Anglican Samizdat

December 16, 2008

Are you saved, Vicar?

Filed under: Anglican Angst — David Jenkins @ 7:47 pm

From the Times

A funny thing happened on the way to the cathedral. A woman in the street asked me if I were saved.Add an Image
When you think about it, it’s an odd question to ask. Even odder is the answer you would give.

The regulation short replies — yes, no or don’t know — seem not to be quite in the spirit of the thing. But then, I must say, the question seemed to be fairly light on genuine concern for the state of my spiritual health. It was more like a threat. I picked that up from the tone of voice. I am intuitive like that. And the poster. You could get a clue the way things were going by the poster she was holding. It said “If your (sic) not saved, your (sic) damned.”

My salvation coach raised an interesting question. Salvation is a central theme of the Christian faith. Salvific themes of the Old Testament include escape from captivity, freedom from oppression and hope for a transformed and reconciled world.

At least three things stand out. The first is that this salvation is experienced corporately, not individually. The Old Testament writers speak in terms of a community in which the presence of God could be experienced within a fellowship bound together by devotion to God. For the writers of the New Testament, Jesus was never to be thought of as a personal saviour, as though He were our personal toothbrush.

We are not saved individually, as though by some private act of divine indulgence. It is within the community that we can find forgiveness for the past, and hope for a way of beginning again.
Second, there is no evidence to suggest that what is required for salvation is an intellectual assent, a signing-off, which would effect a once-for-all change in us, whereby salvation is instantaneous, and we are passive recipients of its benefits.

Can we really imagine the God of all creation, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, being fussed by the status of everyone’s individual belief? Salvation is concerned with the transformation of life. All life. Barriers to the flourishing of all human beings are to be overcome, whatever stage people are at in the awareness of this life-giving dynamic. What matters is that we have all been freed to be all there is in us to be. Otherwise Christ has died in vain.

Are we saved? This is a poor question to ask. A better question is “Are we committed to the process of human flourishing?” If yes, then we are saved.

The Very Rev Dr John Shepherd is Dean of Perth, Australia

Now there are a number of interesting conclusions one can draw from this:

First, it is hard to miss the elitist condescension dripping from the end of the Very Reverend’s nose as he peers down it at the ignorant fundamentalist holding the sign containing bad grammar. Pass the smelling salts.

Second, the astute young lady, on spotting the dog-collar and instinctively realising the imminent peril of its wearer, asked the obvious question.

Third, the Very Rev’s predictable pseudo-erudite deflection from the particular to the general does not disappoint: after all John 3:16 does say, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whatever corporate entity is committed to the process of human flourishing in him will be freed to be all there is in us to be”. Or something like that.

Fourth, if he can’t “imagine the God of all creation, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, being fussed by the status of everyone’s individual belief”, then perhaps the Very Rev. needs to exercise his God given imagination a little more since it is currently a sorry and withered thing.

Fifth, the Very Rev Dr John Shepherd is a regrettable name. He is one bad shepherd.

So John, are you saved?

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