Second Thoughts on “Salvation”

By John Drury

I have tended to use the term "salvation" as an umbrella term for all three tenses of Christ's work (past, present, and future). In other words, salvation is "the entire work of God, from the first dawning of grace in the soul, till it is consummated in glory” (John Wesley, “The Scripture Way of Salvation” I.1). Although I still agree with the implications of this broad use, I no longer consider “salvation” to be the best all-encompassing term.


Because of the way Paul uses the term salvation generally in his letters and specifically in Romans 5. In verse 8 he utters that classic insight that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. That’s in the past tense. Then he goes on to say in verse 9 that all the more now we have been justified. That’s a perfect tense, which always has a present effect. Plus there’s the “now”. Finally, Paul goes on to say in verse 9 that we will be saved through Christ from the wrath. There’s the third tense: future.

Will be saved? What? I thought you are supposed to get saved (past tense) or be saved (present tense). Salvation isn’t something we wait for, Paul. Or if it is, that is certainly just one aspect, just one tense of the whole work of God from past through the present into the future, right? It looks like Paul uses the term "salvation" in the narrow sense I’ve been trying to flee: being saved from the wrath of God at the end of time. And he and the rest of the NT authors seem to use it in this sense consistently.

What’s the alternative?

The idea that Christ’s work includes all three tenses is a good idea. I think it is worth keeping. And it seems to be a biblical pattern as the above notes suggest. But if “salvation” is not the big umbrella term for the whole of Christ’s work, what is? I submit that we simply follow Paul’s pattern here too. Throughout this very passage, as well as in the rest of his letters, Paul repeatedly uses a term that is not temporal specified: reconciliation. Reconciliation. Now that’s a term that can hold the weight of “the whole work of God”: atonement, justification, salvation. Reconciliation. That’s a word that can naturally be formed into all three tenses: past, present, future. Reconciliation. That’s Paul’s “big word” for the whole work of God from beginning through the middle to the end.

May I dare suggest we use it too?

Are there reasons not to?
Has it fallen out of common usage for a reason?
Are there reasons I missed for retain the broad sense of “salvation”?
If neither is good as an umbrella term, what other terms could be used?

posted by JohnLDrury @ 8:58 PM   13 comments  


At 11:56 PM, July 22, 2005, Amanda said...

I like it. "Reconciliation" is a relational word. Makes sense.


At 12:57 AM, July 23, 2005, Ken Schenck said...

Reconciliation has always been the "soteriological" term that I could best relate to. Substitution, satisfaction, for various reasons they don't connect well with me. I don't like the picture of a God who is really angry with me--because I really want to please Him. Why is he angry? An old Welsh friend always felt that part of my faith struggle in England was that I didn't have a heightened enough sense of my sin (and thus did not have enough true repentance--DeNeff might agree).

But reconciliation--I can buy that I am alienated from God whether I did anything intentional to bring it about or not. In my book, 2 Corinthians 5:19 is the number one soteriological passage for me in the New Testament!

P.S. Glad you've sold out to the blog. Bloggers rock!


At 1:52 AM, July 23, 2005, JohnLDrury said...


Thanks for dropping by. I have you to thank for first pointing out to me that "salvation" in the first sense in the Paul refers to the future tense salvation from God's wrath (hmmmmm, sounds like satisfaction to me hee hee hee). But I always resisted letting it stay there, until I had a word to replace it.

As for subsitition / satisfaction (which are different by the way), I think they may be useful categories provided they are subsumed under the larger concept of reconcilation. For instance, in 2 Cor 5, reconciliation is the dominant note, and yet there is a pattern of exchange (the "blessed exchange" as the fathers called it) in vs. 21. So there should be a way to put substitution to be of use in its proper place - but never as the only word as if God moves from be mad to neutral or something. Reconciliatory substitution means God's wrath is expunged IN ORDER THAT we may be reconciled to him.

That's at least how I see it.


At 8:12 AM, July 23, 2005, Keith.Drury said...

Welcome to the blogging community!

Here are my three questions...

1. What role does “the Fall” play in the use of the term reconciliation? Are the effects of the fall that God is attempting to reverse alienation and estrangement then?

2. If "Reconciliation" is the master term for God’s work in what sense is it a broader-than-a-human preoccupation of God? That is, in what sense is God working to reconcile creation too? And is creation alienated from God or just the parts of creation from each other?

3. Does the term reconciliation go far enough? Both salvation and reconciliation are completable tasks—does this mean that God will some day be finished with this work? What will God’s work be then? Is there a term that encompasses God’s work that is post-[completed] reconciliation/salvation too?


At 9:47 AM, July 23, 2005, David Drury said...

Hey John...

In the economy of popularity and communication buying in usually requires selling out at the same time.

So glad to see you jumping into the blog world.


I really like the questions Dad raises and would love to see you address them.

For my part, I think there's something more "God-Centered" about balancing our salvi-speak with the "reconciliation" language. It indeed IS broader than the term "salvation" which always seems to "start with me."

Now, I'm not suggesting that every person using the term "salvation" only is Pelagian... just that I think the current Me-Centric culture of salvation could use some adjustment in the direction of God's act.

Certainly Paul's lanugage and your suggestiong of Reconciliaiton as an umbrella term moves that direction.

--and for more practical reasons, I wonder if salvation is a word in this age that has TV-evangelist preacher attached to it. Sadly.



At 10:02 AM, July 23, 2005, Ken Schenck said...

I was doing a little orthodoxy therapy with you. I agree that satisfaction and substitution are the more specific biblical means by which reconciliation is achieved. They're just a hard pill for me to swallow since I was never a rebel who felt like a horrible sinner (which my Wesleyan parents effectively disassociated with any ongoing sense of failure I might have). :) It's the modern ethos of being evaluated by how well you tried rather than how well you succeeded.

Even the Fall is a difficult proposition for me as an individualist who doesn't quite understand why we all stand condemned to a large extent because of something someone else did (I know technically we don't; it's a "for all intents and purposes" thing).

So, without rejecting the other ideas (I don't think I'm allowed to do that) and yet without knowing exactly what to do with them, reconciliation seems to me the metaphor that best functions and relates to the current world (as opposed to satisfaction, which was very poignant to the ancient world of sacrifice or substitution, that maybe helped feudal and more recent penal type generations). I wonder if we might preach reconciliation with slightly different metaphors for the means of reconciliation (some "love influence theory" maybe).

So I guess I'm thinking about how to relate atonement to those "emerging" from Christianity right now. [which admittedly is something different from your truth question] Even St. Amanda has locked on to the relational aspects of the word :)


At 3:42 PM, July 23, 2005, JohnLDrury said...

Great questions, Dad!

Q1. What role does “the Fall” play in the use of the term reconciliation?

"The Fall" still has its place by (1) establishing the universal solidarity of unreconciled humanity, (2) setting the movement from sinful seperation to reconciliation in a narrative key, and (3) indicating that the culprit of this seperation is not God but us, however mysterious that may be.

Q2. If "Reconciliation" is the master term for God’s work in what sense is it a broader-than-a-human preoccupation of God? And is creation alienated from God or just the parts of creation from each other?

In contemporary theology this is referred to as the problem of the relationship between creation and redemption. Obviously the term reconciliation can include the non-human much better than salvation, and this is played out by Paul in Romans 8 ("all of creation groans"). And, yes, reconcilation is both between God and creation and within creation (see this combination of horizontal and vertical in 2 Cor 5). One might note that I did not refer to reconcilation as the term for God's work in toto, but rather the work of Christ. Nevertheless, I believe that the cosmos was created in Christ and for Christ (cf. Col. 1). Hence reconciliation and creation as works of God are internally related. How they are so is the million dollar question. I personally believe it has something to with the relation of God's time and ours, so that Christ's history really is the center of time because it is where God has anchored his eternal identity in time. So everything spirals out from there, both forward to the eschaton and back to the creation of the world. So yes, reconcilation is an inclusive term with reference to creation, but not without a little reflection.

Q3. Does the term reconciliation go far enough? Both salvation and reconciliation are completable tasks—does this mean that God will some day be finished with this work? What will God’s work be then? Is there a term that encompasses God’s work that is post-[completed] reconciliation/salvation too?

What a great question! I think that reconcilation can in a sense persist into eternity, at least better than the term "salvation" allows. How? Salvation is always "from" something, which means that at the end when the "from" is defeated and gone "begin saved" won't mean so much. Reconcilation focuses on the "to" (though without neglecting the "from"). We are reconciled "to" God. So throughout eternity we will be worshipfully reconciled to God. Which brings us back to Mandy's mention of the relational connotations of the word. Also, note that in Romans 5:2,11 reconcilation is linked with our "boasting" (aka honoring, worshipping) in God. So when reconciliation is "completed" it is not left behind but fulfilled or "filled-out" dynamically throughout eternity.


At 3:49 PM, July 23, 2005, JohnLDrury said...


Yes, reconciliation as master term permits a wider range of metaphors. Whether a theory of "love-influence" is one of these is another question. I think most talk of Christ's moral influence presupposes that the greatest problem in soteriology is how to bridge the ugly black ditch between Jesus and us (cf. Lessing). I think such problems are certainly acute for us, but not for God. The Father and the Son have a Spirit who is more than capable of drawing creatures in all times and places into the reconciling history of God in Christ.

Nevertheless, influence theories may very well have there place as an aspect of reconciliation. I doubt their adequacy, especially in like of Christian claims to the uniqueness and universality of Christ. But they are only heretical if used in isolation from other descriptions of the Spirit's work.


At 4:00 PM, July 23, 2005, JohnLDrury said...


You outlined well how salvation language when used exclusively easily leads to external relations between God and us. God is the external agent who gets us the goods of salvation so we can enjoy them ourselves. God, the benefits of salvation, and we its recipients are essentially seperate points that are connected by lines forming a triangle.

Reconcilation tells the same basic story but renders the relations internally. God by his own action reconciles the world to himself for the purpose of communion between himself and the world. The agent, the means, and the end are all internally related. Instead of a triangle, they form a series of concentric circles: distinquishable, but internal to one another.


At 4:04 PM, July 23, 2005, JohnLDrury said...

Since Dave brought up the Pelagian phobia, let me ask this question:

In what sense is it theologically permissable to speak of our participating in our's and the world's reconciliation that is not allowed with regard to "salvation"?


At 4:46 PM, July 23, 2005, Ken Schenck said...

Great stuff!

By the way, I often feel the best stuff of a book is in the footnotes. I don't plan on starting one, but have any of you (especially John) thought about starting a discussion blog that has team members who can all post equally? That way, rather than such rich comments in the notes, we could have sequential dialog in the main.

The thoughts continue. John could host a theology blog, etc.. Membership could be well nigh unlimited, but participants would have to get initial set up from whoever the designated "host" was.

Just a thought... I'm sure no one has time to post this much every day :)


At 12:14 PM, August 05, 2005, millinerd said...

"If we forget how to speak our language, we lose something of ourselves.... There is a consuetudo loquendi ecclesiasitca, Augustine said - the Church's customary way of speaking"

That from a Robert Loius Wilken article which reminded me why I'm apprehensive about shifting weight from old words to new ones. I think effort may be better spent in rediscovery than in reinvention.


At 5:43 PM, August 05, 2005, JohnLDrury said...


Your warning is apt and ought to be headed. It is especially helpful for blocking attempts to take my original suggestions as recommending a removal of classic language (which I am sure you wouldn't expect from me).

As I said before, I have no interest in dropping salvation language at all. I want to keep it. I just want to add reconciliation language in an appropriate way and think about how the two relate. Re-structuring systematic terminology is not the same as revisionism. Especially when the restructuring is guided by scripture, which is my intent.