Saturday, March 7, 2009

"The Nitty Gritty" on Paul, Salvation and the rest of the Bible no. 1

Phil Baiden has raised some pertinent questions in regard to what I posted here concerning current trends in Pauline scholarship and my own (provisional) take on them. I am going to respond to Phil's questions in reverse order, and over two posts.

can you tell me what an objective, forensic view of salvation is?
Firstly it is worth saying that not all objective views are forensic, and neither are all forensic views objective. But in protestant christianity they tend to go together.

An objective view of salvation is usually contrasted to a participatory view, i.e. objective views focus on us as objects of salvation who are largely passive where as a participatory view would focus more on how both God's initiative and our response are necessary. A subjective view by contrast would see all the onus on us to acheive our salvation (which would be Biblically untenable).

All scriptural language in regard to the atonement is by necessity analogical (see here), that is the reality of God's atoning work in Christ is beyond words but a number of different images are used to describe it, for example the language of being 'in Christ', ransom, redemption, and Christ's victory. All the analogies point to what Christ has accomplished but no individual analogy can encompass all that Christ has acheived. Forensic views of salvation take the scriptures' use of law court imagery (justification, penal substitution, no condemnation, etc) and make this the controlling analogy by which all other analogies must be interpreted.

The question for me is not whether scripture uses forensic analogies to describe salvation, they certianly do, but whether this is the primary motif by which salvation should be understood. Paul has traditionally been read by protestants as advocating first and foremost a forensic view of salvation and everything else in Paul is then fitted into that. However I am increasingly of the opinion that being 'in Christ' and the work of the Spirit in the believer are far more important and central features of Paul's theology than justification. If this is the case then salvation moves from being something that is primarily done to us in a cosmic law court (objective), so to speak, to being something we are invited into and particpate in here and now. This does not mean justification is not important, but it becomes subsidiary to one or more other more central analogies.

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