What is Salvation?

If our idea of salvation isn’t God’s idea, then (spoiler alert!) by extension the Good News that we proclaim and announce isn’t going to be truly Good.

Earlier this year, the Congregation for the Doctrine [aka Teaching] of the Faith, published a letter, Placuit Deo, “on certain aspects of Christian salvation.”

What do people today think about salvation?

Across the world, we see two “drifts,” two different directions that start with something good, but then drift and become disconnected from the greater whole. The first is…

I can achieve it! Just watch me!

An individual-centric worldview “tends to see the human person as a being whose sole fulfillment depends only on his or her own strength” (Placuit Deo, para. 2). If you’re keeping score historically 😉 one could call this a “neo-pelagianism.” Now, there’s something intrinsically good about wanting to grow in strength, and we even find in Luke’s Gospel that Jesus, in his youth, advanced in wisdom (Luke 2:52). However, the problem is when we think we can do it ourselves, that the self-help and self-growth is going to come all from my “self” or maybe just by looking to Jesus as a great moral teacher or inspiring example for me to follow.

The second drift is in the opposite direction, and says…

I’ve got inner peace! I can’t hear you!

In this drift, we see “a merely interior vision of salvation,” “a vision which, marked by a strong personal conviction or feeling of being united to God,” but “does not take into account the need to accept, heal and renew our relationships with others and with the created world” (para 2).  For the history buffs out there, this is akin to a neo-gnosticism. While a Christian most certainly should have a personal experience of God’s love, the problem comes if this is the end state–or if a person turns inward to “protect” themselves from the messiness of the world, separating themselves from the “healing dimension of salvation” and the meaning of Jesus Christ truly being “made a member of the human family” (para. 9, 2).

Proclaiming Today

People aren’t blank slates waiting for us Christians to fill their heads with information. We connect with others more fruitfully, when we recognize and understand what assumptions and drifts they might be living out. Knowing these two major “drifts” reminds us that our announcement of truly Good News must include:

  • the transformative power of Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit
    • without this, it’d be depressing news about how bad we are and need to get with the game, buck up, and fix ourselves by being “good”] (para. 2; cf. 2 Cor 5:19; Eph 2:18)
  • the healing, elevating, and participatory dimension of Jesus Christ’s mission (para. 9)
    • without this, why wouldn’t we run for the hills to escape from the rest of humanity? I mean, we human beings can be a unruly bunch!

Placuit Deo sums it up concisely:

“Salvation consists in being incorporated into a communion of persons that participates in the communion of the Trinity.” (para. 12)

Jesus Christ “is at the same time Savior and Salvation.” (para. 11)

“The salvation of men and women will be complete only when, after having conquered the last enemy, death (cf. 1 Cor 15:26), we will participate fully in the glory of the risen Jesus, who will bring to fullness our relationship with God, with our brothers and sisters, and with all of creation.” (para. 15)

That’s the road we’re on, and inviting others to join us in.

Fullness in our relationships:

  • with God
  • with humanity
  • with all of creation

That’s Good news, indeed

Colleen Vermeulen

Colleen Vermeulen

Colleen Reiss Vermeulen, M.Div., M.N.A., blogs, ministers in parish life and lay/deacon formation, and serves as a U.S. Army Reserve officer. She and her husband, Luke, have been married since 2011 and live in Ypsilanti, MI with their two young sons.

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