“The pluralism of biblical symbolism reflects the real multivocity of human experiences of salvation granted in Christ, experiences that are contextual and perspectival. The variety and even apparent incoherence of the corresponding symbolism can be but little reduced and never resolved through conceptual analysis and systematic theology. Instead, salvation and the cross must be integrated and appropriated through the kinds of Christian practices (liturgy and ethics) within which New Testament metaphors for salvation were generated in the first place.”
The range of metaphors that Scripture contains for the salvific human encounter with God cannot be contained in a single book or system. The word of God itself strains beyond itself, stretching at the limits of the language in which it is heard to express what that salvation is and how it has come to us through Jesus Christ. In the end, Christians can only come to understand the various aspects and dimensions of salvation by participating in the worship and the life of service which is (or ought to be) found in the church. Salvation is about the liberation of economic and political justice—and one learns this by means of concrete solidarity with people whom Jesus loves. Salvation is about the forgiveness of human guilt and shame—and one learns this in the daily rhythms of the community that sings and prays to the God who has carried human guilt all the way to hell. Salvation is about transforming broken human lives into images of God’s faithfulness—and one learns this by proclaiming the gospel of God’s basileia (reign) and being transformed in the process. One learns the multi-faceted significance of Scripture’s teaching about salvation by actively participating in the community (the body) whose historical experience stretches across the centuries to include the writing of that very same Scripture.
Lisa Sowle Cahill, “The Atonement Paradigm: Does it Still Have Explanatory Value,” Theological Studies 68 (2007): 421.
The church that Carolyn and I attend has asked me to start an outreach program for young professionals in the neighborhoods around the New York State capital. Rather than going door to door, I’m putting together a theology discussion/Bible study at a local Mexican food restaurant. For those people who are allergic to churches, discussing faith over cerveza and tacos should ease some of the negative ecclesial vibes they may feel. At any rate, I’ve started up another blog as a simple way of getting some information out over the internet for people whose curiosity is piqued by our fliers.
You are welcome to look it over and let me know what you think. Click here.
“The Word’s power is veiled in weakness. If the Word came in full, unveiled power, that would be the final judgment day. The great task of recognizing the limits of their mission is given to the disciples. But when the Word is misused, it will turn against them.” [Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, 173]
As the Body of Christ, the Church is called to speak God’s Word in its entirety (not verbatim scripture!) to the whole world. The Church is called and constituted by Word and sacrament as Christ’s body. This is a great mystery. But the one thing that it does not do, is transform the Church into an entity that in itself transcends the limits of earthly life. Christ’s body is a human body like yours and like mine. Just so, the Church’s proclamation is a human word, formed by human thought, and set loose by a human tongue. It is subject to the weakness of human words; it is ambiguous, it is subject to misuse and misunderstanding, it is subject to circumspection and ridicule. As those who speak of God, to God, and for God, Christians do well to remember two things: one, their place in a body larger than themselves; and two, their own doubt, insecurity, and weakness. The Word of God is spoken on earth within the limits of being human (simul iustus et peccator), not by transcending them.
For all that, by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church’s Word is no less than Christ’s Word, freely spoken. Lord, have mercy on us all.