A pastor settles on one of two versions of salvation he will emphasize. The first salvation is that from a sub-Christianity.
Let’s sketch an image of ‘sub-Christian Bill.’ Bill has grown up in an understanding of Christianity that is (the kindest word for it) diminished. He is truly joined to God through Christ, but has not heard the grandeur of God, the true freedom of Christ, the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.
He regularly reads the Bible, but has never related its parts to the grand narrative. He has specific, unthoughtful ideas of what a believer does and doesn’t do. His aesthetic is underdeveloped, falling squarely in that category of ‘evangelical kitsch.’ His theological conclusions, or better assumptions, are (irritatingly) reflections of the republican doctrine du jour.
Two more steps: First, round out Bill by noticing his simplistic ideas of who’s on the good team and who the evil others. Second, multiply Bill by 20.
Now Ted. Ted is glad to live in the church’s neighborhood, a nice guy, has to this point not taken God or His Word seriously. Ted is your run-of-the-mill, unromanticized unbeliever. Let’s multiply him by 20 too.
Enter young X. Cellant into Ted’s neighborhood as Bill’s new pastor. Who will Pastor Cellant choose to save, Bill or Ted?
He’s tempted, for a few reasons, to save Bill. For one, Ted is intimidating! The other. Secondly, Bill’s positions really are irritating.
But there’s more pulls to save Bill. Pastor X is a Protestant, and the narrative of protest and reform he has inculcated for some time, especially in seminary. If X isn’t traducing the establishment, isolating himself from the old ways, forging a new way forward, leading others to freedom, he just doesn’t feel right. X vaguely holds the idea that disestablishment is tantamount to salvation.
Too X is new to the church, and eager to make a difference. The quickest way to make a splash but w/o angering many is to subvert. Hint at new, better readings of Scripture; caricature the Man of the old decaying Christianities; rally the disenchanted to…well, to you, X. You in the name of the theologians en vogue.
“For so long churches have…but God’s word says…” You could spend a lifetime forming these types of sentences, saving Bill and the multiplied Bills. Settling into the wide groove of identifying your version of the Life vis-a-vis others. Saving the unenlightened (Christians), the uptight, hedged-in (Christians), the thoughtlessly conservative (Christians).
This version of salvation is so wide-spread that a pastor will have to deliberately turn away from it. But he should. He should do the work of an evangelist, and go after Ted, and not aspire to the work of reformer.
Yes, Bill needs to be taught; and Pastor X Cellant should go about that. But it is unhelpful for Bill to see his previous Christian experience debunked by his newly minted, intellectual, passionate pastor. What does it profit him to be drawn into the paradigm: “All my Christian life I’ve been told ____________ but now I have the truth”?
Save the salvation rhetoric and mood – for the unsaved! And reserve the Messianic posturing for the Messiah!