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old “God did not come to save us from our sins; God came to save us from ourselves.”

The following article was prepared by Rev Scott Couper, as part of a discussion document for a class on Mission Strategy.

“God did not come to save us from our sins; God came to save us from ourselves.”[1]

This statement need not be affirmed or rejected. Rather, it is a statement to be unpacked, so that we may glean whatever helpful proscriptions lie therein. The profundity of the above statement lies in the soteriological paradigm shift that it makes.[2] Orthodox Christian soteriology holds that God saves us. From what? God saves us from God’s own judgement/justice (for/from our sins). The statement above challenges orthodoxy and asserts that we have ‘agency’, or involvement, though not complete, in our own damning and salvation. Orthodoxy asserts that God damns us for our iniquities and God, through atonement by Christ’s death and resurrection, also saves us from God’s damning. Yet, the statement above holds that it is not God who damns us; rather we damn ourselves by our own actions, in particular against our environment. That is, our damning is self-inflicted and not a direct result of God’s wrath or punishment. Furthermore, God’s intervention through Christ provides us the information/example, the choice and the power (and thus the ‘agency’ – at least to some extent) to save ourselves from our own self-damage.[3] In short, the statement above provides us with greater agency as it regards who damns, humans or God? And who saves, humans or God (or both)? The statement above challenges the traditional orthodox soteriology that suggests we have little or no agency as we are born sinners, we cannot help but sin and we therefore have to rely on God alone to save us from those sins.[4] The above statement asserts that we can chose whether to sin and we can chose to save ourselves in part from the consequences of our own actions.

The statement is inherently soteriological, for it deals with the doctrine of salvation. Mission likewise is soteriological, for it relates to that which needs to be saved, by whom and how. Therefore, the above statement is intimately linked to mission and mission strategies.

The current crises that face our world, and thus our Christian faith, are: overpopulation, climate change (global warming), pandemics (Ebola and HIV and AIDS), conflict (civil wars and nuclear catastrophe), poverty (income inequality) and human rights (slavery, trafficking of women and children).[5] Do humans have no agency with which to combat these issues? The statement above suggests ‘yes’ to a far greater extent than does the orthodox position. It must be noted, it is not a question of ‘from what are we being saved?’, for in the above statement ‘sins’ is synonymous with ‘ourselves’ – as we commit the sins from which we need to be saved. Sins are present, no matter.

But, then again, are the contemporary crises generated by sin? Well, sometimes ‘yes’ and sometimes ‘no’. Yes, to enslave other humans is to sin. Yet, producing numerous children is not considered a sin. But additional children threaten the sustainable availability of the world’s resources and we need to be saved from the rape of the environment/creation to support the human population. Poverty exacerbates Ebola and HIV and AIDS. A failure to recognise the benefits of ‘globalisation’, the lowering of national boundaries, and the failure of nations to act as a collective when fighting diseases are not sins per se, but we nevertheless need to be saved from the consequences borne of allowing poor sub-Saharan countries to be ravaged by preventable health crises. ‘Sin’ alone no longer captures that which is at stake. Who can save us from global warming? Pollution? Over-population? Civil wars? Orthodoxy says only God through the parousia/Armageddon/apocalypse.[6] Yet, the statement above provides us with a clearer understanding of that from which we need to be saved (our own actions which, due to overpopulation, are not always and necessarily sins). Or, should Christians begin considering not recycling a sin? Our statement above suggests that the Earth, God’s creation, is in our caring hands.[7] And if we do not care, the consequences are our own. And those consequences – not God – will damn us, or at least the poor.[8]

The incarnation of Jesus Christ, the salvific events of the cross and resurrection, demonstrate to us the ethics of sacrifice, solidarity, contraception (or at least not exponential reproduction[9]), humility, simplicity and love. God, through Jesus, saves us from ourselves, and not exclusively from our sins.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] The quote at Grace Family Church in Umhlanga, South Africa in a sermon preached by Skip Collins. For two reasons, I am hesitant to reference the quotation. One, the quotation was itself not referenced in the sermon. Two, I am not using the quotation in the same context it was used in the sermon. The sermon (series) related to ‘guarding your heart’ in respect to jealousy, guilt, greed, etc… (existential ethics) whereas I am speaking of collective and inclusive soteriology.

David Bosch can be quoted with a similar statement: “Christ did not come primarily to put away human sin, but to restore in humans the image of God and give them life”.

Bosch, David. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Orbis Books: New York, 1991), p. 209.

[2] For more on paradigm shifts, see Harold le Roux’s section on “Paradigm Changes in History”.

Le Roux, Harold. The Church and Mission (Cluster Publications: Pietermaritzburg, 1991), pp. 59-68.

[3] Such a statement reminds us of Pelagius. The so-called heretic understood that the salvific work of Jesus Christ could be found in humans’ emulation of him. Though Pelagius’ Christology is too ‘low’ to qualify as orthodox, his perspective on Jesus being worthy of emulation cannot be denied by those of us who ascribe to a higher Christology.

[4] For more on this orthodox perspective from a missiological perspective, see Bosch’s commentary on Augustine and Anselm and the Protestant Reformation, pp. 216 and 241.

[5] For more on contemporary crises from a missiological perspective, see le Roux’s itemisation of the ‘signs of the times’, pp. 6-23.

[6] Much of orthodoxy is sourced from Paul. Bosch understands Paul’s missiology was primarily motivated by eschatology. See Bosch, chapter 4, p. 153.

[7] Interestingly, Bosch points out the missionary paradigm of the Eastern Church includes a cosmic dimension. Bosch quotes Anastasios: “The cross ‘sanctifies the universe’”. See chapter 6, pp. 208-209.

[8] From this perspective, a theology that is sensitive to Creation (cosmocentric) will contribute to Liberation Theology that has traditionally been primarily anthropocentric; the destruction of the environment will devastate the poor far more than the rich.

[9] The church should promote having children later in life, voluntary sterilisation, adoption, foster care, birth control of all kinds and a reduction of the number of children per family. In short, an ethic of caring for and investing in humans who already exist (orphans) and have little rather than the production of more humans who have even less.