Last Battle.  Any good that is done, is done for and through God.  Any evil that is done, is done for and through the Devil.  “The prostitutes and tax-collectors are entering the Kingdom of God before you”.

It does NOT mean “Believe what you like”.  It does NOT mean “Belief doesn’t matter”.  It does NOT mean “Jesus or Moses or Muhammad or Buddha, it’s all the one” or “There are many paths up the mountain”.

It means God is God and He saves whom He will.  It means “Attend to the beam in your own eye before you start treating the mote in your brother’s.”  It means we don’t give up the certainty of the Church as the Body of Christ or the necessity for Christ, but we do give up our certainty that we can judge who is and who is not going to Hell based on the fact alone that they belong to our group.

JD: Martha, I think what you are saying goes right along with what Adam said, that God is always looking for ways to bring us into his kingdom, rather than finding ways to keep us out. Let me ask this. Is salvation a one-time experience, or is it a lifelong process? Should you be able to name a specific day and time when you were saved?

AP:  Boy, you’re pushing all my buttons with these questions. I had to fill out a questionnaire one time for my church youth group, and one of the questions that was asked was my “spiritual birthday.” In other words, the specific day when I “got saved.” I’d grown up in a Christian household and had been around church stuff my whole life, so I didn’t know how answer. Should I put the first time I remembered going forward in a kids’ service? Or what about the first time I went forward at church camp? Or every year after that when I went forward to “rededicate my life”? What was the date that counted? Which one should I list?

There was much anxiety created from that question. But not so much that I couldn’t argue about “once saved, always saved” with my Baptist friends in high school. I was in one such argument when my friend’s mom chimed in to back up her son’s theology. I’d asked her whether a person could get saved and then live a reprobate life—were they still saved at that point, because it sounded like she was saying they were. And her response gave me EVEN MORE anxiety: “Well then,” she said, “they were never saved in the first place.”

And the anxiety went up a notch.

Fortunately, these days, I’m not so much concerned about getting people saved as I am about getting them to honestly engage with the Gospel. I figure that’s my job–to introduce people to the honest Jesus and then let Him take it from there.

LD:  One time experience or lifelong process? Yes, and no. I think that what we typically refer to as being saved is really being reconciled. A few years ago as I was meditating on Romans 5:10, I was struck that the Apostle Paul spoke of two different causes and two different effects. The causes were Christ’s death and Christ’s life with their effects being reconciliation and salvation respectively. “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”  What happened on August 25, 1975 on a boat at night in the middle of a lake, with my stepsister helping me along, is that I was made aware that the rift between God and me (due to my sinfulness) was reconciled by Christ’s death. That is the part of the salvation process on which I can pin a date. When I woke the next morning, I knew something very important had happened and the lasting changes that took place in me were clear evidence. Reconciliation seems to be the beginning, but not the end. The salvation that comes by Christ’s resurrection manifested in his people is a process that matures and completes us over a lifetime.

Those two words … reconciliation and salvation … have different meanings, though together they affect the complete remedy for both our separation from God the brokenness and death that is the result of sin. Reconciliation is a thorough change in order to make us acceptable. The tenses in Romans 5:10 indicate once-and-done actions exerted upon us. The salvation in the same verse is deliverance, protection, healing, preservation and wholeness. The tense indicates continuous action also exerted upon us. This is why we say, as Damaris already stated, “I have been saved. I am being saved. I will be saved.”

Recently, I asked my Greek teacher, Pastor Paul Albrecht, for his insight on Romans 5:10. Here is what he said.

greek

JD: I really like the thought of “restoration,” especially as something God does completely, without our help. Martha, your thoughts?

M o’I:  Lifelong and ongoing.  Baptism cleanses us from sin, both Original and personal.  If we live much past the day we got baptized, we are probably not going to stay that way.  So every time we fall down, we need to get up again.   This doesn’t mean that if we commit a trivial sin, we are lost.  Neither does it mean that we’re only damned if we commit a really serious, grave sin.  There is no sin so terrible it is beyond the mercy of God.  There is no sin so trifling it won’t chip away at our sanctity.  As that quote attributed to St. Augustine, which I often heard growing up, goes: “Do not despair, one of the thieves was saved.  Do not presume, one of the thieves was damned.”  Both presumption and despair are the two equal and opposite pitfalls, with hope in the middle as what we should cultivate and trust in.

Do you need to name a specific day and time when you were saved?  I think a lot of people would have problems with this, because if they were brought up in a practicing Christian family and they maintained their faith, then it’s been a day-to-day experience and they can’t pick out “On Tuesday 16th July at 5.00 p.m. I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior”.  I also think that some of the conversion experiences (not all, some) of the “This is the day and time I was saved” aren’t the real time someone was saved: that may be the time you became aware that faith had to be more than something you did just because you were expected to do it, like going to school because your parents told you to go.  I think that’s the event that needs to happen: you do need, at some time, to make a decision about why you believe or do you believe.  Do you really believe in sin, death, heaven and hell and all the rest of it?  You have to make a conscious decision and you have to take responsibility.

Your salvation or loss of it or lack of it is ongoing from then, of course.  You can skip along in a happy, lukewarm manner, going through the motions, even if you do go through the process of “Yeah, I believe in God”.   And of course, again as a Catholic, I believe you can lose your salvation through sin.  Or even not through huge obvious sins, but the reduction of belief to a habit, with no progress or attempt at spiritual growth.

JD: C.S. Lewis described his salvation experience thus: He was going to the zoo with his brother. He got into the sidecar of his brother’s motorcycle. When they left their house, he was not a Christian. When they got to the zoo, he was a Christian. He couldn’t describe it any more than that. This seems to imply mystery in our salvation. How much mystery should we accept in hearing one’s salvation testimony? Should they meet certain criteria?

LD: I would have to say my experience was similar except that mine involved a conversation with someone who helped me pray in response to my belief. Still, when I got on the boat that night, I was not a Christian. When I got off, I was. I didn’t have contact with any other Christians for weeks. There was no cheerleading or encouraging or Bible studies right away. But it stuck. I knew the next morning and the morning after and morning after that I was a Christian. Fourteen-year-old kids can’t typically articulate the divine. Lots of other people have trouble with it too, so I think we have to allow for some mystery.

As to meeting criteria, that sounds formulaic. I don’t think there’s a checklist. I want to say there should be some evidence … like fruitfulness and works. And also love. That we love one another is evidence that God lives in us. On the other hand, even those who effectively prophesied and exorcised demons in Christ’s name were not necessarily saved.  I guess I’m glad I’m not the one who has to decide.

AP:  The only one who truly knows the state of someone’s heart is God; everything else is just a blind guess. I’m not sure I even truly know the state of MY OWN heart, let alone someone else’s, so I’m not big on benchmarks for the empirical validity of someone’s testimony. No one’s going to court over the exact moment they got “saved.”

M o’I:  Mystery is part of the whole package.  That God exists, that God is Three Persons in One, that this God who is beyond, outside and infinitely superior to the entire universe at the same time knows, loves and died for our salvation is all a mystery.   “I don’t know how it happened, it just happened” is as good a way of putting it as any.  Some people do have deep, intense, mystical experiences.    Some people don’t.  Trying to force an emotional, overwhelmed, ‘I was carried out of myself’ experience when it didn’t happen and isn’t how your psyche works is not a good idea; and trying to have a doctrinally correct, dot the Is and cross the Ts according to my denomination, rational experience to report instead of bursting into tears and feeling filled with the love of God if that is what happened is also not a good idea.  God sends what God sends.

The very basic criteria of what is necessary is, again, what St. Peter said: “Repent and be baptized”.   Wrangling over doctrine is for later upon the path, but there has to be an agreed basic ground to stand on before you can say you’re a Christian.  If your idea is “Yes, I accept that there is a God, given that ‘God’ is the most convenient label humankind has used to describe its apprehensions of the immanent within”  or even “I believe Jesus was the Son of God as we all can become sons of God, that He was a good, just and pious man who was so open to the will of God, God poured out His spirit upon Him” may be a starting point, but it’s not being a Christian.  And if you’re going to repent, you need something to repent from, which means an acceptance that there is such a thing as sin: not environmental pressures upon people, not psychological tendencies, not remnants of evolutionary processes, but sin – a separation from God that is conscious, chosen, and deadly to the life of the soul.

DZ:  Mystery is good, not least the mystery of who is and isn’t saved.


JD: What are the minimum requirements for one to be saved? Must they confess specific words, or pray a “sinner’s prayer,” or hold certain beliefs in their soul? Can you draw a line in the sand and say those on this side of the line are saved, those on the other side are not?

DZ: Nope.  I will just second John Newton:  “If ever I reach heaven I expect to find three wonders there: first, to meet some I had not thought to see there; second, to miss some I had expected to see there; and third– the greatest wonder of all–to find myself there.”

LD:  Any lines I might have once thought there were, I have mentally erased. God may have some, but I trust that he communicates those with us as individuals when we diligently seek him. I am always and forever trying to learn what he wants. Mostly, that has come through his word, prayer, my fellowship with Christ, impressions by the Holy Spirit, circumstances and the occasional conversation with someone whose words seem particularly sent from God. All of these means guide me along the path on which I am being saved. God does as he wills and doesn’t have to explain himself to us. His workings in us toward salvation may have some common elements, but the more I know of others the more I see the unique ways of God at work in them.

Jesus said he came to seek and save the lost and to perfect or complete us in unity with God (John 17:23), but Jesus talked also a great deal about the Kingdom of God and told us to seek it and welcome it and pray for it. Others used terms that we tend to focus on and turn into items on our salvation checklists. “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Joel 2:28-32). Peter reiterated that in Acts 2:21 as did Paul in Romans 10:13. Just prior to that statement, Paul said we need to confess with our mouths Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts God raised him from the dead. Thus, we get that sinner’s prayer. I don’t trivialize these things in anyway, but we need to be careful that our idea about salvation doesn’t become what we do rather than our relationship to God. Relationships, especially with a mysterious God are not all black and white, neat and tidy and wrapped up in pretty little boxes. Salvation is what’s worked out in us in the fearful and trembly paths of life as we cling to God and give up ourselves to his perplexing ways.

Jesus spent his time teaching what the Kingdom of God is like … a mustard seed, a treasure, a pearl or a man … teachings layered with meaning and unveiled only to those who drew closest to him and recognized him as their rightful King. He told us we should pray for this kingdom to come to earth and then made us his brothers and sons of God, with the Spirit testifying to this fact, so we could be vessels for its coming. We would be people who would carry the culture of Heaven and the ways of the King to earth and be repairers of the breach as he was Repairer of the Breach. The connection that was lost between heaven and earth in the Fall would be closed not by a cosmic big bang reversal, but in our abiding with him.

Jesus picked his disciples and said, “Come, follow me.” He spoke the same words to the rich young ruler who wanted to inherit eternal life. We like to focus on Christ’s command to jettison material possessions in this passage. All sorts of vows and resolutions have been made and carried out in it’s honor, but we often miss the point that Jesus wanted the man’s heart more than his good works and his relationship more than advanced law keeping. Jesus wanted his yielded will, obedience and fidelity. It’s what he wants from us too. “Come, follow me.” My following won’t look exactly like your following and yours won’t look exactly like your brother’s following, but it’s in running after Christ through all of life’s twists and turns that we are being saved and will ever be saved.

AP:  Jesus is the one who separates the sheep from the goats; I’ll let Him figure it out.

M o’I:  Here is where we can fall into the trap of ‘good works’, where the Christian life becomes a matter of ‘doing good’ (and it’s very easy to slide into the ‘social work’ notion of Christianity, where what’s important is the corporal works of mercy and all that fussing about doctrine is a distraction from what Christ really wanted).

Do you need to need to say a specific form of words?  I think that traditional formulas are very helpful, as long as we’re all agreed that there is no ‘magic’ involved.  As long as what you’re saying isn’t outright heretical, then if you miss out on a word or don’t repeat the exact same prayer in the approved version, that’s not going to make a huge difference.  I’m going back to St. Peter here: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” seems to have been good enough as an answer for Jesus.  And speaking of losing one’s salvation, just minutes after blessing him for the knowledge God alone could give him, Jesus was rebuking Simon with “Get behind me, Satan!” for his wrong-headed suggestions.  So we can be faithful and dumb at the same time, which is both a comfort to know and a warning.  No matter how stupid we sound, at least we  very probably won’t have Christ Himself calling us a limb of the Devil.

From the Catholic Rite of Baptism, the core of it in this regard of “specific words” is the Renunciation of Sin and Profession of Faith (for infant baptisms, it is the parents and godparents who answer on behalf of the child; an older child or adult makes the responses themselves).

A. Celebrant: Do you reject Satan?

Parents and Godparents: I do.

Celebrant: And all his works?

Parents and Godparents: I do.

B. Celebrant: Do you reject sin, so as to live in the freedom of God’s children?

Parents and Godparents: I do.

Celebrant: Do you reject the glamor of evil, and refuse to be mastered by sin?

Parents and Godparents: I do.

Celebrant: Do you reject Satan, father of sin and prince of darkness?

Parents and Godparents: I do.

Celebrant: Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth?

Parents and Godparents: I do.

Celebrant: Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?

Parents and Godparents: I do.

Celebrant: Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?

Parents and Godparents: I do.

Celebrant: This is our faith.  This is the faith of the Church.  We are proud to profess it, in Christ Jesus our Lord.

All: Amen.

Now, going through the whole Creed like that isn’t even necessary, but the main points are: Belief in God,  belief in the Incarnation, belief in the Crucifixion, belief in the Resurrection, belief in the soul and eternal life, belief in sin and its forgiveness; acceptance of Christ, rejection of the Devil.  If you can say “yes” to those, then that’s about as much as you need in the form of words.

Specific beliefs is another matter.  I think you do need basic, specific beliefs.  They don’t need to be very elaborate or theologically complex, but you do have to be able to identify them, articulate them, and not have any reservations or quibbles about them.  “Jesus is God made Man who died for my sins”, “I accept that I am a sinner in need of salvation”, “I believe” are the irreducible minimum, I think.

Drawing a line in the sand about who is saved and who is not?  Oh, that’s a tough one, because the mystery of the mercy of God is always there.  You can look at the greatest sinner in the world and not be able to say definitively “Yes, he or she is going to Hell”.  You can look at the typical sober citizen and not be able to say “Yes, he or she is going to Heaven”.  The one can always sincerely repent, the other can fall away (and not in a spectacular fashion; most of us say “I’m a good person, I don’t deserve to go to Hell” where we mean by ‘good person’ “I’m not a murderer or a rapist or I don’t abuse the environment”.  We don’t think of the hardening of our hearts gradually over the years so that faith is dead in us and all that remains is the fossilised imprint of it but we no longer truly possess it).  I think you can say that some beliefs are mistaken or wrong and will lead astray (even lead to damnation); I think you can say that someone, if they continue on in the way they are going or the life they are leading, is running a very severe risk of being either damned or a saint, but without the eyes of God to see into the heart and soul of that person, you cannot say with infallible judgement “You – Hell!  You – Heaven!”

JD: Martha, since you came the farthest, would you like to have the last word? And you haven’t quote Dante yet. What would he have to say on the subject?

M o’I: Thank you—I shall. In the words that Dante puts into the mouth of St. Thomas Aquinas in Canto XIII of the “Paradiso”:

‘Let the people, then, not be too certain

in their judgments, like those that harvest in their minds

corn still in the field before it ripens.

 

‘For I have seen the briar first look dry and thorny

right through all the winter’s cold,

then later wear the bloom of roses at its tip,

 

‘and once I saw a ship, which had sailed straight

and swift upon the sea through all its voyage,

sinking at the end as it made its way to port.

 

‘Let not Dame Bertha and Master Martin,

when they see one steal and another offer alms,

think that they behold them with God’s wisdom,

for the first may still rise up, the other fall.’

Comments

  1. A quick question, then I’m off to work. In ref to AP’s discussion about “once saved, always saved”:

    I’d asked [the friend’s mom] whether a person could get saved and then live a reprobate life—were they still saved at that point, because it sounded like she was saying they were. And her response gave me EVEN MORE anxiety: “Well then,” she said, “they were never saved in the first place.”

    Is it my imagination, or is there a growing trend to get people to question their salvation? I hear people say things against slipshod behavior such as, “If you’re doing such things maybe you ought to ask yourself whether you’re saved at all.”

    Is this a growing phenomenon? Is it a good thing?

    • It’s a terrible thing.

      And it’s not of Christ, but of the devil.

      We are ALL sinners. And we will remain sinners all throughout our lives…though we are saints, as well.

    • I heard this response my whole life (and I’m in my 40’s) about kids who “made the decision” as children or teens and then “walked away from their faith” or “left the protection of God.” Granted I was reared Bob Jones Fundi-Baptist. It is the only way for that branch of the Church to deal with their second and upwards generations who are “led to the Lord” and very young ages and don’t hold to the faith as they professed as children and teens (i.e.: remain Christian or not as strict a Christian as the church thinks they should).

      It allowed me to judge others very harshly as a teen.

      It is how my father has decided that the president is not a Christian and therefore . . . . Sigh.

    • Josh in FW says:

      Like EV I’ve heard variations of this my whole life. I’m 37 and grew up in Texas and the South. The Calvinists have their own variation of this argument that is a defense of the Perseverance of the Saints point of TULIP. The Calvinist theology gave many of my friends a sense of security, but it lead me to a dark place of vacillating between a libertine attitude and a despair that I had possibly been pre-destined for hell. I don’t condemn Calvinists as a whole because I’ve known and read Calvinists that are full of Grace and love (Tim Keller, Scotty Smith, and Scott Roley come to mind), but in my life Calvinist theology has been more harmful to by spiritual growth than helpful .

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Is it my imagination, or is there a growing trend to get people to question their salvation?

      I’m too long out of the loop to tell if it’s growing or not, but it was definitely a part of Born-Again Bible-Believers in the Seventies. A favorite tactic of “Soul-Winning(TM)” was to high-pressure the mark to question their salvation so that you could Save his Soul by getting him to pray The Prayer(TM) and get that notch on your Bible for brownie points at the Bema.

      The tactic I remember best was an infinite-regression version of “Are you Saved? Are You Sure You’re Saved? Are You Certain You’re Sure? Are You Sure You’re Certain You’re Sure?”, each iteration throwing the mark’s answer right back at him in a way that caused him to doubt it. Infinite regression until he ran out of levels or energy and the Doubt peaked, at which point you pull out your Bible and Four Spiritual Laws…

      This was supercharged by the idea going around that the ONLY thing determining your reward in Heaven once you were Saved was “How Many Souls Did You Win For Christ?” with that chapter from Ezekiel that “If You Don’t And They’re Lost, GOD WILL HOLD YOU RESPONSIBLE!” You would not believe the level of crazy desperation and Wretched Urgency that caused, which led to equally crazy and desperate Witnessing(TM).

    • The pastor at our previous church used to say “A faith that fizzles at the finish was flawed from the first”. One reason I think this view gets traction is the linear view of sanctification that many evangelicals(and others) have. In order to prove we are really saved we should always be getting “better”. There’s no room for periods of doubt, depression, resentment, grief, etc. that cause us to not reflect the “shiny, happy” lifestyle that all Christians are entitled. And so it’s much easier just question someones faith or salvation status.

      • I woke up to this quote in my inbox: “A life totally committed to God has nothing to fear, nothing to lose, nothing to regret.” -Pandita Ramabai.

        Then I went raging through the house.

        The idea that somehow when we are saved and “totally committed to God” everything is great and we don’t screw up, fear, or doubt drove me out of Christianity in the first place.

        I couldn’t not doubt. I must not have enough faith.

        I couldn’t “know the will of God” and be assured of it. I wasn’t praying hard enough or I was resisting the “call on my life.”

        I could not not sin – in thought, word and deed but what I had done and by what I had left undone.

        My conclusion was that I must not be saved and Islam at least provided a list of concrete rules that I needed to follow and assurance that it was all good if I did. (Not Muslim now for other reason, but it made logical sense to someone who couldn’t meet the rules of Fundi-Baptist World.)

        • The only thing I have the capability of “totally committing” myself to is a psychiatric ward, probably by obsessing that I’m only acceptable to God if I can somehow “totally commit” myself to him.

          “But if you have faith as a mustard seed….”

    • I think it stems from faulty theology – that our salvation is God’s reward or stamp of approval upon our decision making process.

  2. Wonderful Roundtable-much better than the phony charade ones they coerce us into participating in at work.

    I especially like this: Jesus is the narrow gate.

    Then I worry, But many go by the wide way that leads to destruction.

    And then I think, It is is more difficult to stay on the narrow way, and to get through the narrow gate, as for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.

    Which makes me worry, Then who Lord, can be saved?

    But then I’m reminded, For human beings it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.

    • I love your back-and-forth, Robert F. It is interesting, isn’t it? It makes me wonder, is Jesus truly a narrow gate? Once we go through it, don’t we look back and realize how wide the gate really is/was?

      It’s like I shared with some agnostic friends a month ago…all the different religions and all the different ways those religions say that Heaven can be achieved, Jesus makes it pretty darn easy. “Believe that God loves you so much that He would send me to die for you.” Could it be any easier? Could the gate be any wider?

      (Of course, before I went through it, yes…it seemed pretty tight and scary.)

      I love our Lord and Savior for making it so darn easy!

  3. Wow -excellent post. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts. (Kudos,Jeff, on selecting the panel.)

    I’m struck by the overall unity and mutual respect from different branches of Christianity – something I’ve come to expect from this site. Thanks!

  4. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    I grew up TERRIFIED that I wasn’t truly “saved,” which, when coupled with all the rapture rhetoric that dovetailed nicely with Cold War paranoia (the ’80s represent the meat of my childhood), left me frequently flipping through news channels when my parents were late getting home from work, convinced they’d been raptured and I’d been left behind.

    AP, EVERYBODY who was in the Evangelical Circus during the heyday of Hal Lindsay has that exact same story to tell. Rapture Scares du jour, Pin-the-tail-on-The-Antichrist, six-six-six paranoia parties.

    Looking back, all that Hal Lindsay did (besides destroying Protestant Christianity in America) was to put a Christianese coat of paint on the Inevitable Global Thermonuclear War(TM) we were getting hammered with from all sides back then. And turn it all into a Fire Insurance Sales Pitch with a side of Escape Fantasy.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I had to fill out a questionnaire one time for my church youth group, and one of the questions that was asked was my “spiritual birthday.” In other words, the specific day when I “got saved.” I’d grown up in a Christian household and had been around church stuff my whole life, so I didn’t know how answer. Should I put the first time I remembered going forward in a kids’ service? Or what about the first time I went forward at church camp? Or every year after that when I went forward to “rededicate my life”? What was the date that counted? Which one should I list?

      Another universal experience that nobody outside the Evangelical Circus can understand (and to those of us who were inside, no explanation is necessary). Don’t forget the Holy Arrogance of Spiritual Superiority from those who could recite the exact year/month/day/HOUR/MINUTE/SECOND to all the rest of us Lukewarm.

      And the tunnel-vision on when you REALLY Said The Magic Words stagnates you at that point, walking the aisle again and again in case the last time the Magic Words didn’t take and you didn’t REALLY Get Saved(TM). Like after you Say the Magic Words, there’s nothing else to do except sit there keeping your nose squeeky-clean so you can pass the Rapture Litmus Test and get beamed up. (Any minute now…)

      Permanent infancy in spiritual diapers.

  5. I was baptized a Catholic at the age of 6. I remember the experience and I remember the creed that Martha quoted, but it was not ME, the center of the rite, that was doing the renouncing and accepting. No man or woman can assure us our salvation, else the Mormon practice of baptism for the dead would then be a valid claim.

    Martha’s repeated use of the word “mystery” is valid, and her quote of Aquinas in “Paradisio” is quite apt, when speaking of salvation, but MY experience in the Catholic rite remains a prime reason why I rejected Rome and its doctrine. I was baptised and yet remained ignorant of God’s grace. I attended 12 years of Catholic school, and yet the peace of God never settled on me, only a “fearful looking for judgment”. Communion and Confirmation gave me little peace because I knew that my acceptance by God was sitting on a razor’s edge, depending on my good behavior. And, while confessing in the booth, when the priest angrily asked me, “Do you know where you would go if you died right now?” in response to a typical, repeated youthful sin, I was driven from that who;e matrix and was cast adrift.

    It was only when I was presented with God’s mercy and His remedy for my sinful nature in the person of Christ, and His death and resurrection, that I received the peace I so dearly sought. And it wasn’t in the Catholic Church. It was in the corner a college bar, and with an open bible between me and another person, that the scales fell from my eyes and I willingly, and joyfully, accepted God’s plan for mankind. How could I EVER return to that former belief matrix that only ministered fear and despair?

    I have since come in contact with believers who NEVER left Rome and am amazed that they received what I never did. How in the world, my thoughts followed, did they hear salvation when all I heard was condemnation?! Now THIS is the “mystery” that I see in who, and HOW, God saves! I can NEVER return to the Catholic Church, and for THAT the Church condemns me to hell as an apostate, but THEY are not my judge, only God is. I am grateful that my Catholic friends have the assurance of salvation, but Rome is NOT the only road to Christ, and the magisterium is NOT the sole arbiter of truth and faith. THANK GOD!!

    • I’m sorry to hear how much you’ve been hurt by the Catholic Church. I like to make one correction though: the Church does not “condemn you to hell as an apostate”. The church is very clear that there is no way we know who is or is not in hell–we do not know even about Hitler, Stalin, or Chairman Mao. God’s love and mercy are greater than any sin. The Church also agrees with you that Christ is the only way to salvation–and that formal membership in the Catholic Church is not necessary for salvation.

      The Catholic Church you knew is not normative. Sorry you were taught by kooks who didn’t understand Church teaching.

      • If so then the RCC has changed its tune. For the 13 years I was reared in the church it was made abundantly clear, by priests AND nuns, that if a Catholic left the church then they were lost. Period! What you are quoting sounds more like equivocation in order to convince people who left to return. Its NOT going to happen. It wasn’t the Church that hurt me, it was the whole belief system. Isn’t it true that to miss your “Easter Duty” was a mortal sin? And isn’t it a mortal sin to miss Mass intentionally? How about masturbation? All mortal sins? Yep, I’m headed for hell!

        • Oscar,
          My experience growing up in the Roman Catholic church was the same as yours: long on law, short on grace. And it wasn’t that long ago. My religious instruction occurred after Vatican II, not in the medieval Church. There were so many rules surrounding what one should or shouldn’t do in the Confessional and at the Holy Eucharist that it scared and scarred me more than I can ever say.

          I, too, will never return to the Roman Catholic church, not least of all because I’m now married to a previously divorced non-Catholic wife, who, even though she has a real admiration for the Roman Catholic church, is far too fragile physically and emotionally to survive the trauma of revisiting the circumstances of her first failed marriage that would be required for her to get an annulment.

          • Late to the party…..and saddened for the hurt you both have had from the Church, but I also hate the pain that others have suffered at the hands of other Christian churches. As a Catholic, the former cuts deeper for me, not that I have any position of authority or status within the Church.

            I think it is pretty clear that no one road to Christ is meant for all of us. I am and remain Catholic because the faith makes sense to me, but it is easy to see how things that nourish me could drive others away. The Catholic Church does not have a monopoly on Christ, and however His word touches you and brings you to Him…..brings YOU to Him. As Robert said, no one is being damned to hell by Church teachings…..sorry for the nut cases you experienced back then.

        • I’m not trying to convince you of anything, Oscar. What you were taught was wrong and harmful. What the Church actually teaches is far more complex than what you are presenting. I think you are presenting what you actually understand, but it’s not what the Chruch teaches. Leaving the Church, masturbation, missing Mass on Sunday MAY be a mortal sin if it meets the criteria for a mortal sin (but even moral sin is forgiven). The criteria for a mortal sin are pretty old and pre-date Vatican II–just check your Baltimore Catechism. There is no, “it’s a moral sin PERIOD”. Moral Theology is pretty complex. There are lots of crazy priests and sisters just like there are lots of crazy lay people, doctors and lawyers.

          Vatican II happened for a reason: there was a lot of nonsense being taught by individuals–and there still is. If the Church taught what you think it taught you were right to leave. I am truly sorry that people in the Church hurt you.

          I’m sorry if I have come off as trying to convince you of something–that’s not the case. But I do want to clarify that what you think the Church teaches is not what the Church actually teaches. Incidentally not knowing what the Church actually teaches mitigates the seriousness of “leaving the Church”.

          • Here’s an overly long rundown of mortal sin from the Baltimore Catechism. Please note the last two questions posted (Q 288 and Q289)–that to judge another person’s sin as mortal is seriously sinful. Any Catholic saying you’re headed for hell for leaving the Church is guilty of serious sin–even by Baltimore Cathecism standards!

            Q. 280. What is mortal sin?

            A. Mortal sin is a grievous offense against the law of God.

            Q. 281. Why is this sin called mortal?

            A. This sin is called mortal because it deprives us of spiritual life, which is sanctifying grace, and brings everlasting death and damnation on the soul.

            Q. 282. How many things are necessary to make a sin mortal?

            A. To make a sin mortal, three things are necessary: 1.a grievous matter, sufficient reflection, and full consent of the will.

            Q. 283. What do we mean by “grievous matter” with regard to sin?

            A. By “grievous matter” with regard to sin we mean that the thought, word or deed by which mortal sin is committed must be either very bad in itself or severely prohibited, and therefore sufficient to make a mortal sin if we deliberately yield to it.

            Q. 284. What does “sufficient reflection and full consent of the will” mean?

            A. “Sufficient reflection” means that we must know the thought, word or deed to be sinful at the time we are guilty of it; and “full consent of the will” means that we must fully and willfully yield to it.

            Q. 285. What are sins committed without reflection or consent called?

            A. Sins committed without reflection or consent are called material sins; that is, they would be formal or real sins if we knew their sinfulness at the time we committed them. Thus to eat flesh meat on a day of abstinence without knowing it to be a day of abstinence or without thinking of the prohibition, would be a material sin.

            Q. 286. Do past material sins become real sins as soon as we discover their sinfulness?

            A. Past material sins do not become real sins as soon as we discover their sinfulness, unless we again repeat them with full knowledge and consent.

            Q. 287. How can we know what sins are considered mortal?

            A. We can know what sins are considered mortal from Holy Scripture; from the teaching of the Church, and from the writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church.

            Q. 288. Why is it wrong to judge others guilty of sin?

            A. It is wrong to judge others guilty of sin because we cannot know for certain that their sinful act was committed with sufficient reflection and full consent of the will.

            Q. 289. What sin does he commit who without sufficient reason believes another guilty of sin?

            A. He who without sufficient reason believes another guilty of sin commits a sin of rash judgment.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Which was just the opposite of my experience. Born-Again Bible-Believing(TM) Evangelicals tore my head apart with a God who was just waiting to End the World in Global Thermonuclear War and cast all of us except His Speshul Pets into Eternal Hell (and I sure wasn’t one of His Speshul Pets). And the Catholic church put my head back together — still a lot of duct tape patch job, but it’s pretty much in one piece.

    • Daisey former Missionary and Carmelite says:

      Hi Oscar…. I am also so sorry for what was ingrained in you during your formative years and I know yours was the experience of many. I have no doubt if you were to sit down with Pope Francis and share your story he would be greatly saddened at how you were taught and what you were taught and His message to you would be so very different than what you were presented with. Sadly human beings can do much harm in the name of God and this can happen in any denomination. I thank God you know that God is God above all and He knows and sees all. He knows what you went through. He is the healer of hearts. Continue to let Him Love you and draw you to Himself. He will always keep you in the shelter of His merciful and loving wings.

  6. David Cornwell says:

    Wow, this is a truly wonderful discussion. I’ve just had time to skim through it, which s almost a sin against it! Hopefully I will have time later in the day to further consider all this accumulated wisdom.

    Whoever receives salvation, whether Jew or Greek, Muslim, atheist, or athlete, it will come through Jesus Christ. This I firmly believe. Salvation for myself, my family, my church, and the world will come only because of the cross.

  7. Oh, how I would have enjoyed being at that table with you! I had what I call a back door conversion, a born-again experience without benefit of saying the sinner’s prayer, while in my living room. At that moment in time I KNEW that God was real, that death was no longer to be feared, that I needed to start reading the Bible and that I should get baptized. The only thing was, I had been baptized as a baby and heretofore baptism was not an issue. When I shared this experience with my Lutheran (at the time) pastor, he said everything was of God except that baptism business. That was of the devil! So, in honoring the pastor I didn’t pursue baptism for 5 years, but the Spirit would not let me go on that one. When I finally obeyed what I was sure God wanted, it seemed like the heavens opened and blessings poured out. All this to say, God’s ways are mysterious and we all should give up being so dogmatic about things.

    • Carol,
      Thanks for your words.

      Though I’m an Episcopalian now, who was baptized as an infant in the Roman Catholic church, I think there is truth in the practice of both pedobaptism and credobaptism. I think God works through both in different ways to achieve the same ends, even though I can not make the theologies fit together.

      I feel no need to undergo credobaptism myself, because I think my baptism as a child was a valid and effective baptism. But others, like yourself, feel differently and have had a different experience, and I can only honor the path you are traversing and recognize that the Lord is leading you by a different way to the same consummation that I hope for myself and my loved ones.

      Peace

  8. I frequently read Imonk and posts like this one are my destruction. I have severe OCD and for almost three years have walked around EVERY day fearing that my precious husband will go to hell. Neither of us were raised in church but did attend some. I took for granted that he was a Christian. We started attending different churches when we began dating. One time he asked me if you could get saved again because he had as a child and wasn’t sure what he was doing. I told him you could be confident of your salvation. Once my OCD latched onto this fear that he isn’t saved it has never let go. I prayed and prayed for every kind if sign from God you can imagine. We became engaged. I prayed that in Gods perfect timing he would one day be led to be baptized and that we would join as members a church. During our premarital counseling, my husband told our pastor that he wasn’t exactly sure when he trusted Christ but knew that he had. At his counseling he chose to be baptized. He admits that he had hoped that this would be enough to prove to me he was saved. Although nothing satisfies my OCD. I have to admit that I see growth and wisdom in him now, albeit gradually but he is seemingly growing as a Christian though quite slowly. But because he can’t point to a moment, a dramatic time or place, only a vague memory as a child or a slow realization of the gospel, I fear it’s merely head knowledge, not heart. But he is extremely adamant that he has trusted Christ. I go thru each day trying to cope. I ask for your prayers. We are expecting our first child within a week and I want nothing more than to accept my husbands word, and trust that he will be in heaven with me.

    • Jessica,

      May the peace of Christ fill you and your house. May God grant you rest and peace and the ability to trust him, not only for yourself but for all around you. Shalom to you. Shalom to your husband. Shalom to your child. Christ is with you.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      But because he can’t point to a moment, a dramatic time or place, only a vague memory as a child or a slow realization of the gospel, I fear it’s merely head knowledge, not heart.

      Jessica, that’s the OCD talking. Supercharged by the Evangelical Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation, with its tunnel-vision on Altar Call Revivalist Salvation. My church accepts both types of salvation experience — Damascus Road spectaculars and gradual catechisms — as valid. (And I’ve seen Damascus Road Conversion Experiences to definitely NON-Christian belief systems — it seems to be as much an emotional “snapping” phenomenon as anything else.)

      And “Head Knowledge” vs “Heart Knowledge” was one of the wedges used in the underhanded “Soul-Winning” tactics I mentioned above to break down any assurance of salvation the mark might have. “Head vs Heart” boils down to a one-upmanship game: “YOU have only Head Knowledge, but *I* Have Heart Knowledge. NYAAH!”

      And we’ve had more than enough of Christianese one-upmanship.

      • I appreciate the prayers and encouragement. Growing up Southern baptist it is VERY hard for me to accept other types of “testimonies.” There is so much emphasis on a conversion experience and it seems like even on Imonk everyone has had one. I can’t wrap my head around how he can know that he is saved if he doesn’t know when it happened, or recall a moment. It’s even harder since he wasn’t raised in church. But he may have several moments. He is much more private about his faith because he knows how touchy it is to me. So many say that salvation can’t be gradual, but it seems that way for him. He wanted to Baptised and knew that he needed to be. But what if he is relying on a vague memory as a child, that never happened and has never been “saved?” Sigh. OCD is lethal my friends. Oh that God would see fit to give me trust in my husbands word that is greater then my fears.

        • Jessica, a little book that has helped me in this area is The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller. Jesus painted us a picture of the Father in his prodigal story. He tells us that the Father, His Father, is bent on having us in his family. It is good to remember over and over that God wants his wayward sons and daughters home so much that he welcomes them still stinking of the pigsty with open arms and joy and celebration. It is also good to remember that the prodigal son came home not with the intention of being a son, but a servant for the sole purpose getting some comfort in his life … and this indicates to me that his true conversion to sonship came later. I think it is okay to trust that for some conversion is a process and to trust in the prodigal, lavish love of the Father who sent his Son to be our true elder brother and gather us home.

          That being said, anxiety is painful … I know. I will pray that God will grant you peace and trust regarding your husband’s salvation.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          I can’t wrap my head around how he can know that he is saved if he doesn’t know when it happened, or recall a moment. It’s even harder since he wasn’t raised in church.

          Jessica, I’m in the same boat as your husband. No specific moment (or too many of them to count), raised completely non-practicing/”outside the church”. Plus a personality type prone to Doubt in an ocean of Certainty; I’ve NEVER been 100% certain about anything. If he goes Down, I go Down too.

          My church teaches that Sanctification is a process, NOT a moment. Salvation (in the sense of throwing in with Redemption) might start the process, but it is a process. Some will go through it gradually, without any specific “AHA!” moment, just a continuing process.

          Some months ago, I had an insight about Law & Nature. Natural systems often shade imperceptibly into each other, without a clear dividing line — how many facial hairs before you have a beard? What are the zoological characteristics of sheep and goat (which are closely-related species)? While Law is a system requiring precise definitions — an exact minimum number of hairs to define a beard. In Law (contract law as the example), every word has one and only one precisely-defined meaning to avoid ambiguity. Yet ambiguity is part of the natural world.

          • I for one am one of those who has had too many “moments” that I could give you no idea of when I was converted. But I don’t know if he had ANY moments. He is just adamant that he is saved and trusts Christ. I have no idea if he has ever prayed to God asking him to save him. Or cried out to him to have mercy on his soul on repentance. I fear he only believes in Christ, not trusts him. But I will confess, if you compared he and I, I’m guessing you’d say he trusts and I do not given my scruples.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            I have no idea if he has ever prayed to God asking him to save him. Or cried out to him to have mercy on his soul on repentance. I fear he only believes in Christ, not trusts him.

            Jessica, you’re going back into the “Head Knowledge or Heart Knowledge” OCD — “Are You Sure? Are You Certain You’re Sure? Are You Sure You’re Certain You’re Sure? Are You Certain You’re Sure You’re Certain You’re Sure?” That way lies Madness by way of Analysis Paralysis.

            Something I’ve run into from Jewish sources on the Web: The attitude that God says “Keep My Commandments, but LIVE YOUR LIFE.”

            And Jewish sources don’t separate body and soul. They’re both part of You. Otherwise, why would the original Christian afterlife be Resurrection of the Body instead of floating around as Souls in Fluffy Cloud Heaven?

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            P.S. Addendum:

            “Head Knowledge or Heart Knowledge” OCD — “Are You Sure? Are You Certain You’re Sure? Are You Sure You’re Certain You’re Sure? Are You Certain You’re Sure You’re Certain You’re Sure?” That way lies Madness by way of Analysis Paralysis.

            On other blogs which were discussing the Massachusetts Puritans, someone pointed out that a lot of Puritans obsessively kept personal spiritual journals, and a recurring theme in most all the surviving journals was Analysis Paralysis OCD on the subject of “Am I Really Saved? Am I really of the Elect?” and OCD self-analysis and sin-sniffing.

        • “There is so much emphasis on a conversion experience and it seems like even on Imonk everyone has had one.”

          Jessica, I haven’t. And I’m absolutely confident that I belong to Jesus. I’ve never really had any question of that, for whatever reason. I struggle with plenty of spiritual angst, and unbelief, but I’ve never, that I can remember, doubted my salvation.

          A good thing to remember is that, despite almost all the talk you will hear about salvation, the picture Jesus paints of it has much less to do with people being given a personal choice to believe or not to believe, and having the appropriate “eternal destiny” assigned to them, and much more to do with Jesus declaring that God has set up his Kingdom on earth, and the promise that it will cover the earth one day, abolishing death and sin. There’s no “if you’re one of the lucky ones” with the Gospel. It’s just pure good news, for all, and at all times. It’s the heart of what Jesus taught us to pray- “your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”

          I’m not a universalist, but you really don’t find very many people in the New Testament frantically addressing unbelievers as those whose “clock is ticking” and need to be pulled from the fire of damnation before they draw their last breath. It’s also not really taught that “everyone who’s not within Christianity proper is going to hell when they die.” I now see that as a sort of supernaturalistic, almost gnostic mythology that’s designed to elevate our view of ourselves above the real point, and to give people the right to clearly define borders and be “in the know” about things they’re not really even told to contemplate (who’s in, who’s out).

          So I hope you’re OCD calms down. Just remember, it’s a wound, a sickness, not a reflection of the truth. Wherever your husband’s faith is at (and yes, it IS a process, not just for some, but for everyone), the point is for him to see where Jesus is on display now, not to constantly keep him (or you) thinking about his eternal destiny. That’s just a distraction more often than not. “Do not be anxious for tomorrow, because tomorrow will be anxious for itself.” (Matt 6:34)

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            A good thing to remember is that, despite almost all the talk you will hear about salvation, the picture Jesus paints of it has much less to do with people being given a personal choice to believe or not to believe, and having the appropriate “eternal destiny” assigned to them…

            That is an artifact of the Revivalist shtick (usually credited to a guy named Finney) that took over Evangelicalism around 100 years ago. The distinct vibe is that this was a knee-jerk reaction to the Victorian Era’s Social Gospel that became “a Gospel without Personal Salvation”. The reaction was a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation. Communism begets Objectivism.

            It’s also not really taught that “everyone who’s not within Christianity proper is going to hell when they die.” I now see that as a sort of supernaturalistic, almost gnostic mythology that’s designed to elevate our view of ourselves above the real point, and to give people the right to clearly define borders and be “in the know” about things they’re not really even told to contemplate (who’s in, who’s out).

            What C.S.Lewis called “The Lure of the Inner Ring”. Like the Conspiracy Theorists smug in the knowledge that “I and I Alone KNOW what’s REALLY Going On (smug smug smug).”

            “Gnostic” means “He Who KNOWS Things”, in this case, the Speshul Sooper Sekrit Knowledge of Who is REALLY Saved (usually ME!) and Who is Damned (usually YOU!). And that Sooper Sekrit Knowledge is by definition the “Occult”.

    • Jessica, I have OCD also. I actually went to counseling for about 2 years- it manifested in the worst type of scrupulosity and salvation doubting, for myself, not so much for people I love. I will be praying for you- for grace and peace. But please know, as HUG said, it truly is the OCD talking. If it would help- there are reputable Christian counseling centers that help to deal with this type of OCD, I hope the intensity of the doubt and fear lessens for you in time!

  9. I would party with this group of writers. Great discussion.

  10. I think it was Flannery O’Connor that wrote about how the prostitutes and other various sinners will enter the gates of heaven while the righteous watch in terror, and suffer as their own pride and spiritual haughtiness is burned away.

    The key element to salvation is this…Do you trust Him? Not do you believe in Him…not have you been baptized…not have you been confirmed…not have you prayed the sinner’s prayer? The key question is “Do you trust Him?” Do you believe that Jesus Christ loves you, and that His grace is sufficient to save you? We protestants preach it, but we sure don’t practice it! Personally, I find much more evidence of grace in the sacramental/liturgical traditions that are typically denounced by Evangelicals as “works-based”. Martha hit the nail in the head…You must accept that there is some mystery, not a mathematical equation that will lead you to a front row seat in Jesus-ville when you die.

    Damaris’ thoughts on the language surrounding salvation are amazing. There’s a book in there somewhere…

    Great conversation today!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Martha hit the nail in the head…You must accept that there is some mystery, not a mathematical equation that will lead you to a front row seat in Jesus-ville when you die.

      This agrees with Chaplain Mike’s theory that the Industrial Revolution and Age of Reason caused a shift in how the Bible was viewed — from Old Stories of God and Man to a Spiritual Engineering Instruction Manual of facts and checklists.

    • “Damaris’ thoughts on the language surrounding salvation are amazing. There’s a book in there somewhere…”

      I posted elsewhere that I loved Damaris’ take on the words and wording. And yes…there is a book in there somewhere!

      • I grade reams of other people’s writing; I don’t have time to write much of my own! But thank you.

        • A thank you from me, too, Damaris. It’s been a long time since I read (or heard) someone go into such a thorough examination of these words – maybe back in the 70s?

          It’s great stuff, in every way.

  11. Great post, and great contributions, all!

  12. Dana Ames says:

    I had somewhat the same experience as Oscar, though much less intense. I needed Assurance, and the Evangelical way of interpreting scripture and what “salvation” meant gave that to me at the time, when I was in my earl 20s, and I’m grateful. An Eastern Catholic priest friend of mine says I wasn’t taught very well as a Catholic; that may well be, but I was pretty invested in being and remaining Catholic until then. I was (and continue to be) grateful for having been raised Catholic; I was never a “Catholic basher” as an Evangelical.

    However, through the years of my 40s I came to believe, through various means but mostly N.T. Wright’s work, that the concern of Jesus’ hearers in the NT was not “How can I get to that place, Heaven, when I die?” and that when Jesus was asked “What must I do to have the life of the Age to Come,” he was being asked what someone had to do in order to be counted as a faithful member of The True People of God – not how to manage things so that their spirits live on and on and on (though zoe aeonion can mean the latter, the context in the Gospels and among Jews of Jesus’ day is much more about the former).

    “Salvation” for me became focused on how God in his Son, Jesus, took away every barrier to me and everyone else becoming the human beings God always meant for us to be. Like Lisa’s Greek teacher said, the Reconciliation of God is a completed act, a “done deal” before any human action, and what I have to do is step into it and pray for the grace to live it. That’s simply what being a Christian is. When I read “salvation” in the bible, my brain gives the word the meanings of healing/deliverance, which, I understand, is much more in line with the Greek than a concept of being whisked off to some unEarthly “place” called “Heaven.” God delivered humanity from death and the fear of death that has kept us enslaved to sin, and gave His Spirit to empower us to simply live as truly human beings. Even the English word – “salve” – that comes from the Latin form we use as “salvation” reflects this sense of healing. All of the actions we understand as “sinful” are manifestations of our INhumanity, not our humanity, which still retains the Image of God. So for me it’s much more like what Damaris articulated as a process, begun and brought to fruition by the God who is really, truly Good (and did not create a “place” called “Hell,” because he does not need to retributively punish anyone), in the power of the Holy Spirit and with my cooperation (because Persons say yes and no).

    So with this significant hermeneutical shift, and more, I was carrying around a big ball o’ Theology, and could find no place within any of the expressions of western Christianity to set it down and be at home. Eastern Orthodoxy ended up being that home, with room for the theology and interpretation of scripture to which I had already come, and with so much more besides. That it was nowhere on my radar screen and came completely out of left field was one of the reasons I believe it was the Holy Spirit who led me there. And one thing I very much like about EO is something Martha articulated as well: God is God and He saves whom He will. I don’t have to judge anything about where anyone else is with Him – I just have to love people, which is much more difficult than judging.

    So salvation is ultimately the union of humanity with God and participation in the life of God, in a way that appropriately retains the distinction between Uncreated and Created and respects the unique Personhood of each human (because Love does not colonize the Other), and involves the complete healing of each Person so that each and all are able to live in and from true freedom and self-giving love – the “likeness” of God, especially as demonstrated by Jesus Christ (who is fully human as well as fully God, Himself embodying this union). This was God’s intention from the beginning – it was never “plan B.”

    Dana

    • “…I came to believe, through various means but mostly N.T. Wright’s work, that the concern of Jesus’ hearers in the NT was not “How can I get to that place, Heaven, when I die?”

      Ditto. I discovered this as well, through Wimber’s and Ladd’s use of the Gospel of the Kingdom.

      “All of the actions we understand as “sinful” are manifestations of our INhumanity, not our humanity, which still retains the Image of God.”

      So much “go to heaven” talk is actually a de-humanized, gnostic version of the true Christian hope. This is one of the great burdens I feel for the Church. Let’s quit talking about heaven as a far-off, separated place that is utterly unlike the known world. Wright’s Suprised by Hope has perhaps the best articulations of this I’ve read.

  13. Christiane says:

    I sometimes think if we all could be saved from being unkind, for me that would be blessing enough.

    I loved this post, and value the interconnectedness of the comments highly.
    Thank you all for sharing.

  14. Daisey former Missionary and Carmelite says:

    Wonderful post Jeff. All members of the round table great Job and Thank you!

  15. I like Lee’s position about faith being trust. I don’t think that excludes assent and belief, but they are not the same. And I don’t think that is faith formed by love, which seems like a mix up about faith and sanctification. And there is another can of worms that gets people riled up.
    Please let me mention a book by a reformed pastor. And I am in no way of that theology. However, there is a book called “A Theology of Inclusivism” by Neal Punt. Briefly, and I hope not denigrating it, I’ll try to summarize:
    The premise is that the Bible imposes neither a prerequisite or condition for sinners to be established in God’s grace. Nor does it indicate how those who are dead in sin would be able to fulfill any condition if it were required. In this view, faith is fruit, not a condition. This changes the position that all are lost until “saved”. Rather it is all are saved, but some are not. I realize people feel this is a soft form of universalism. But I really have tried to wrap my heart around it, and don’t think it is anything but true. One man died for all. In this view all are saved except those who persistently and finally remain indifferent or who reject God’s will as it has been made known to them.
    Just one more thing about this type of inclusivism over other forms of exclusivism. This type of heart attitude shows up even in people’s very body language. It is internalized to exclusion being even oppressive, or inclusion being accepting.

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective, T.S.Gay. I’ll be mulling on this:

      “This changes the position that all are lost until ‘saved’. Rather it is all are saved, but some are not. I realize people feel this is a soft form of universalism. But I really have tried to wrap my heart around it, and don’t think it is anything but true. One man died for all. In this view all are saved except those who persistently and finally remain indifferent or who reject God’s will as it has been made known to them.”

      A couple years back, one of my Christian friends shared with me thoughts similar to this. At the time, I viewed it as universalism and I wondered if he’d gone off track. But these days I’m less inclined to view it as universalism. What if there’s some truth in it? And isn’t “salvation” God’s business, anyway? I can tell you what I think salvation is and what it requires, but it’s based on my interpretation of scripture, which admittedly is rather limited, flawed, and biased. Thus, I can say with certainty that I’m not 100% right.

      There are people I pray for on a daily basis, praying that God rescues them. I am 100% sure that I have no clue how God will rescue them, but I’m 100% sure God is listening to those prayers.

      • Oh, and to finish that thought – one that admittedly borders on universalism – could it be that Jesus, through His sacrifice and shed blood, will save/is saving/has saved those for whom I’m praying?

  16. This is a truly fascinating post. Wonderful insights. Loved it all. I really liked Damaris’ examination of the words and wording.

    One thought I had as I mulled my own take on “salvation” and compared it with what has been said here: How is God best glorified? Is He glorified through condemnation of his sinful children, or is He glorified through the rescuing, reconciliation and forgiveness of his sinful children? It seems to me there’s no glory in condemnation. Anyone can do it. It takes a divine nature to rescue/save those who don’t deserve to be rescued. It takes a divine nature to do the impossible. That’s when God’s glory is displayed, and it’s via salvation through Jesus that displays God’s glory.

  17. Wonderful thoughts, all of you. Thanks for sponsoring this round table, Jeff.

    And Christiane…I love your comment at 1:29 pm: “I sometimes think if we all could be saved from being unkind, for me that would be blessing enough.”

    I like how Jeff refers to Martha as M o’I. 🙂