This series is intended to be a public conversation among teaching theologians of the ELCA on various themes of our faith and the challenging issues of our day. It invites readers to engage and dialogue with the ELCA's teaching theologians. The series is edited by Philip D.W. Krey, president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, on behalf of the presidents of the eight ELCA seminaries.
Mark Swanson: Where shall we begin? "Salvation" is a big word. It encompasses what we believe and hope to be our final state of blessedness, when God's good purposes for us are fully accomplished.
Of course, we can't speak about this without speaking about our particular understanding of God, which for Christians centers on what God has done in Christ. To talk about "salvation" is to tell the story of Jesus and how that story addresses our human plight — our captivity to the various realities and powers ("sin, death and the devil") that impede our life-in-God — as well as how it addresses our yearnings for wholeness, peace and meaning.
Shauna Hannan: "God acted (note the past tense) in Christ" had been my "go to" understanding of salvation as a Lutheran—salvation once for all time and for all people. God sent (past tense) God's Son into the world that the world might be saved through him. While I believe this statement to be true, it is more helpful to change the tense of the verb to the present: God is acting (now) in Christ that the world might be saved through him.
We often think of salvation as a gift we will receive in the future, once we die. That is, whether God acted to save "way back then" or is acting now, the benefits will be received in the future. And yet, the Bible offers a number of ways to imagine salvation as a gift with benefits even as we now live. Consider that in numerous biblical stories the same word that is used for "salvation" is used for "healing." (Think of the word "salve.") Although we would not say either that a healthy life is necessarily evidence of salvation or that disease is a sign of a lack of salvation, we would say there is indeed a relationship between salvation and healing, salvation and well-being.
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