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  • Writer's pictureNorthminster Church

"Clobber Passages: Salvation and Being 'Born Again'"

September 24, 2023

I. Intro

-First time I remember phrase “born again” was at a teen-focused revival

-Not the first one I’d gone to - only memory of another was getting a WWJD bracelet

-This one stands out

-speaker compared cross to electric chair

-talked over and over about needing to be “born again”

-Went to SBC church until I was 10

-been told about need to get baptized

-about Jesus dying on the cross

-bible being a letter God wrote specifically to me


-But had never heard “born again” and certainly didn’t at progressive/non-evangelical Baptist church we moved to

-I was confused and didn’t walk the aisle like many others there, including some friends who were Methodist

-Show of hands, how many of you are familiar with phrase “being born again”?

-How many have a negative reaction to it?

-How many have negative reaction to “salvation”? Or “are you saved”?

-If not negative, then maybe you aren’t exactly clear on what it means?

-All of those responses make sense the meaning/purpose of salvation has gotten muddled

-they make us uncomfortable because they so often go hand-in-hand with a theology and approach to Christianity many of us have walked away from

-a theology that’s exclusionary and narrow, rather than inclusive and broad

-but it’s not just the fault of evangelicalism

-we live in a society that’s constantly,

“hyping the latest products that can save us…everything from Smirnoff to Starbucks, Volkswagen to Viagra, Amazon to AT&T. Along with advertising, corporate logos are our cultural icons that point us toward what can make us feel better, look better, and live better.”[1]

II. Discussion of Salvation History

-Abbreviated history of salvation

-Very basically from Baptist historian Bill Leonard, “accounts of the process of salvation have varied widely throughout church history…[and] throughout church history Catholics and Protestants disagreed about how salvation comes about…but even among Protestants, who claim ‘faith alone’ is necessary for salvation, perspectives were not uniform.”[2]

-Narrow down to our Baptist ancestors who responded to salvation question by “insisting the church is for the ‘saints only,’ and requiring that every individual who would join a congregation ‘profess’ faith in Jesus Christ…”[3]

-Lead Baptists to reject infant baptism

-But shockingly Baptists couldn’t agree on “who could be saved and how salvation was secured.”[4]

-When Great Awakening - religious revival that swept across then British colonies - happened in 1720s and 40s, there came to be a “theology of conversion and methodology for securing it that shape[s] Baptist life to the present day.”[5]

-will seem familiar: “unsaved [were called] to walk the aisle as an outward and visible sign of an experience of new birth.” In such settings the steps of salvation were, “faith, submission, repentance, and a conscious decision to follow Christ.”[6]

-Process became the norm, “and developed into a ‘transactional formula’ that was focused on the Sinner’s Prayer

-Not familiar with Sinner’s Prayer like me, aka Consecration Prayer or Salvation Prayer, is any prayer of repentance. Individuals who feel they've sinned use prayer to restore or renew their relationship with God.

-Basic version, “Lord Jesus, I’m a sinner. I believe You died for my sins so I could be forgiven. I receive You as my Lord and Savior. Thank You for coming into my life. Amen.”

-Leonard says, “Conversion turned from a surprising work of God into a salvific transaction…[and] salvation [became] less a gift than an entitlement, once the necessary transaction was complete. Completing the transaction became the most, actually the only, real responsibility of sinners seeking eternal security.”

III. What if I’ve never had a “conversion experience?” What if I never had a moment in which I was “saved” or “born again?” Am I “saved?”

-”Salvation” comes from Latin word salvus - “sound,” “whole,” or “well.”

-So, one way to understand salvation is to be whole with God, to be well with God.

-Which is why I’m confident in saying that salvation can and does happen without a dramatic experience, without God having to blind us as Paul was on Road to Damascus

-Particularly if we stop thinking about salvation as a transaction, there’s room to consider that salvation is considerably more holistic, more incarnational, more expansive than we’ve been led to believe.

-Here’s another way to understand salvation from American Jesuit theologian Roger Haight, “Salvation may be understood as a condition of being united with God, and in and through God, a being united with other human beings and at peace in one’s existence.”[7]

IV. Is Jesus the only option?

-But what about Jesus? He says in John 14, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This seems pretty clear!

-Is Jesus the only option?

-What about people of other faiths who don’t believe in Jesus? Or people who aren’t familiar with Christianity?

- Jesus’ words in John 14 are part of series of “I AM” statements

-According to pastor and professor Karoline Lewis, “The “I AM” statements in the Fourth Gospel make known Jesus as the source of life, abundant grace, and…signal the very presence of God.”

-Here’s the problem: out of its context - conversation between Jesus and Thomas in his last time with disciples before arrest and crucifixion, “this particular “I AM” statement in…has turned into evidence for and proof of Jesus as the sole means of salvation, no matter how salvation seems to be defined.”[8]

-One problem is pulling this verse out of its setting

-Another, “glaring misappropriation of this “I AM” statement is it then stands as contradictory to every other “I AM” statement in the Fourth Gospel. “I AM the way, the truth, and the life” becomes an indication of God’s judgment, exclusion, and absence. “No one comes to the Father except through me” rather than a word of promise becomes a declaration of prohibition.”[9]

-Never what it was intended to be!

-Rather intended to be comforting and inclusive to a group of scared, bewildered disciples wanting to know what was going to happen to them in the face of coming conflict

V. Responses

-So, what should we make of salvation? What is our response to “must be born again”?

#1 - We do the Gospel of Jesus an injustice when we narrow it exclusively to being a safeguard from hell

-If you’re only following Jesus to avoid hell, you’re missing full picture

-OT “speaks of salvation 3 times more often” than NT - usually “in the sense of divine deliverance that brings or preserves peace.”[10]

-”Jesus rarely said anything about getting into heaven. He focused mainly on present human needs.”[11]

-In Luke 4 Jesus talks about his mission when he quotes Isaiah 61 saying in part,

“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me

because the Lord has anointed me;

he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,

to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives

and release to the prisoners,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

and the day of vengeance of our God,

to comfort all who mourn…”

-And yet if you were to ask Christians what the purpose of salvation is many would say something about going to heaven and eternal life

-I’m not saying those aren’t involved, Jesus talks about being living water and the eternal life that comes with being in relationship with God - they’re important!

-But they’re not the sole reasons to follow Christ

-Salvation/being “born again” were never intended to be what they’ve become: a “radically individualized notion…stripped of its value to what it means to be human here and now.”[12]

-Said another way, “if salvation is relegated to spiritual abstractions or abstract transactions between Jesus and God,”[13] then the radical step God took in sending Jesus - God incarnate - is meaningless.

#2 - We need to redefine how we think about salvation

-Go back to Jesus’ message and example

-Not a point of sale. Not a transaction - offer something to God and God gives us back a “get out of hell free” card

-Rather, “salvation worth its spiritual salt ought to concern itself with what it means to be fully alive human beings”[14] because the salvation Jesus promises is alive and active, full of forgiveness, healing, wholeness, grace, and inclusion.

-Salvation through Jesus is expansive. “It [centers] on transformation instead of transaction. Rather than escaping hell after death, Jesus shows the way to eliminate hell on earth. Rather than show the way to get people into heaven, Jesus shows the way to get heaven into people.”[15]

-This is why Jesus says in Luke 19, “Today, salvation has come to this house,” for the people gathered there became united with God and each other

-As I said earlier, one way to think about salvation is to be whole - within ourselves, with others, within our communities.

#3 - Christians would do the world a lot of good if we backed off the judgement and exclusivity

-Richard Rohr, “Christians are usually sincere and well-intentioned people until you get to any real issues of ego, control power, money, pleasure, and security. Then they tend to be pretty much like everybody else. We often [give people] a bogus version of the gospel, some fast-food religion, without any deep transformation of the self.”[16]

-Another element of salvation is moving away from “our egotism, love of power and control, consumerism, greed, [and] violence…so that our true self can experience and express God’s liberating love.”[17]

-And if we believe that the message and example of Christ are worthwhile, if we believe Jesus has something to offer the world through his expansive love, his ready grace, his determination to stand-up to empires and power that would mistreat people - why would gatekeep access to wholeness with Christ? Why would we put up barriers or limitations to finding salvation? Why would we ever act as though salvation is an individual process rather than what it truly is, “a sacramental process, nurtured…in communal humility,”[18]

VI. Conclusion

-Much more to be said about salvation

-Just skimmed surface

-Quote from emerging church leader Joel McClure, “The gospel is not that we agree with some abstract propositions in order to qualify to go to heaven when we die, but an invitation to live in a new way of life. Sharing the good news is not only about conversion. It is about inviting someone to walk with you relationally, and it takes a while to demonstrate this gospel.”

[1] Andrew Daugherty, “‘Salvation’ is a good and godly word that needs rehabilitating; and progressive Christians can help,” January 28, 2020, via BaptistNews Global, [2] Bill Leonard, quoted by BaptistNews Global, October 21, 2008, “View salvation as more than transaction with God, Leonard urges,” [3] Ibid. [4] Ibid [5] Ibid. [6] Ibid. [7] Roger Haight, quoted by Andrew Daugherty, ibid. [8] Karoline Lewis, “Commentary on John 14:1-14,” via WorkingPreacher, May 18, 2014, [9] Ibid. [10] BaptistNews Global, “Consultant says salvation is wholeness, not just ‘point-of-sale’ transaction,” February 2, 2007, [11] Ibid [12] Daugherty, ibid. [13] Ibid. [14] Ibid. [15] Ibid. [16] Richard Rohr, quoted by Chuck Queen, “God, not an atonement theory, saves humanity,” March 6, 2018, via BaptistNews Global, [17] Ibid. [18] Leonard, ibid.

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