What Does It Mean To Be Saved?

Models of Salvation: An Upcoming Faith Forum Series

by Dr. Mark McInroy

Salvation lies at the heart of the Christian proclamation. And yet, for such a central idea, it is not always grasped in its fullness. In fact, narrow caricatures of what it means to be “saved” can lead us to misunderstand and limit the rich constellation of concepts associated with salvation throughout the history of Christianity.  

When asked, “What does it mean to be saved?” the first thing that comes to mind for many is receiving eternal life, often as a result of conducting oneself admirably—or, if one has not done terribly well on that front, then being forgiven for one’s shortcomings. Some of those ideas are a part of Christian views of salvation, but there is a lot more to it than this minimal understanding conveys. As we will see, salvation involves not only the next world; it involves this world, too. Salvation also has a communal dimension rather than being an exclusively individualistic affair. Finally, salvation has very little—if anything at all—to do with the ways we might judge ourselves and others as worthy of it or not. Instead, it is founded on God’s grace, which is emphatically not a reward for good behavior, but rather a gift that we have done nothing to earn. As Augustine memorably puts it, gratia (grace) is given to us gratis

As much as salvation comes to us freely, it is not reducible to getting “the nod from God” as we approach the pearly gates. Salvation is as much for something as from something. In being saved, we are liberated from the afflictions that attend the human condition (more on those below), but salvation does not stop there. We emerge from those resolved difficulties with a new ability to live a life of near-unfathomable harmony with God and neighbor.

We will look at the ways Christian theologists have answered questions about salvation in a new Faith Forum series beginning after Easter. How will we go about exploring these ideas?

During our first gathering on April 7, we will establish some foundational features of salvation in the Christian tradition, and we will pay particular attention to the implications of salvation coming to us as an unearned gift of grace.

With those preliminaries in place, we will use the remaining weeks of the series to describe five distinct models of salvation, beginning on April 14 with a discussion of salvation as forgiveness and redemption, which deliver one from (self) condemnation and bondage, allowing one to move toward genuine freedom.

We will then on April 21 discuss “sanative” models of salvation, which focus on the movement away from illness and anxiety toward healing and peace.

During our session on April 28, we will discuss the idea of salvation as regaining our true humanity, which moves us from “inwardly curved” self-absorption (incurvatus in se) toward co-humanity and openness to the other.

As the weeks go by, our models will become increasingly audacious. On May 5, we’ll discuss salvation as “deification,” or a movement from separation from God to deep incorporation into the very life of the Trinity.

On May 12, we’ll discuss salvation as “eschatological fulfillment,” or the movement of the entire creation from injustice toward perfected relation with God, other, and self (shalom).

Come and join us! The “Models of Salvation” Faith Forum series will be held Sundays beginning April 7 at 9am in the Fireside Room and on Zoom.

Mark McInroy is Associate Professor of Theology and Founding Co-Director of the Claritas Initiative on Beauty, Goodness, and Truth at the University of St. Thomas.

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