Q & R: More on Salvation (follow-up)

Here’s the Q:

I wrote to you a couple of weeks ago asking about what salvation is. You responded to my question on your blog. Thank you very much for taking the time to do so. I had already read your two books that you referred to and was secretly hoping I could talk you into writing a book focusing on just the topic of salvation. It would be sure to get lots of attention!

I’ll keep that in mind. I understand that Marcus Borg and Dom Crossan are working a book that addresses key biblical terms – I’ll bet they deal with this key term “salvation” in some detail. (More after jump)

I guess what I’m wrestling with is the question “Does Jesus play a crucial role in our salvation?” Consider this: What if Jesus had never been born and life for the Jews had progressed, or regressed, on into the 1st century and beyond? Could we still be reconciled to God and others? Couldn’t we realize our error, recognize God’s wisdom and repent? Or did we need a personal Savior?
Or consider that Jesus had never been crucified, lived to be an old man, fell and broke his hip and died of pneumonia in the hospital. Couldn’t we still be reconciled with God and others without him dying on the cross?

This is a serious and important question, and I don’t think I could do it justice without writing a whole Christology … To some degree, I think you’re asking about “penal substitutionary atonement theory,” which I’ve addressed quite often in Q & R’s (try searching “atonement”). Let me try to rephrase your questions like this:

Was the only reason Jesus came to save us from the wrath of God, to avert God’s wrath so we wouldn’t be tormented in hell forever?

Which is related to this question:

Does Jesus offer anything of value besides his blood to assuage the wrath of God?

Which is related to this question:

Is God unable to forgive sin without inflicting pain on someone?

When facing questions like these, you make a choice before you even start answering: do you try to answer these questions within conventional paradigms (like the “6-line narrative” I describe in A New Kind of Christianity) … or outside them? In my experience, when you step out of conventional paradigms, the questions begin to evaporate and different questions present themselves, questions like these:

What would it mean for God to be revealed in a vulnerable human being who is tortured and killed by religious and political elites?
If Jesus had never revealed God “in the flesh” as he did, what would we not know today?
In what ways does Jesus’ death intensify and strengthen our call to repentance and transformation?

I’m preaching today (in Toronto) on Daniel 7, the “Son of Man” passage. I wish you could be here! Because in seeing how Daniel 7 unfolds in the life and teaching of Jesus, I think you’d get an answer to your questions that would take you out of the old paradigms that are the real source of your struggle. Then we’ll celebrate the eucharist – which to me is the best Christology anywhere: not something you say or hear, but something you taste and experience.
I know this doesn’t directly answer your question, but I hope it is a tug in a fruitful direction.