Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The God Who Saves by David Congdon

I have had the privilege of interacting with the author of this book on twitter. I also have the privilege of being in a reading group that explores the thoughts of various theologians. We chose this book, and I am glad we did. We have an existential approach that focuses on salvation as the center of systematic theology and offers a basis for universalism. This means he is working on reviving dialectical theology for this century. Even if you don't agree you will have much to ponder.
     Does humanity need saving? If so, does salvation come from outside of us or does it arise from within and among us? These are two questions that this book at least makes me ponder. Does humanity have a saving end? Alternatively, does humanity as a whole, do we as individuals, fade to black, as the end of the TV show Soproanos suggested?
     One of the many insights I have found helpful is the need to bring the Spirit into our understanding of election. He insightfully points to some hints of this approach in Barth, CD 2.2, 33.2, but also shows that Barth pulls back from moving this direction. He suggests that Paul and John already move this direction. What this does is allow him to link the present work of the Spirit in the awakening of humanity from the sleep of self. This existential salvation shakes the security of the self but offers security in God. He is quite confident that the Spirit has addressed all individuals in at least one moment in their lives with this outward pull. In this way, the historical saving act of God in Christ unites with the present work of the Spirit.
     He brings Bultmann into his discussion of salvation as an ontic faithful response to the kerygma, in contrast to Barth's ontological and objective salvation of humanity in Christ. Romans 5:12-21 enters the picture.
     He has made me think of the importance of event in Christian theology. Yet, the event of Christ is not an alien one. It arises from the ongoing process of the dealing of God with Israel and humanity. The event of salvation in our lives arises out of interactions with others and with the Spirit. The event of redemption in the future is already present in the events of Christ and the work of the Spirit today.
     Specifically regarding universalism, I like the approach of Pannenberg, as he stresses the judgment of humanity based upon Christ. For him, this judgment may occur simply upon the word of Jesus in the Beatitudes or in Matthew 25. He admits some persons may pass through the fires of judgment and have nothing left to redeem. However, he is confident that after all of us pass through judgment, redemption will be the end for most.
     I wonder about his view of the nature of the event of Christ as well as the anticipated event of redemption. He is so good on the need for Christians today to walk in the Spirit in freedom. He clearly wants the church to move from making the past a prison and from legalism. Yet, is it not possible that we find true freedom when we live within the kerygmatic and moral framework provided by the apostles?
     We can all be grateful that the author has challenged us to re-think Christian theology. It will be intriguing to see what he does with this dogmatic sketch in the future.

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