Review: Why Salvation?

February 2nd, 2014
This article is featured in the Stuck: Now What? (Feb/Mar/Apr2014) issue of Circuit Rider

In the past couple of decades the study of scripture is being reframed so that unashamedly theological reading of biblical texts is not only permissible but encouraged. Some of our most able interpreters of scripture are rising above the biases and limits of the often myopic historical/critical method and producing fresh, engaging, unabashedly theological explications of biblical texts. Joel Green is one of those scholars who take seriously the theological intent of scripture. Green is now general editor of a projected series from Abingdon whereby the questions we put to biblical texts, and the questions the biblical texts put to the contemporary church, are being reframed. In this reframing, historical, philological, and redactic questions are being bracketed in favor of theological and ecclesiological concerns of scripture.

Wisely, Green launches this series with a wonderful book of his own that poses the fundamental theological question, Why Salvation? (Abingdon Press, 2014) Green answers in a variety of ways. What is there about us humans that requires saving? How can it be said that salvation is another name for the whole person, work, and intent of the God of Israel and the church? How is Jesus Christ not only the fullness of God’s salvific intent but also the sort of salvation we had not expected? How can we say with conviction that salvation is the end of history, the purpose toward which God is moving all of Creation in Jesus Christ?

Those of us who have profited from the writing of Joel Green expect him to answer these large questions fruitfully and engagingly. We are not disappointed in our expectations for Why Salvation? I marveled that Green can pack so much into such a concise little book. Boldly claiming a unity and coherent narrative for the whole of scripture, he shows how salvation can justly be called the unifying theme of scripture, the beginning, middle, and end of the story that God is writing for us. Green surprises us by citing biblical texts that, on the face of it, we thought to have no immediate relevance to the theme of salvation. He thereby deftly shows that, in a sense, all scripture, Old Testament and New, invokes widening wonder at the determined and ever expanding scope of God’s salvation of the world.

Having co-edited the Abingdon, The Wesley Study Bible with Green, I was unsurprised that Green’s exposition of salvation is so vibrantly Wesleyan. Repeatedly he finds biblical support for the Wesleyan contention that God’s salvation is for all, that salvation is more than something we do, or believe, or feel but rather salvation is a name for all that God wants to do for us and in us. Salvation is a way of life, a response to how God has shifted the world on its axis through the death and resurrection of Christ.

The church, he shows, has no greater purpose that to be the people who proclaim, practice, and embody salvation for the sake of the world. Salvation is more than personal; it is cosmic. (By the end of Green’s book, I was wishing that our bishops had made our church’s theme “Making Disciples for the Salvation of the World” rather than the more tame and theologically less substantial, “Making Disciples for the Transformation of the World.” Salvation is more than our intellectual or emotional assent to God; it is God’s grand affirmation of us. Why Salvation? shows the fruitfulness of reading scripture from an acknowledged, vibrant Wesleyan point of view.

Though based upon the very best of faithful, critical biblical scholarship, Green has no need to show us all the scholarly work that backs up his bold assertions. Green’s unfolding of the biblical panorama of salvation moves nimbly, engagingly, and energetically through the thicket of questions surrounding biblical texts and their meaning. Why Salvation? will thus not only be gratefully received by us preachers but will also be perfect for serious study of scripture in adult small groups within our congregations. Why Salvation? will give your congregation refurbished rationale for its ministry and remind us of that great mystery that we must proclaim and enact before the world.

I’m thankful that Joel Green cares enough about scripture and about our church to master the scholarly reading of scripture in order to present the fruits of thoughtful biblical study to those of us in the church who are attempting to do a very Wesleyan thing – study scripture in order better to embody scripture in the way we live together.

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