a full-er fourfold gospel?

About nine months ago a friend and I were preaching at a Church and the subject was “The Kingdom of God.” Easy, right? Well, anyway, we decided to simply have a public conversation, and our preparation was to sit down for an afternoon and dialogue about the kingdom.

What came out of that conversation was exciting for us. In fact our discussion has largely shaped the way I articulate my framework from which to discuss the gospel and the kingdom.

A Generalisation - Contemporary Evangelical Salvation

Our basic premise was this – evangelicals have tended to see “salvation” as being primarily related to one’s own reconciliation and continuing relationship with God. Thus salvation has tended to focus on the dynamics between humans and God, and how that might affect an individual’s post-mortem fate. However, if we go back to the beginning of the Scriptural narrative in Genesis 1-11 we find that such a view of salvation is, though present, inadequate to make sense of the entire story.

“The Fall,” as it is most often called in Christian tradition, is in a sense a misrepresentation because that term is nowhere found in the Bible. In this way we should be able to rename that event depicted in the narrative to help bring a fresh perspective on it. My friend and I decided to go with the term dislocation, in the sense that Genesis 3 depicts a dislocation between God and humans.

Now this might seem like an arbitrary alteration. But it was necessary for where our conversation was to end up. Indeed, we went on to say, there are more dislocations going on in the Genesis narrative than just that which occurs between God and humans.

What about the dislocation in the relationship between the two humans in the Garden? How does that continue to play out as the narrative moves past Genesis 3? What about the murder of Abel by Cain? What about the violence reported in Genesis 6:11? What about the fracture between Noah and Ham? Or the establishment of competing human empires leading up to Genesis 11? Our conclusion was that in addition to a dislocation between God and humans, stemming from Genesis 3 there was also a dislocation between humans and humans.

We also pointed to the fact that there was an internal problem within humanity. Adam shifts blame away from himself in a prideful display. Noah gets drunk and leaves little to the imagination, indicating that he does not know himself and his capabilities. Ham’s act of uncovering his own father further demonstrates humanity’s internal evil, which is of course exemplified in the human pride of Babel in Genesis 11. A further point that we made, then, was that in addition to the first two dislocations, there was also a dislocation between the human and the self.

Lastly we looked at the way in which humans now had a difficult relationship with the earth following Genesis 3. Indeed, the earth (ground) suffers because of humanity, and then humanity is judged in Genesis 7 with the agent of judgment being the earth’s waters. In addition is the onset of human civilisation in Genesis 10 which implies the exploitation of the earth at the hands of burgeoning empires. We concluded, then, that in addition to the other three dislocations was a dislocation between humans and the earth.

To summarise, Genesis initiates a world of dislocations between;
1. God and humans (theological)
2. Humans and humans (sociological)
3. The human and the self (psychological)
4. Humans and the earth/creation (ecological)

These four dislocations then come to a head in Genesis 11 with the story of Babel and the heightening of human empire. In empire all four dislocations are exacerbated in that humans delude themselves (psychological) in believing they can reach the heavens and control the world (God’s role – theological), a task that necessitates the exploitation of marginal and/or competing humans (sociological) and of nature and its resources (ecological).

To where does the narrative then move? To the story of Abram and his descendants in Genesis 12 onward. Our sense here was that the narrative sets forth a character through whom the four dislocations of Genesis 3 will eventually be reversed (salvation). Thus God sets up an alternative to the rising human empires, which will become Israel, and more broadly will become the kingdom.

What, then, is salvation? Surely it is any act that reverses the results of “The Fall,” or perhaps more helpfully, the dislocations. Any act that reconciles a human with God, or with another human being, is salvation. Or what about psychological healing that reconciles a person with their own self? Or ecological healing that reconciles a person to the earth? This too, in our view, is salvation.

Perhaps our conclusions have toyed with the narrative, or perhaps we have simply seen something by the grace of God that is often missed – of course you must decide. But if such conclusions have any weight then salvation is a much more comprehensive process than many have imagined, and God is interested in more than “saving souls”…

… he is interested in seeing his kingdom come in all spheres of life. Perhaps this is the so-called “full Gospel.”

MCA

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Posted on June 29, 2010, in Biblical Studies, Old Testament, Theology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Interesting thoughts, your theory of eveangelical salvation is a bit of a straw man though if were honest. So the rest of your argument seams a little flawed, being based on premise that is at best shaky.

  2. Hey Ross, thanks for commenting, good to see you here!

    It’s interesting that you believe my depiction of Evangelical salvation to be a strawman. The same charge was levelled against Brian McLaren by half of his reviewers and many of the letters he received after he wrote “Everything Must Change” (in EMC he basically says the same thing about Evangelical views of salvation that I do). He claimed that people said “no one in Evangelicalism actually believes that!” He also claims that the other half of reviews and letters sent to him attacked him because ‘going to heaven when you die is what is really important, and none of the other stuff really matters!’

    In my experience a huge portion of Evangelicals do in fact hold a view of salvation similar to what I have claimed, even though I freely admit mine is a generalisation. Though many Evangelicals (particularly in Sydney) would never say it like I have summarised it, that is basically what they believe.

    Just recently I was lecturing on the central coast in an Old Testament class and I presented a similar narrative interpretation of Genesis. The response from one student was something like, “This is all well and good, but what really matters is whether or not people are going to heaven!” I have many more stories like this.

    In any case my viewpoint is not based on what I have claimed about Evangelicals – it is simply an alternative to that view, even if that view is considered to be a caricature. Even if you were to believe my portrayal of Evangelical salvation to be a strawman, my case doesn’t rest upon it at all, but rather rests upon the Genesis narrative.

    Hope that clears up any confusion about what I was intending. I can understand what you are saying, and would love to hear your continued thoughts!

    Matt

  3. Hey Matt,

    sorry for the late reply, just noticed you responded

    Yeah i was basically trying to say that i think we can get ourselves in trouble when we create our theology in response to what we believe is the incorrect theology of another. Just ends up creating a pendulum, similar to what some evangelicals have ended up doing with the spirit.

    In terms of salvation, From my reading of Genesis it seams to suggest that the dislocation of humanity and God was the cause of the other dislocations. So in turn i think salvation is about the reconciliation between God and humanity but it doesn’t stop there. This dislocation of humanity from God causes the other dislocations so when humanity is reconciled with God they are free from sin and the other dislocations.

    So salvation is more or less total, i think if we see salvation as focused on one of the results of the dislocation from God we ended up saying that partial salvation is possible. Which could lead to believe that some people are saved from themselves for example but not from an eternity in hell.

    I hope that made sense i tried to use terms common to your article to avoid confusion.

    Good to hear your thoughts though, sadly it easy for Sydney Anglicans to get stuck in our ‘bubble’ so its nice to be challenged to think outside the square.

    Yours in Christ,

    Ross

    i hope that makes sense, to avoid confusion

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