Sunday, December 25, 2005

The problem with "getting saved."

Okay, I admit it. I'm an unabashed Slacktivist fangirl. Too many of my blog posts are basically "Go read Slacktivist! He makes X point brilliantly!"

This is gonna be another one of those times. Go read this Slacktivist post. What point does he make brilliantly? Exactly why the "get saved" theology so prevalent with today's evangelical/fundamentalist Christians is so disturbing. Because "How do I get saved?" isn't the question we should be asking to begin with.

"What must I do to be saved?" the young ruler asked Jesus.

"Sell all you have and give it to the poor, then come, follow me," Jesus replied.

[Left Behind authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins'] reply is quite different. They're not alone in this -- I've heard thousands of evangelistic sermons, but I've never heard an evangelist answer the young man's question the way Jesus did. Evangelists don't like Jesus' answer because they're intent on asking the same question the young man asked, and the whole point of Jesus' answer is that it's the wrong question. If your concern is with yourself and securing salvation for yourself, you're going to ask the wrong questions.

"What must I do to make sure that I, myself get a seat on the ark?" the young man asked.

"Oh Me H. Tapdancing Me!" Jesus says. "It's not always about you, you know. Think about somebody else for a change."

That's a paraphrase, but it's not like this was an isolated case. Jesus was always saying this kind of thing: You want to live? Die to yourself. You want to be first? Be last. Want to come out on top? Head for the bottom. Want to win? Surrender.

You want to get saved? Get lost.

Which brings us to what is, for my money, the greatest scene of salvation and redemption in literature:

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

"All right, then, I'll go to Hell" -- and tore it up.

It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. ... And for a starter I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog.

This is, of course, from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The piece of paper that poor Huck tore up was the letter he had written to turn in his friend, the escaped slave Jim. Huck had been taught, and he sincerely believed, that doing so was his duty as a good Christian (and as a good, law-abiding American). He had been taught, and he sincerely believed, that failing to do so would damn his soul to Hell.

Study that a minute. Turning in Jim would condemn his friend to years of misery in this world, but his own immortal soul would be damned for eternity -- and what are a few mortal years compared with that? Weigh such a choice on the scales that L&J use in Left Behind and Huck's choice is clear. But that is not the choice he makes.

"All right, then, I'll go to Hell!" he says. And the angels in heaven rejoice.



At 7:44 AM, Anonymous T. Shawn Long said...

Excellent point! It's just like in the Chronicles of Narnia, in "The Last Battle," when Tash (i.e., satan) appears, Aslan says that people who say they follow Tash but actually do good are in fact supporting Aslan, while those who say they follow Aslan but do evil are actually supporting Tash.

It's the whole action versus words thing. We'll all be known by our fruits.

At 8:03 AM, Blogger Bad Methodist said...

That bit is actually my favorite moment of all the Narnia stories put together. All evil, even if done in Aslan's name, is really done for Tash, while all good, even if done in Tash's name, is really done for Aslan.

At 1:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

to what extent do you think context and audience effects the interpretation? jewish man in a jewish culture? what is his natural inclination towards God?

just wonderin' ...

At 4:19 PM, Blogger Bad Methodist said...

I would think context and audience has a HUGE effect on interpretation.

At 8:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Bad Methodist:

I point this out only because I think it might be useful to understand this verse in its full context. Go read either Matthew 19:16-28 or so or Mark 10:17-31. I don't think Slackvist's interpretation of this passage is correct (he misquotes it for one thing). In this particular passage, Christ is pointing out not that the rich young man asked the wrong question, but that following Christ is not a casual Sunday thang. It's a life change. To the degree that Slackvist's point is this takes more than a selfish desire for eternal life, I agree, but I do think the young man was asking the right question. He just didn't like the answer.

Individual salvation is certainly important, but as James notes, "faith without works is dead" and as Paul notes in I Corinthians 13, all works done for Christ must be done in love. This is a point Christ makes as well in the Sermon on the Mount. If your concern is to love others or show others the love of Christ (which I believe is your goal)--as Christ commands, you must first love God with all your heart and mind. Your right orientation with Christ is a precondition for Christian works. But following Christ often comes with a price; many want the label Christian perhaps thinking it will lead to eternal life but don't want to pay the price. Does your life belong to your Redeemer? It is a heavy price, but as he also says, his burden is light.

peace & love,


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