The Character of Salvation

There is much that I’ve seriously appreciated about Luke Timothy Johnson’s essay in Four Views on the Apostle Paul.  In the following paragraph, he stresses the cosmic character of salvation and rightly places the salvation of individuals within larger frames of reference.  I think he’s saying something very important here, but I’m not entirely sure I’d say it the same way he does.

What do you think of this?

Paul’s concern for the future is concentrated primarily on the victory of God in the world and only secondarily on the participation of believers in that victory.  Apart from a handful of statements, his letters evince little interest in the destiny of believers after the moment of victory, and none in the eternal destiny of individuals.  His language about salvation is almost entirely social in character.  In distinction from Paul’s diction concerning righteousness, which addresses the character of the human relationship with God—and is available to Abraham as well as Jesus, to Gentiles as well as to Jews (see Rom. 3:21-4:23)—his discourse concerning salvation connotes participation in a presently-being-rescued community.  To “be saved” in Paul’s letters does not indicate one’s future destiny with God, but one’s present inclusion in God’s visible people.  Thus, Paul’s discussion of God’s call and “predestination” (8:29-30) in Romans 9-11 is misread when understood as dealing with the destiny of individuals, and Paul’s expectation that “all Israel will be saved” (11:32) does not mean that all Jews will go to heaven, but indicates Paul’s hope that all Jewish people will eventually be included in the people whom God is presently shaping out of Jews and Gentiles (pp. 88-89).

2 thoughts on “The Character of Salvation

  1. S Wu

    Tim, thanks for this. Here are my thoughts.

    On Romans 8:28-30, I think the glorification (with the aorist verb in 8:30) and the conformity to the image of the Son (in 8:29) have a present dimension. That is, how the Christ-community (note the plurals throughout 8:14-39) may participate in Christ’s suffering and glory in anticipation of God’s ultimate triumph over evil. This triumph is cosmic in scope (8:19-23). But it seems to me that it is in participating in Christ’s cruciform life that God’s children may display God’s glory in the present age. Thus, the super-triumph of God’s children in 8:37 is set in the context of faithful cruciform life. Viewing it this way, the passage is not so much about the future destiny of individuals, but the call to participate in Christ in faithfulness and perseverance in anticipation of God’s cosmic victory. To me, it is better to view the Christina life in terms of faithful cruciformity than through the lens of a generalized getting-saved-then-go-to-heaven schema.

    But I note that Romans 8:23 speaks of the resurrection of God’s children. I think it is important to remember that the Christian hope is about the resurrection and the renewal of the whole creation.

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