Recalling the whole of the Jesus story (not just his death, but his life, teaching, way of dying, resurrection, ascension, and gift of his spirit to birth the church) we asked how does Jesus save us? The main points were:
His death was an innocent, in him -a forsaken outcast- God is identified with injustice: new possibilities for divine love are revealed.
The Resurrection gives us a promise of hope against fear and overturns violence with peace.
Christians have access to this promise through faith in God.
The belief in redemption through Christ has been conveyed in a large variety of ways, as the Cambridge theologian David Ford relates:
“It is as if the range of significance of the crucifixion was to be indicated by drawing on every sphere of reality to represent it. From nature there were the basic symbols of darkness and of seeds dying in the ground. From the religious cult there were sacrifice and the Temple. From history there were the Exodus and the Exile. From the law court there were judgement, punishment, and justification. From military life there were ransom, victory, and triumph. From ordinary life there were market-place metaphors of purchases and exchanges, household images of union in marriage, obedience, parent-child relationships and the redemption of slaves, landlords whose sons are killed by tenants, medical images of healing and saving, and the picture of a friend laying down his life.” –Theology: A Very Short Introduction, (1999), Oxford University Press, p. 111
While none of these images can be claimed as the one orthodox Christian picture, or the one Biblical picture, a few of them are associated with the most popular theories of redemption.
Of the following three accounts we discussed: What images do they use- where do they come from? Which do your favourite one and why? Is anything missing?
1. Human beings have fallen under the control of oppressive and dehumanizing powers: sin and the Law- which brings death, the dominions of this world, and perhaps demonic powers.
2. Since human beings cannot free themselves from this situation, God’s power is manifested in Christ to liberate us. In his crucifixion Christ identifies with us and shares our suffering; in his Resurrection Christ is victorious over all the powers that oppress us.
3. By his life, death and resurrection, Christ inaugurates a new community marked by inclusivity, peace and joy. The life and work of the Church as the Body of Christ witnesses to the salvation of Christ until the final fulfilment, when all destructive powers will be overcome.
1. This theory emphasises the effects of sin in everyone (Rom 3:23) conceived as a violation of the Law which leaves us wholly separated from God and thereby incurring His judgement.
2. Human beings are judged guilty before God and stand under the penalty of death. The crucial issue is satisfaction of God’s justice.
3. As the theologian John Calvin argued: “The guilt which held us liable to punishment was transferred to the head of the Son of God”. This means that the death of the innocent Lord satisfies the demands of the Law for punishment.
4. In his death and resurrection, Christ frees us from the penalty of the Law and offers new life to those who enter into an emotional relationship with Him, thanking him for taking their punishment.
1. God created the world in love and for love. The image of God constituted a relation of love and obedience toward God.
2. Sin constitutes a break in the relation with God, caused by pride and self-centredness. It has alienated human beings from God as well as from one another.
3. Christ reveals God through his life and suffering; in forgiving those who degrade and murder him the wondrous love of God is demonstrated.
4. In his Resurrection God vindicates Christ and in him establishes a new community of love for the sake of the world’s redemption.
Of these three accounts A and C are the most similar (perhaps because unlike B they are Catholic in origin) and are certainly compatible with one another. B is probably also compatible with A because there God shows love for us by sending Christ as a substitute, thereby liberating us. But there are difficult tensions between B’s emphasis on God’s need for retributive punishment and Christian ethics, particularly the focus on forgiveness God expressed in the ministry of Jesus.
The contemporary teaching of the Catholic church seems to merge A and C:
“The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light… Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. It is not surprising, then, that in Him all the aforementioned truths find their root and attain their crown. He Who is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), is Himself the perfect man. To the sons of Adam He restores the divine likeness which not annulled, by that very fact it has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too. For by His Incarnation the Son of God has united Himself In some fashion with every man.” – Gaudium et Spes: Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, (1965), Section 22
Whereas the doctrinal basis of the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (the British organisation that runs the evangelical CUs) expresses B:
“Sinful human beings are redeemed from the guilt, penalty and power of sin only through the sacrificial death once and for all time of their representative and substitute, Jesus Christ, the only mediator between them and God.”
This is much more straightforward than A or C which can be quite vague about how the event of Jesus’ death is tied in objective reality to our being forgiven. We noted that this is probably why B lends itself towards evangelism.
Yet given the Ford quotation at the beginning, to restrict our understanding of salvation to just one or two images seems to reduce the eminence of the mystery of God’s love. Again, looking at Jesus’ whole life we noted a couple of aspects that were not expressed in any of these theories:
1. Jesus comes to us and heals us, not just physically with miracles but also in our souls.
2. He saves us from uncertainty, doubts and worry. He bridges a gap in our knowledge about the Mystery which is God, corrects our ways of thinking, changing our perspectives on life and opening up a bigger picture.
Still, all theories have a lot in common. Our faith in Christ brings us a better way of living and new found values give new meaning to the world. This allows me to better accept myself and others. But whereas protestants tend to emphasise change in one’s own self and being rescued from legalism, catholics tend to emphasise a change in community and moral behaviour.