Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Who Can Be Saved?

I'm currently teaching a course called "Current Issues in the Doctrine of Salvation." I structured the course around a broadly biblical/theological definition of salvation, including both its vertical dimension and its horizontal. The first, the vertical, is what evangelicals have typically thought of as "salvation." Otherwise known as "getting saved," "going to heaven," etc. But theology must rediscover the horizontal dimension of salvation: wholeness, well-being, peace, reconciliation, etc.

Most of the tricky theological questions have centered on the vertical dimension, in the form of questions like "who can be saved?" Related to this are issues such as "how much 'information' is required to be a Christian? Must someone have concious explicit knowledge of Jesus Christ to be saved by him? Is to suggest otherwise (that conscious faith is not necessary) detrimental to the missionary "enterprise," which the New Testament so highly prizes? Is salvation potentially accessible (Terrance Tiessen's position is "accesibilism") to every human being, either in this life or the next? Or are unevangelized persons out of luck, with hell to pay?

Any thoughts?


Silas said...

Dr. Kbob,

First off, I think it is appropriate you replaced your pic of you and Auggie, with one of Sara. You dont want anybody, esp. her, thinking that you love Augs more than you love her...

Back to salvation, interesting that you note that the hortizontial nature of salvation (us mediating 'saving' relations to others, such as harmony, joy, and freedom) might be detrimental to the missionary enterprise as it is currently understood as mandated for the Christian community in the N.T. If for example, the Church was better at sharing salvation with others, ('being' for others as Christ 'was' for us in the Christ event) and thus opening them up to and creating the space for harmonious patterns of free living in/through God, then perhaps the true biblical intution of the N.T. (particuarly Pauline) notions of missional life might actually be fulfilled far more deeply and robustly than in our modern interpretations of evangelical manifest destiny and colonialization.


Kyle A. Roberts said...


Yes, I thought that (picture) was a good move :)

I didn't suggest, or at least didn't mean to suggest, that the horizontal nature of salvation is detrimental to the missionary enterprise. It is absolutely essential, as you eloquently point out. My question was whether the suggestion that "conscious acceptance of the Gospel" is not necessary to be saved (as in inclusivism and accessibilism) is determintal. I for one don't think it is, or needs to be. But I know it perturbs and worries some to no end...

Jon said...

Your question doesn't seem to fit with the rest of your post. It seems obvious that the answer to "who can be saved" is everyone and anyone. The question you are asking is "how is someone saved" or "what cognitive belief/knowledge is required for salvation".

What does salvation outside of "consious acceptance of the Gospel" look like? Also, you claim that inclusivism and accessibilism are not "determintal". Please elaborate.

benarbour03 said...

I think it's important that someone hold to the orthodox faith - that it is necessary for salvation, which, of course, means a Christian doctrine of God (Trinitarianism, and the hypostasis of Christ). If faith in God saves, this only begs the question, "Which God?" Furthermore, is the Gospel not distinctly and explicitly Trinitarian? The wrath of God the Father poured out on God the Son, via God the Spirit? Without the Trinity, and Chalcedonian Christology, all of the Faith seems to fall apart - not just soteriology, but any doctrine, but soteriology more specifically hinges on a Christian theology proper.

This is especially problematic for us, evangelical, low church Christians, who tend to emphasize soteriology as more important that theology proper (as opposed to high churches, whose creeds govern their theology and practice in the laity as well as the clergy, whereas for us, generally it is the clergy who are familiar with creeds while laity remain unimpacted by the Fathers, all-the-while chanting "sola Scriptura!"). Thus, the failure of a doctrine of God to drive other theology results in misplaced emphases which trouble evangelicalism today.

Kyle A. Roberts said...

Well, Jon. You know the title was just a teaser.

Ok fine, point well taken. The question I'm asking is indeed "how," not "who."

As for what salvation outside of conscious, cognitive acceptance of the Gospel looks like, I would guess it looks alot like salvation within conscious, cognitive acceptance. A life characterized by love, joy, and peace...the fruits of the Spirit. A self that "faces" God, and that doesn't turn away from God toward self. Amos Yong has explored that question in his book "Beyond the Impasse." I commend it to you.

It's not (necessarily) detrimental to Gospel witness because, I think, the impetus for Gospel witness comes as much from the overflow of joy in and passion for the Christ story than from a sense that it's "up to me" to facilitate salvation.

Kyle A. Roberts said...


So someone needs to know Trinitarian doctrine and Chalcedonian Christology to be saved? Wow, the road is narrow indeed! It seems it requires a seminary education :)

Even Jonathan Edwards noted that it's one thing to be justified by faith alone, another thing to understand justification by faith alone.

I think it's crucial to uphold the distinction between doctrine and the reality to which doctrine points. The church needs theology for the deepening of discipleship and the health of the body, but salvation doesn't hinge upon theological understanding, but on God's transforming grace in Christ.

benarbour03 said...

Just to clarify...

I do understand the distinction between faith and understanding. My point was this: one must believe in (not understand) the Christian God in order to be saved. I confess that I don't entirely understand much of anything, espeicially the mysteries of God and His Incarnation. However, if we deny trinitarianism and hypostasis are essential to grasp for salvation, are we then to argue that Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons are part of the Christian Church?

To confess and believe is one thing - to understand is another. We must possess faith in order to begin seeking understanding - the task of theology, right?

Besides, would any of us really baptize someone in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit if the person being baptized couldn't articulate what that means, even at the most rudimentary level? If someone can't define the name into which they are being baptized, what does their baptism mean? And how can we magnify the meaning of baptism and stand strongly for believers baptism without also magnifying the God behind baptism who gives the ordinance/sacrament its significance?