Acquisition vs. Participation

Ok, here are some more thoughts on the conference.

I am always intrigued at what a shift in language can do in our framework for understanding faith. George Hunsberger, plenary speaker at the conference last week and coordinator of the Gospel and Our Culture Network, proposes a corrective for understanding salvation. What he suggests is a shift from explaining salvation as acquisition, towards understanding it in terms of participation (my ears definitely perked as I have already shared my affinity with the word “participation”).

When salvation is construed on the sole terms of our personal benefit (acquisition) it becomes centered only on the individual, which Hunsberger argues is a partial conception of salvation. Basically, this is the me-centered approach to Christianity, where salvation very easily becomes nothing more than a free ticket out of this world. In other words, salvation is individualistic and other-worldly, with very little to offer for life here and now.

Salvation as participation, on the other hand, focuses on language of the “reign of God” already in the world. While definitely not discounting one’s personal encounter with salvation (yes, this includes heaven!), the point Hunsberger is rightly making is that salvation is far bigger than our own personal aspirations to escape our lives. The question shifts from “how do I acquire my personal salvation to ensure entrance into heaven?” to “how do I participate in God’s reign here on earth?” The implication, of course, is that God’s reign is a present reality that we in fact can experience and participate with. So if we recognize that Jesus came not only to save individuals, but to fulfill God’s promise of restoring shalom to this earth through the presence of his kingdom, we can begin to understand the necessity and in fact the honor that we have of participating with him in this world.

I guess the next question would be: what does God’s kingdom look like? Well, that discussion is for another time…

We see then how a shift in language sheds new light on the life-giving topic of salvation. As we move from selfish acquisition to active participation we are led as individuals and the church to refocus our energies away from personal well-being towards the realization of well-being in the context of God’s reign in the whole world.