If You Died Tonight... Or What Does Salvation Even Mean?
|Jacob's Dream by William Blake (1805)|
(via Wikimedia Commons, PD-1923_
I think one can respond in one of four basic ways, with logical consistency and intellectual integrity, to wit:
1. Yes, I do. This, on my reading, is the most traditional and widely held view in the history of Christian thought. We don't have to get into contemporary debates about mind-body dualism, the putative immortality of the soul, or ostensibly outmoded "Greek metaphysics." Those discussions are important, to be sure, but that's not what I'm talking about here. Let's say Wolfhart Pannenberg, C.S. Lewis, and Pope John Paul II go into a bar.... Well, that's just it: Whether it's a pub in heaven or in some renewed and transformed earth in an eschatological future, the point is that they are getting together, somehow and somewhere, recognizably the same individuals they were during their earthly sojourns.
2. I don't know, but I sure hope so. What's interesting about this option is that it seems to suggest Christian hope might direct and inform Christian faith.
3. I don't know, but I think it's very unlikely. To my mind, that's a depressing answer, but it's certainly one that is logically and existentially possible.
4. No, I don't. This answer ramifies into three basic sub-categories: "No, I think the notion of salvation, properly interpreted, pertains to life in this world only." Or "No, I believe salvation involves the extinguishing of personal consciousness, as one's life force is reabsorbed into some sort of cosmic whole or infinite, impersonal ground of being." Or "No, I think this whole discussion about 'salvation' is bogus."
Apropos of option 4, I don't think we're forced into a false dichotomy between belief in personal, post-mortem existence, on the one hand, and a salutary concern for the concrete struggles of the world. Marxist criticisms (which I do take seriously) notwitstanding, I do believe something like the traditional understanding of eternal salvation can be integrated with a radical socio-political critique of existing powers and structures, and I've addressed that conviction in this post.
As I wrote last week, Sanders writes from the perspective of a fairly traditional evangelical Christianity, so of course, his discussion presupposes answer no 1. But what he does say (or presuppose) about the nature of salvation, and the way that these commitments shape his accounts of the scope and extent of salvation requires a closer look, but that task would require another blog post.
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