Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Tony Myles, whom I never met, has an interesting post at his blog. He stumbled onto my blog one day, left a comment and so I figured I’d visit his and have been visiting his pretty regularly since. I think he ventures back here now and then too, and if so, yo, Tony, rock on.

Anyway, his post here about salvation is very interesting. (I write here with great happiness for Jessica and the others present. This in no way should be seen as a commentary on the holy moment/event that took place at Tony’s church. This is simply some theological reflection.) I have used the “Bridge to God” illustration more than once in the past and found it very helpful. Over the years, however, I’ve begun to wonder about it’s helpfulness. First, I’ve grown skeptical of the idea that a person becomes saved when they pray a prayer to receive Jesus or to “accept Jesus into their heart.” It’s not that I’m against these things- I think they can be helpful and important first “baby steps,” as Tony puts it. It also gives people an opportunity to answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?”. Clearly, this is significant question.

My problem is that it places way to much emphasis on a decision I have made or a prayer that I have prayed, and not nearly enough emphasis on what Jesus has done for me. It also seems to limit salvation to something that happens to me in the future. I’m saved now, at the moment I pray this prayer, so I can go to heaven when I die. Salvation now, good for the future. Meanwhile, what? (See also, Trees.) Finally, this blessing is blessing for me. It benefits me, and apparently only me.* (I owe a huge tip of the hat to Brian McLaren here. See, A Generous Orthodoxy.)

Tony proposes that a second bridge is needed to improve the classic bridge illustration. This second bridge allows or enables us to love others because we have been loved first by God.

I like this addition because it helps reduce and perhaps eliminate the idea that salvation, while a present transaction happening now but good for only later, has implications for the present and has a benefit for others as well. Clearly a good addition, no?

Still, I’m not sure about it. I think part of the problem is that it is a linear illustration and there are inherent limits to a linear illustration, especially when the decisive act in salvation occurred a couple thousand years ago. Tony also defines salvation a bit differently with this new illustration. He describes salvation of becoming the person that God created you to be. I like this definition a lot because it requires a lot of filling in. If you say salvation is saving a person from sin and hell, there isn’t much to think about except heaven. If you take the latter definition the obvious question becomes, “Who has God created me to be,” and this leads to a lifetime of exploring and discovering. Perhaps, with a linear illustration, this is the best we can do.

I wonder if there is a better illustration? Still, I think Tony’s salvation definition is a good one. More thoughts to come later. Maybe.

*I’m not saying anyone who uses this illustration feels this way or believes this.
I’m simply talking about the illustration on it’s own merits, outside of a community of faith that would help fill in a fuller understanding of salvation.


Blogger Tony Myles said...

Brian -

Whoa! Nice piggy-back, bro... I like the Q&A about all of this. Yeah - I think this is more than a simple illustration that works in every situation. If you read through some of the rest of my blog you'll see I'm on a bit of journey myself, not to mention giving others the same allowance. That said, though, I think our journey with God does have a defining moment of salvation.

For some it occurs when they "pray the prayer" (which isn't in the Bible yet reflects what's in the Bible).

For others it happens when they grow up in a Christian home and have a wake up moment where they take ownership of their faith.

For a large crowd, it's a journey of not even knowing where you stand, then suddenly you find yourself saying things that sounds rather biblical... making choices that seem rather Jesus-like... and becoming someone that seems to fit more the way you were created to be. It's almost like the person does something and then mentally hits pause, thinks about it, and reflects on the idea as if to say, "Wow! Where did that come from?"

That last person is perhaps why it's hard to cling to the bridge illustration as the be-all-end-all. They are more of a pilgrim on a journey than an analytical "A+B=salvation" kind of person. As a result, we need to provide opportunities as a church to give people a chance to tell their stories. Baptism is one way, of course, but why not 3 months later? Or a year later? Or 10 years later? Could we not even provide a "testimony" slot where someone can ask questions instead of provide a glossy, perfect story of how they have it all together?

Man... now you got me excited and thinking even more about this. AWESOME!

2:07 PM  

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