Some thoughts on salvation and evangelicalism

There are those who would like to say that Christianity is easy.  Receive Jesus into your heart and you will be saved!  That’s it all that is required to be a Christian.  There is very little indication that life change is required, that there is supposed to be a peculiar aspect to the followers of Christ.  Risk is not even considered when discussing the implications of faith.  How did this happen?  Suddenly, or not so suddenly, we’ve melted Christianity down to a short prayer and weekly church attendance – wait scratch that – monthly church attendance.  I know that many in the evangelical wing of the church would (and will) disagree with me, but I think that’s wrong.  How can Christianity be simply simple?

I have been in the conversation of “what is salvation” for a while now with various people – mostly fellow seminarians and professors – and I’ve come up with a conclusion that isn’t new – in fact it’s quite old – salvation is a process and not a moment.  The Greek/Russian Orthodox church has this concept called theosis, which is the process of continual purification that leads to greater and greater communion with God.  A person is not saved in a moment by a prayer, but over the course of a lifetime dedicated to greater fellowship with God.  Don’t get me wrong, I acknowledge that “man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved.”  I totally understand that, but it seems that Jesus wants more from us than simply a prayer and a bit of belief in our heart.  Just look at the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus wants us to be distinct in our levels of purity and grace.  We are to go the extra mile with those we despise, help those in need, bless those who curse us, not get violently angry or lust over others.  I think that true salvation is found when we start living like this and not because we went forward with 100 other people at some conference.  That prayer is a good start, but it’s not an end in and of itself.  We’ve been preaching this easy salvation thing for close to a hundred years now.  Meanwhile we’ve seen the name of Christianity get dragged through the mud, to the point where we are openly despised by much of society.  I know Jesus said that people would hate us for being followers of him, but I have this feeling that the reason people dislike us has nothing to do with Jesus.

What happened; why do people dislike Christians so much? I think that in the process of making salvation easy we expected everyone to jump on board – “see it’s easy, you can do it too.”  When not everyone jumped on board we came to the conclusion that there was something wrong with them and we needed to force them to see why they should jump on board – “I’ll beat the gospel into you.”  The problem is not that there is something wrong with people that aren’t evangelical Christians, it’s that as evangelicals we haven’t made a compelling case for why they should be Christians.  As Gandhi said, “I like their Christ, I don’t like their Christians.”  I’m pretty conservative on most things, but at some point we have to stop and realize that being a hard ass isn’t the only, or best, way of getting things done.

What would happen if we actually spoke the truth in love, rather than in spite saying that it’s in love?  What would happen if we actually started living with the courage of conviction that Jesus requires of us?    What would happen if we started to live out that conviction in our churches?  Strip away the prettiness of church culture, the continual talk of blessing and the Christian-ese.  We would be more real, with much less fakeness.  Our problems would be more visible, but I think there would be less of them because we would be more accountable to each other.  I think it would be distinctly different if people hated us for doing so much good in the world, for loving even when it hurts. I doubt we would be seen as heartless or hypocritical.

Our theology must always embody an ethic. That ethic must live in our lives for it to be relevant and right now it doesn’t feel like that ethic is present in our lives. It all comes down to felt expectations – if we don’t feel like we’re expected to do anything more than say a prayer and walk down an isle then that’s what we’ll do.  On the other hand if we feel there are greater expectations that come along with being a Christian, then that’s what we’ll do.

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  1. What you write definitely has validity. After all, it wasn’t by church-speak, or programs, size of congregations, or the other encumbrances we add that Jesus said the world would know us:

    This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other. John 13:35, Message

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