Speaking Christian: Words in their Biblical Fullness

In a challenging sermon preached on January 29, 2012 at St. Paul in the Desert Episcopal Church in Palm Springs, retired Bishop of Chicago, the Rt. Rev. William D. Persell, reminded his listeners that the mainstream of the Episcopal / Anglican tradition is “biblical’ in the essential sense of the word. I affirm this daily and refuse to let any group – Anglican or otherwise – claim ‘biblical’ superiority over other Anglicans whom they consider ‘revisionist’ or even ‘un-biblical’. These latter two epithets are red herrings that have no place in either contemporary Biblical scholarship, or in any rational understanding of the role of the Bible in our understanding of God and God’s mission in Jesus Christ.  Bishop Persell’s sermon was very reassuring to me.

All Anglicans who take their faith seriously and engage in dialogue – sometimes wrestling with their differences and diversity in interpretative methods and approaches – are ‘biblical’. There is no ‘Anglican’ outside of ‘biblical’. ‘Biblical’ as a Christian descriptor goes  beyond the false dichotomies of ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ which have not only outlived their particular usefulness in discussions of Christian faith but continue, as words, to do immeasurable harm by limiting our intellectual and spiritual frames of reference and diverting our attention from the essence of God’s mission and presence among us.

This is the general frame of reference that underlies Marcus Borg’s Speaking Christian. It’s a challenging perspective as a basis for a Lenten study on how language shapes our life-journey in God. Borg challenges us to engage in an approach to Biblical language that honours its historical context and its most essential human metaphorical meaning. He challenges us to take into account the whole counsel of Scripture, embracing Scripture’s fullest meaning as the Word of God. As we all know, failure to do so results in limiting and even destructive attitudes and practices which have caused much human pain and suffering in the name of God.

Borg’s contention that “a metaphorical approach to biblical and Christian language emphasizes meaning, not literal factuality” is a principle that should lead us to the kind of Bible study that affects our entire lives as we walk the Christian journey.

Following Borg’s line of thinking, let’s explore his discussion of the word ‘salvation’ as used in Scripture. He identifies ‘salvation’ as a “loaded” word. For many, it has negative connotations from being narrowly defined along with its relatives ‘save’ and ‘saved’. A framework of exclusiveness has grown up around these words which has made Christian commitment a very unpleasant prospect for many people. As Borg comments, a very real perception for many people is that “salvation and smugness go together”.

In their fullness of meaning, their “biblical framework…these words speak about the transformation of life this side of death – about personal transformation and political transformation. They are about the transformation of our lives as individuals and as people living together in societies.” They are very seldom about the after-life. They are about journeys of growth and change as we embrace the Reign of God working in ourselves and as we extend it, through our commitment to Jesus Christ, to others.

What are the essential Biblical dimensions of salvation?

-liberation from bondage;

-return from exile;

-God as ‘saviour’;

-rescue from peril;

-from blindness to seeing again;

-from death to life;

-from infirmity to well-being;

-from fear to trust;

-from injustice to justice;

-from violence to peace;

-liberation from the Pharaoh within as well as from the Pharaoh without.

Ultimately, to be ‘saved’ is “to be delivered/rescued from that which ails us…to be saved is to enter into a new kind of life – a life covenanted with God, the central theme of both the Old and New Testaments.”

What are your thoughts? Has Borg captured what for you are Biblical essentials around Speaking Christian about salvation? Join the conversation, and become part of this Lenten study preparation.

References: Marcus Borg, Speaking Christian, Chapter 3.

Steve Bailey is a deacon as St. Laurence, Coquitlam, and one of the blogmasters at New Westminster Anglican Blog. Your comments and contributions are always welcome. 

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