Is Life About Salvation or the Finding the Will of God?

This question is key to the Christian life and the answer greatly informs the Christian New Church Perspective.

For many, the core of Christianity is individual salvation.  There are clear biblical teachings focused on that every message.  But those concepts need seasoned by a broader perspective.  Imagine that the salvation of the individual comprises the whole of the spiritual experience?  If the spiritual life, as it were, narrows in that direction, how does that shape our interactions with ourselves, with others, and with God?  The shape arguably would fall then along the lines of a “credit” and “debit” game.  In the myopic, self seeking introspection endemic to this approach we come to worship ourselves.  How can you become a tool for my salvation?  How can I earn enough “points” for God to love me?    God then functions merely as the accountant.  He joins others in becoming a bit player in our larger, self authored drama.

One of the scariest – and I say this knowing it will unsettle some – is how in this model we can practice a form of idolatry in which we hold “doctrine”, in and of itself, as “God.”  We then worship words and not God. The New Church is clarion clear – doctrine is a means to the end, not the end in itself.  And yet, we often slide this direction.  I certainly have at times in my life made the doctrine, the ideas as it were, the entire point.  Doctrine is not the point.  It is what doctrine points to that is the point.

Doctrine remains instructive, along with our own experience, in discovering the will of God.  Bonhoeffer’s words capture this well. “The will of God  is not a system of rules established from the outset.  And for this reason a person must forever re-examine what the will of God may be.  The will of God may lie deeply concealed beneath a great number of possibilities.”  That “digging” for God’s will is critical and makes legitimate self critique – i.e. repentance – come alive, moving it beyond merely accounting to discovery.

In that space, Jesus arrives.  He embodies the incarnate model of God’s will.  The Christian message then becomes able to move through the world, through, through our lives with the power that is its own – a power detached from the faith-alone salvation goal.    The message is not “come and be saved” but a message of this is the will of God, that “you love one another as I have loved you.”  This is where as well, the goal of Divine Providence rests – the goal of wholeness, “that what has been broken apart should become whole.”  Divine Providence, page 55.

Salvation as wholeness in settling our lives into the will of God

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2 Responses to “Is Life About Salvation or the Finding the Will of God?”

  1. Barry Halterman says:

    Good stuff. I don’t see salvation as the goal of religion either. Salvation is really the result of following the will of God not the goal. If it becomes the goal, something to achieve rather than something to live and do, then we can easily fall into the trap that we have achieved it. That’s a problem I see with some of the born-again, evangelical focus today. Too much focus on “getting saved” and who has or hasn’t been “saved” sounds too much like “what’s in it for me?” I like when we emphasize the process, i.e. following the will of God, without focusing so much on the outcomes. Our secular culture does the same thing. Toto much focus on “what can I get?” instead of “what can I give?” I think God will make sure I get what I need and “save me” if I focus on how to follow his will.

    I agree with what you say about “doctrine.” It can easily become a trap too. Even when we avoid falling into the trap of overemphasizing the goal we can obsess over the “means.” Religions of all kinds have fallen into fixating on the proper means to salvation to the point of looking down on others who have a different means to the end. I like the image of “doctrine” as a vehicle, like a chariot in the Word. The Buddhists have this image too. The Buddha said his teachings were a raft to cross the river. Religions seem to obsess over the type of vehicle we use. While some vehicles will break down and not actually get you where you are going lots of different vehicles can get you there, maybe even a simple raft. Some will get you there faster, more easily and more safely. We also like to see the vehicles in our driveways and talk about all their powers and never actually drive them. We often just sit there and “ooh and aah” over our amazing vehicles and don’t really use them to help transport ourselves and others to do God’s will. When we focus on the vehicles/doctrines instead of using them to help us do the Lord’s will we are making the doctrine an idol, as you say.

    I see revolutionary teachings of New Church theology as material to make the spiritual equivalent of rocket ships. They can take our spirit to amazing, unchartered places. At the same time they can also help us get to the simple places more quickly and more easily without some unnecessary pitfalls. The key is to use them to follow the will of God not just admire them.

    Peace,
    Barry

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