Christianity and Salvation

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That Jesus Christ is saviour is one of the core beliefs of Christianity. Outline and critically evaluate some traditional ways of understanding salvation. Outline and critically evaluate some contemporary theologians’ thinking on salvation. Briefly address the implications of this for teaching salvation in schools.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines salvation as “deliverance from sin and its consequences, believed by Christians to be brought about by faith in Christ” . “Sin”, in turn is defined as “an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law” . One of the core beliefs of Christianity it that Jesus Christ is saviour and is, therefore, responsible for delivering humanity from perpetrating acts that are considered transgressions against God’s will. The Catholic Church, however, has never articulated a definitive explanation of how Christ will achieve salvation. This has led to diverse and, at times, conflicting interpretations of the nature and function of salvation. Indeed, Hill says that the meaning of salvation is “elusive ... pluralist ... [and] fluid ... [and] every Christian knows its meaning until asked to explain it” . It has, therefore, largely been the function of theologians to articulate the definitions of salvation and how it manifests in the thoughts, actions and teachings of Christians across the intervening period since the death of Christ. In order to address the implications for teaching the doctrine of salvation to children in schools in the 21st century, it is important, first, to explore some of the traditional and contemporary theological models of salvation that have informed Christian thinking over the last two thousand years and to understand both the strengths and limitations inherent in these paradigms of soteriological thought. Over the last two millenia, a diverse range of models of salvation has emerged, each seeking to define salvation and the way in which it may be achieved. Each model varies according to the social, cultural, political and historical circumstances of the times in which it was written and according to the experience of the Jesus event that underpins it such as the Ministry of Jesus, the Cross or the Resurrection. Each of the models explored below is underpinned by the principal of incarnation where Jesus is understood to be both human and divine. The divine God is understood to be embodied in the human form of Jesus Christ. One of the earliest traditional models of salvation was promulgated by the second century theologian, Irenaeus of Lyon (AD 130-200). His theory of Recapitulation suggests that Christ summarised – or recapitulated – the whole of creation in God’s own image. When [Christ] was incarnate and became a human being, he recapitulated in himself the long history of the human race, obtaining salvation for us, so that we might regain in Jesus Christ that which we had lost in Adam, that is, being in the image and likeness of God”. God’s purpose was to share divinity with the world and his plan unfolds in three acts: “the creation, the fall and the restoration of the world by Jesus Christ” . Adam disrupted the plan by exercising his free will and succumbed to the temptation of sin. God sent Jesus to be the new Adam and to recapitulate the intended order of His plan for creation. Jesus exercised his free will to reject sin. All elements of God’s plan for creation, therefore, are summed up in Christ. Irenaeus espouses that salvation was an “historical process” and that the creation was the first act of salvation. From the beginning, God “intended that the world should share in God’s own life” . While Irenaeus’ theory suggests that, through Christ, God’s plan for creation is resumed, Casey suggests that the Recapitulation model “runs the risk of making redemption seem like an automatic and inevitable process that neglects the role of freedom, both human and divine” . It is perhaps for this reason that the Recapitulation model...
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