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Basic Christian Doctrines IV: Salvation and Jesus Christ.

Updated: Jan 11


Soteriology


The Doctrine of Soteriology (Salvation) has had a long standing history in the Church. However, the way we look at the meaning of Salvation has changed over the years. Salvation. In the traditional concept of Salvation, one would first begin with Christ, who by His Death and Resurrection lead us to Salvation.


Some modern concepts of Salvation differ with the traditional view, in the sense that some theologians feel that placing Christ first is presumptuous and risks intolerance for most of humanity. They would rather start with Soteriology, so as to establish a common ground for all humanity, then present Jesus Christ as the one through which Salvation comes.


This paper will look at the history of interpreting the Doctrine of Soteriology. We will begin with the early theologians of the Church and progress up until the present era. We will conclude with my personal observation on the Doctrine of Salvation.


A Brief History


Within the first few hundred years of the Church there existed a number of philosophical rivals competing with Christianity for adherents. One major rival was Stoicism. At this time, the ancient world was pre-occupied with a sense of decay, as Roman imperialism became more entrenched. The atmosphere of pessimism permeated the whole of Society. Stoicism offered, "a good death" as an answer to the deep felt apathy about the real world.


As well, Christianity offered people a positive view of death. Saint Augustine of Hippo,(354-430) in his work, The City of God, cast a vision of the Heavenly Eternal City of God over and against the decaying city of humanity on earth. The point that Saint Augustine was making was that amongst the chaos, people were encouraged to look up to a better world.


Saint Athanasius (296-373) in his work, Four Orations against Arians, presents Salvation as a key to understanding Christ as both God and human and Saint Anselm (1033-1109) expressed a purpose for Salvation. To Saint Anselm, Salvation exists within the moral order of the universe and this order, disturbed by human sin, has to be set right.


The Protestant View


By the sixteenth century, people began to worry in new ways about their moral responsibility. Endless wars and plagues had worn the people down. It became a time of adherence to orthodoxy and not a period of innovation. The Society took on what could be called, 'a nominalist' world view.


People no longer had a realistic understanding of human nature, seeing life more as a matter of fate. The idea of God sending Jesus into the world and giving him human nature became a potent idea, because it raised the question of the possibility of an autonomous human moral order. This nominalist attitude set the stage for the Age of Enlightenment (1637-1789), which was a period of intensified concern for the individuals eternal destiny. In the collective mindset of the age, no one had a problem with life after death; it was in having to pay for ones sins that gave them great discomfort.


Martin Luther also had a deep concern for the ultimate destiny of a persons soul. Within Lutheran theology of 'Justification By Faith', there is a purposed two step process. First, people are in some way transformed in order to render themselves acceptable to God. Secondly, as a consequence of this transformation, people enter into Devine fellowship with God. As a result, we come to know that Gods righteousness is permitted to us.


This thought reflects back to the Nicene Creed in which we encounter God in Christ, and it is where Christ took our place in order that we might take His. To Luther, this is Salvation, and he used a variety of images to impart his convictions. Christ is the Word, the Victor, the King. Salvation is Christ's triumph over sin. It is His suffering of our punishment, in our place, that defeats sin. For mankind, even with its guilt and worthiness of damnation, God lifts the judgment. For Martin Luther, faith that God did this is all that was required for salvation.


The Calvinists understood Salvation in light of pre-destination. To them, God had chosen, from the beginning of all time, that some people would be saved (the elect) and others would be damned. They believed that if one were among the elect, they were pre-destined for Salvation. However, there is a problem with the matter of free will. It would seem pointless to possess free will if God has already chosen the path that each person will take.


Salvation History


Then there is the principle of Salvation History. Salvation history is the story detailing God's saving activity with humanity. It is experienced through the Covenant of Noah, the Calling of Abraham and Sarah, the Exodus, David and the Prophets, leading up to the coming of Jesus Christ, the Church and eventually toward the final fulfillment of all things.


According to Systematic Theologian Walter J. Lowe, the classical tradition of Salvation affirms that the One who saves must be the One who creates and that the Good News of Salvation can not be celebrated in grand seclusion. Such Great News can only be celebrated in communion, throughout the ages, with all who believe in God the Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. There is now an attempt in Soteriology to make the figure of Christ more significant by knitting together the two inter-dependent doctrines which had grown apart.


Integrating the Doctrines of Salvation & Christ, in light of the Holy Spirit


By placing Soteriology before Christology, there becomes, in actual practice, a narrowed view of Christology and in turn entails a deficient Soteriology. To me, this theology makes Christ (who is God) less important than Salvation and God can not be less important than His own creation of Salvation. In this context, Jesus Christ must come first.


So now theologians are looking at new approaches in the integration of Christ and Salvation. Lowe suggests that three things could be done. First, separate Christology from the actual presence of Christ in the community; second, the nature of this presence is in the strictest sense mysterious and thirdly, Christology is profoundly related to the Doctrine of the Trinity.


I believe that Lowe is correct when he describes how the Spirit makes Christ present in an open and self-giving manner. By freely participating in Salvation, the people of God may share in the very life of the Transcendent community; which is the inner life of God. We become the Body of Christ and it is in this sense that Christology finds its proper place within the life of the Trinity.


For me, it is important to clearly understand what Martin Luther is expressing to us, which is that we are transformed by the selfless act of Jesus Christ; and the twentieth century fellow Lutheran theologian Rudolf Karl Bultmann (1884-1976) reminds us that because of self-giving act, we must look to the Cross in order to fully comprehend the saving Grace of the crucified Christ. It is at this moment that Salvation has arrived. Sin has been defeated by the death and resurrection of our Saviour, who has redeemed us into a new birth.


Salvation is through Jesus Christ. Salvation can only be realized by the acceptance of the Blessed Trinity. The Doctrine of the Trinity enlivens our perception of the Doctrine of Salvation. It is the Holy Spirit that guides us and encourages us. The Faith Community (the Body of Christ) is the benefactor when the essence of Christ is experienced through the Holy Spirit. Once we know Christ fully, we then understand that we are reconciled with God and enter into a Devine Communion with all Creation.


END


Originally entitled Soteriology Comparative views of Salvation and the Role of Jesus Christ

was submitted to Dr. William Close

as a Master of Theological Studies course requirement

511v-Basic Christian Doctrines

St. Stephen's Theological College University of Alberta

Published on November 10th, 1996.

{Revised September 11th, 2023}


© Dr. Charles Warner 2023


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