Continuing from my previous post, many would say that salvation is the central issue of Christianity, the very heart of the gospel, but agreement on the meaning of the word appears to have eluded the church throughout most -- if not all -- of its history.
Let us consider what salvation actually means at the level of the individual. Would we say that someone is saved if ...
- he has begged for forgiveness of sins but feels no love, only terror, towards God?
- she is four years old and "just loves Jesus"?
- he is a (choose one) bigot / child abuser / bigamist / homosexual / addict?
- she continues to sin (choose one) regularly / after a certain period of time following her conversion / only certain sins -- drunkenness, for example, or rock music?
- he died very young -- or even was aborted?
- she has been mentally retarded from birth?
- he "confessed Jesus with his mouth," but doesn't fully understand or believe in his heart that "God raised him from the dead"?
- she prayed a Sinner's Prayer as a child but now is apathetic about personal spiritual discipline or church participation?
- he commits suicide?
- she is (choose one) demon-possessed / mentally ill / chronically sick / poor?
- he believes that well-meaning people from all religions can be saved, though he believes his own salvation has something to do with Jesus?
- she believes she is, but never asked to be saved -- never "invited Jesus into her heart"?
- he isn't sure whether he is saved or not?
- she doesn't believe in (choose one) literal heaven and hell / inerrancy of scripture / the divinity of Jesus?
- he claims to be a Christian, but has no intention of giving up his sexually active lifestyle?
Do all Christians agree? All pastors and priests? All theologians and scholars?
Though no biologist (or perhaps because I am not), I am reminded of the disagreement between Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins over the mechanism of evolution. If these two keepers of the flame, examining the same "scientific record" each thought the other's model was rubbish, then their shared belief in evolution seems to be more of a consensus on a single term to call their contradictory views -- or agreement on a Platonic form.
Maybe that seems good enough. Agree to disagree, and all. Semantics.
But if my wife and I agree that fruit is the tastiest food on earth, and my wife is referring to mangoes while I am referring to blackberries, then our agreement is nonsensical. And if my "soon" doesn't correspond to her "soon" when I reassure her that I haven't forgotten about taking out the garbage, then it seems a bit strained to say that she and I really agree in a meaningful way on when I'm going to finish conquering the world and come downstairs.
In like manner, if many Christians agree that salvation is key to understanding the gospel, that "you must be born again," but disagree on what salvation is, and what is required, and whether or not the person we are speaking with is already saved, then what agreement is that? If we have different definitions of salvation, then what do we actually have? Agreement on vocabulary, only?
Next Stop: What do these differences mean?