Our destiny is bound up with the whole created order.
— Trystan Owain Hughes
My friend Trystan was kind enough to share my piece about Christianity and the environment last week. If the comments on his Facebook page are any indication, Gnosticism — the idea that everything physical is cursed and only souls matter — is alive and well.
In a response on his blog, Trystan identifies three philosophical and cultural movements behind our tendency to ignore the plight of the natural world. What’s at stake here is a choice between two competing visions of salvation: a narrow (and ultimately unsatisfying), souls-only view on the one hand, and a more holistic, whole-creation vision of redemption on the other.
If we choose the former, then…
We are left with a bleakly individualistic and person-centred theology that is alien to much of the Bible and to the spirituality that Jesus himself practices in the gospels. Salvation, after all, is not merely about us as individuals, as even our destiny is bound up with the entire created order.
Besides, if salvation is just about individual souls, then what did Jesus mean by “the renewal of all things”? And did Paul mean when he said God would “reconcile to himself all things,” including “things on earth”?
In recent years, the phrase “human flourishing” has gained popularity in evangelical circles. (If you’ve ever attended a Q conference, one of the TED-style events put on by Gabe Lyons, then you know what I mean.) “Human flourishing” is much better than the souls-only view of salvation. It affirms that the whole person matters to God. But I want to take it a step further: I believe the biblical vision is not just for human flourishing but for whole-creation flourishing. That’s where our story is heading.
By the way, Trystan has a great book called The Compassion Quest, which lays out in greater detail his vision for an outward-focused, whole-creation faith. It’s one of those books that should be required reading for every Christian.
6 thoughts on “Salvation of individual souls? Or the renewal of all things?”
So in your view, which matters more: the temporary human suffering which people experience in this lifetime, or the eternal suffering they will experience if they don’t hear and believe the gospel? There IS something worse than death! It is saddening to hear you put down those who are zealous for the gospel.
I’m not putting down anyone for being zealous for the gospel. I’m questioning their definition of the gospel.
So how do you define the gospel?
Well, first, I try to remember something Scot McKnight wrote once: “The assumption that the gospel can be reduced to a note card is already off on the wrong track.” With that caveat in mind, if I were pressed to give a quick definition of the gospel, I would say that it’s the story of Jesus as the fulfillment of Israel’s story… which is ultimately the story of God making the world right and good again so he can dwell with us. Or, basically the biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation.
Sorry, WordPress wouldn’t let me reply to your comment directly. While it’s true that the full depth of the Gospel and all its implications could be expounded forever, I think the central message of good news is simple and succinct. Paul seems to be able to define it in a few verses (Romans 1:1-7, Peter’s sermons in Acts etc.). The essence of the Gospel is that a gracious God fulfills all his promises by reconciling us to himself by the sacrifice and substitution of Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and remission of our judgment. No other message will save anyone. It hasn’t changed since the days of the Apostle.
If someone asked you “what do I need to believe to be saved?” what would you tell them?
My explanation is thus: Zeal to help the homeless is nice, I know because I have been homeless. Feeding people matters also, I have also been in soup lines and there is a dire need to help the suffering. The problem is that none of us really merit salvation but it is the grace of God. Helping a person is not a way of getting to heaven if you haven’t been saved. The idea being that a person could have the final choice. That is never true, it is God’s grace only that satisfies the case of salvation.
Doing God’s bidding inside God’s grace of evidence of faith but works alone won’t. I am sorry if that sounds a bit odd but I hope you understand.