Posted by: dacalu | 15 December 2010

The Redemption Paradox

Today, I’d like to share a bit of my uncertainty around the idea of redemption.  Now, I do have certain ideas about how to solve the problem – it’s not really a paradox, but I’d love to hear what you think, and I’d like to express why I think it’s such a problem for modern evangelism.  So let me start with the simplest sketch I can.

Christian evangelism is good news.  It is the good news of what we are coming to be in Christ Jesus, the good news of repentance and renewal.

We are redeemed, that is we live in grace.

We need redemption, therefore, we must live in dis-grace.

It appears to be a package: you cannot share the message of salvation unless there is something from which to be saved, and yet how can we need salvation if God made us good and retains power over the universe.  Worse yet, preaching dis-grace does not sound at all like good news and it turns people away.

Fundamentalists solve this problem by becoming comfortable with dis-grace.  I call this the “bad news.”  How many times have you seen evangelical preachers with signs telling you someone’s going to Hell unless they repent?  On more solid ground, theologically, John Calvin informs us that, were it up to our own merits, none of us deserve heaven.  A few are saved, solely by Jesus merit.  It solves the problem of works righteousness, but at the cost of making God look a little like a capricious club owner who randomly select a few people to allow in.

On the flip side, many progressives solve the problem by affirming that God created all things good, and their still pretty much good.  This preserves God’s integrity, but at the cost of giving Christians any particularly good news to share.  Sure, God loves you, but what is there to strive for?  What new opportunities arrive in Jesus life (and death and resurrection)?  I call this “no news.”  The world is good (or even bad) and that’s just the way it is.  Can’t we all just get along?

I’ve parodied both sides a bit, but I think the case stands.  Fundamentalists attract some new Christians, but with the message of “bad news.”  This – contrary to their intent – leads to works righteousness, because their eyes stay focused on the evil which they are escaping, rather than the good to which they aspire.  They learn fear rather than hope.  Progressives attract some new Christians, but with the message of “no news.”  Contrary to their intent, many end up lukewarm.  How can you evangelize when other paths are just as good as yours?  What’s the difference?  And we wonder why Christianity seems to be on the decline in the developed world…

So how do we redeem “redemption,” a key idea in Christian history and doctrine?  I have a couple ideas, but I’d like to leave it open for a week for people to comment.  I’ll come back and share my thoughts, hopefully informed by yours.  Blessed Advent.

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