Below is my email response (edited and polished up a bit) to a friend of mine regarding a conversation we had about the word ‘saved’. This snippet of the conversation pretty much stands on it’s own without much context but to give a little bit of context to the conversation, we were talking about how the term ‘saved’ is used in the Christian vernacular today. I personally believe it would benefit Christians to drop the term altogether because when the word is used in the manner many Christians use it it sets a trajectory for attitudes that are not beneficial to how we live our lives and how we invest in our communities. There is a much bigger background on this discussion which is a much longer conversation, but I wanted to share some of my brief opinions on this word ‘saved’. If you want to hear the whole story you can buy me a beer. I truly value quality conversations. 🙂
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A couple thoughts – my thoughts are not explicitly coming from the ‘emergent church’ – they’re the same thoughts that many of my ‘conservative’ friends share and at the same time they’re thoughts that some emerging friends hold, so I think it’s difficult to lump it into one camp or another. But I also would push back a bit on your thought that one certain camp is straying from the Word of God. I see quite the opposite – last week I spent almost an entire day with Brian McLaren; I heard his heart and saw how all of his ideas were explicitly tied to the Bible. Every thought he posited was backed up by the Bible. I am still chewing on his thoughts and don’t completely agree but also don’t necessarily disagree with everything he posited but it was most definitely tied to the Bible.
My thought is around how most people interpret and define the word ‘saved’. The words/terms ‘being saved’, ‘personal savior’, ‘accept Christ as your personal savior” are not found in the Bible (nor is there a ‘sinner’s prayer’). In the old testament we mis-translate the original Hebrew word into ‘salvation’ when it actually means ‘rescue’, which I would interpret as being able to continue on with your life after being ‘rescued’. The way many Christians have used ‘saved’ connotes that after saying a magical prayer that you’ve reached a finish line and that you’re done – you’ve achieved what you set out to do and there’s nothing left to do except to wait to get into heaven, pass the popcorn. When ‘rescue’ is used in the Old Testament it is talking about being rescued against the Egyptians, against King Saul, and against a multitude of other oppressors. But when modern translations replaced ‘rescue’ with ‘salvation’ it took on a whole new meaning and morphed into being saved from hell (which then can spiral down into the ‘gospel of sin management’ as described by Willard). Re-read Exodus 15:2, and 2 Samuel 22:3 (and a host of other verses) and replace ‘salvation’ with ‘rescue’, and ‘rescuer’ and see how it gives it a subtle but refreshing twist.
I don’t want to downplay a specific moment when someone might’ve been ‘saved/rescued’ (although paradigm shifts are seldom that easy of a transition to reduce to a specific second in someone’s life – we all know this from personal experience but you can also reference Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions for a great description of how we process paradigm shifts) but as sticky as semantics is and how words can take on a whole life of it’s own (such as this one has when it was blended in with the modern concept of formulaic thought patterns) I think we might be better served in replacing the term ‘saved’ with ‘a decision to follow Christ and being rescued from things that detract us from God’ – which is quite a mouthful haha 😉 but maybe that will set a more accurate trajectory for us in our present life.
One of the things I appreciate about what you wrote was how you referenced them as YOUR thoughts and beliefs. That’s the beauty of worldviews and theologies – we’re free to develop our own theologies and bounce them off each other and most importantly the Bible.
And at the same time we’ll always realize that no matter which words we choose it will always be a matter of the heart and intent.
And the true fruit shall follow on the flower.