In the beginning, creation was characterized by peace and harmony, (the Hebrew concept of shalom), between a) God and human beings, b) human beings and other human beings, c) human beings and creation. God charges human beings with caring for this world (in His Image). In Genesis 3, that harmony is shattered and the world begins to plummet into disharmony. (It can be argued that sin is the breaking of “shalom” in any of these afore mentioned areas…See Bell and Grenz) Years later, as the project has gone further and further off course, God commissions a man named Abram and his descendants to be ambassadors of His harmony in a world gone astray. God will bless them so that they may bless the world. However, these ambassadors frequently lose sight of the full scope of their mission, often getting bogged down, among other things, in their own self promotion and struggle for power (or at least the desire for these things). Even so, God never gives up on His dream for His world. Eventually, God (the Son) becomes a human being. He is the “true human”, the perfect example of what humans were meant to be. He is God’s ambassador of shalom. Interestingly, instead of promoting himself, He lays His life down. Instead of grabbing power (which was actually offered to him quite a few times), He poured out His power for the benefit of the world. He eventually dies a “sinner’s death” though He was without sin, somehow taking the consequences of the world’s sin on himself. In His resurrection from death, He thus opens the way into a new (or renewed) reality characterized by harmony with God, each other and Creation, free from the consequences of sin. He then commissions those who would follow him, the people of God (no longer just the descendants of Abram), once again become the ambassadors of God’s reality in the midst of a world that has created it’s own.
In light of this telling of the story, salvation becomes much more than just “being saved from Hell after death”, or even “being granted admittance into Heaven after death”. As Brian McLaren points out in Adventures in Missing The Point, “If you had asked the apostle Paul, ‘If you were to die tonight, do you know for certain that you would be with God in heaven?’ I’m certain Paul would have said yes. But he probably would have given you a funny look and wondered why you were asking the question, because to him it missed the point. To Paul, the point of being Christ’s follower was not just to help people be absolutely certain they were going to heaven when they died. Paul’s goal was to help them become fully formed, mature in Christ, here and now—to experience the glorious realities of being in Christ and experiencing Christ in themselves.” Grace, it would seem, is not an end unto itself. Rather, it is the means of our returning to the reality that God intended and to our becoming a catalyst for that reality breaking into our world. As seen through the lens of this telling of the story, salvation is by no means a primarily individualistic enterprise. As Stan Grenz explains in Theology for the Community of God, “We are alienated from God, of course. But our estrangement also taints our relationships with one another, with ourselves, and with creation. Consequently, the divine program leads not only toward establishing individual peace with God in isolation; it extends as well to the healing of all relationships—to ourselves, one another, and to nature.” Our individual salvation is a fact, but as Grenz says, “the church is far more than a collection of saved individuals who band together for the task of winning the lost. The church is the community of salvation.”
Heaven and Hell
No explanation of salvation would be complete without touching on the issues of Heaven and Hell. In Scripture, the afterlife is discussed as a reality However, the main truth of Heaven appears to be less about people going there and more about Heaven coming here. As Rob Bell explains in Velvet Elvis: Repainting The Christian Faith, “For Jesus, heaven and hell were present realities. He talked very little about the life beyond this one because he understood that the life beyond this one is a continuation of the choices we make here and now. For Jesus, the question wasn’t, how do I get into heaven? But how do I bring heaven here?” Jesus prayed to his Father “Your Kingdom come. Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.” Additionally, Paul, in Romans 8, seems to imply that creation itself has the same promise as the children of God. In short, the goal of God is not just the salvation of individual souls, but the salvation of the whole world.
As for individuals in relation to Heaven and Hell, Bell further explains, “And this reality extends beyond this life. Heaven is full of forgiven people. Hell is full of forgiven people. Heaven is full of people God loves, whom Jesus died for. Hell is full of people God loves, whom Jesus died for. The difference is how we choose to live, which story we choose to live in, which version of reality we trust. Ours or God’s.”
- Bell, Rob…Velvet Elvis: Repainting The Christian Faith. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005
- McLaren, Brian D…Adventures In Missing The Point. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003
- Grenz, Stanley J…Theology For The Community of God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000