Salavation by Joel Green

Here is a quick synopsis of a very good book on the subject of atonement and salvation in the Old and New Testaments. Green is an incredible scholar.

CHAPTER ONE: Being Human, Being Saved

As his starting point, Green stipulates that although humankind is the preeminent creation, it is important to imbed our Soteriology in the context of the redemption of the entire cosmos. Citing Charles Taylor, he traces his critical assessment of the Modern view of human persons as autonomous human subjects who celebrate self-sufficiency, the inner self, and self-autonomy/legislation. The resulting Soteriology is understandably centered on an inner change of heart and the autonomous soul. (p.10-11, 13-15, 17)

Green argues that the uniqueness of the imago dei for humanity lies not in the possession of a soul, but in “the human capacity to relate to Yahweh as a covenant partner.” (p.21) Thus, the biblical view of humanity involves: 1) self-situated in social relationships, 2) premium on health/integrity of human community, 3) assumption that a person is one’s behavior, and 4) call to a vocation which comes from the character of God. (p.19-23)

Sin is then not to be perceived in personal terms but in rich relational terms which Green calls an “ongoing saga.” (p.28) God acts and speaks; humanity refuses its rightful vocation and disobeys; they experience the consequences of that sin; God offers a path to renewed relationship and reconciliation. God’s offer means we still have choice and the garden should still define our vocation in the world. (p.28-31)

CHAPTER TWO: Yahweh, the Healer

It’s interesting that in the Greco-Roman world the Greek terms associated with salvation generally had a medical connotation – thus healing is usually in play as a metaphor. (p.36) There was also an organic link between sin and sickness. (p.43) Thus, healing was never limited to simple correction of bodily maladies, it had a wide range of meanings. It entailed the restoring to health of persons within the complex web of relationships: healing of the body, healing of relational networks, healing social environment or the world at large. (p.40-41)

Jesus’ healings presented in the Synoptic Gospels were meant to convey his natural role as healer and as demonstrating the healing power of God. His actions pointed beyond the individual manifestations of healing to a new era of salvation or new creation; the in-breaking kingdom of God. Thus his role as healer is central to the meaning of his ministry: Jesus was the authorized agent of God’s healing rule and reign. (p.47-49)

Within the discussion of healing, Green points out that other metaphors are needed. He goes into some detail about reconciliation which is a relational term often described as healing. New Creation is another, conjuring up images of the healing of division between lion and lamb. Forgiveness, Green points out, always precedes reconciliation – God’s own effort is required for this. Justification is seen as God’s healing and restoration of covenant faithfulness. Peace is another rich metaphor which has healing connotations. (p.52-58) I read this stuff and wonder how people who argue that penal substitutionary atonement is the only legitimate metaphor. I’ve never come across any serious scholar who insists that his is the only biblical metaphor.

CHAPTER THREE: Yahweh, the Liberator

Green works with the concepts of narrative and imagination to clarify the point that the Jewish people had formed a narrative describing the way that God had worked in the past as “Exodus-shaped.” (p.72) This narrative also dominated their imagination such that it was determinative both for their current situations and their future hope. Exodus is primarily a story of liberation which was “always on the tip of the tongue.” (p.71-73) What a great statement…I hear echoes of Brueggemann here.

Green asks whether God’s salvation, as liberation, extends to the whole cosmos. He points out the fact that individualistic views of salvation cannot make this extension. However, the liberation of the cosmos is clearly part of the Old Testament imagination, the gospel stories and Paul. Green says that it is kingdom question: God’s people are those who view the entire cosmos through eyes of faith. (p.78-86)

Green also asks how God’s liberating salvation extends to his people who live under the Roman Empire. He points out that the line between Hebrew and Gentile is erased and thus they are no longer enemies per se. He also notes that the New Testament is clearly subversive of the Roman Empire. These two points point to the liberation from Roman Imperial rule and a transfer to a new kingdom ethic. (p.86-89)

CHAPTER FOUR: How Can We Be Saved?

The most basic element of salvation, Green notes, is that without God’s return or presence, there is no salvation. Thus, he expands upon God’s drawing near in the Exodus, through the Temple, and in Jesus Christ. God’s presence constituted the people of Israel in the Exodus. God’s presence gave a centered/grounded locale to god’s saving presence and action in the Temple. God’s presence in Jesus is how God decisively draws near to save. (p.93-100)

In fact, Jesus’ mission involved much more than a simple sacrificial offering. Green points out that the New Testament elaborates on: 1) Christ’s consistent crossing of boundaries, i.e., table fellowship with sinners, tax collectors, and those who just fall short. 2) His proclamation of salvation to the poor. 3) His insistence that entrance to this new life involves not just belief but a complete reversal of life. (p.106-110)

Green notes that there are five metaphors from Roman life which are used to understand Jesus’ death:

– the court of law
– the world of commerce
– personal relationships
– worship
– the battleground (p.111)

Thus there can be no “single” response to the Gospel, nor can our response espouse the false dichotomy between faith and life; these must be linked by the organic bonds which were intact in Jewish and Christian imagination largely prior to the enlightenment. For Green, conversion is a call to “perform Salvation” (p.118), in faith, living according to a new world order. (p.113-115)

CHAPTER FIVE: The Community of Salvation – Then, Now, and the Future

Threats of hell and hopes of heaven are rarely (if ever) used in the bible as the basis for compelling one to faith. The dominant image is compelling one to live a life of faithfulness in the here and now. Biblical end-time images are “an antidote to myopia,” and push the boundaries of what is currently imaginable. (p.127-129)

I appreciate Greens analysis of just what, exactly, we can say about the nature of the final consummation. His categories include that it is embodied, personal, and eternal life in a restored cosmos which is ushered in by Christ’s return are an extremely helpful list. (p.133-137) This section alone is worth the price of the book.

I also recognize the significance of his insistence that the end of the story casts its shadow back into the present life of the church, telling the church what will one day be and what ought to be now concerning their salvation. The community is in process and is a part of God’s ongoing work of salvation. (p.137-139, 145) Here I hear echoes of Pannenberg.

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