In response to my post on the criminality of Jesus, I was accused on Reddit of holding with the “great moral teacher” heresy. This is bizarre, since I emphasized the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, as well as explicitly said that Jesus is God. But I will take this misunderstanding as well as a recent conversation as a basis for talking about soteriology.
Soteriology is the study of the salvation story – what does it mean, how does it work, etc.? More broadly, it can be described as asking what happens in the final chapter between human beings and God. We say that Jesus died for our sins. What does this mean?
Often, we emphasize the personal aspects of being saved – an individual who meets a certain set of criteria will, after they die, be brought into new life in heaven, or back on a remade Earth after the end of days. I do not want to dismiss this, and I do not want to say that it is not part of the story. However, I do not think that it is the only part of the story, and I do not think that it is the part of the story that deserves emphasis.
Jesus Christ was a singular individual. Not just because he was God – though that alone would be sufficient to rank Christ as the singular individual. Christ was also singular in his absolute insistence on addressing the needs of the community, and his reverence for God. Christ followed the Law at the expense of the laws as interpreted by us flawed human beings. Christ tended to the sick, the hungry, the outcast, damn the consequences, damn what the authorities had to say about it. Christ, importantly, modeled what God has laid out for the goal of humanity.
And this model is both constructive and destructive: it lays out a path for genuine human flourishing, but that requires the annihilation of those structures which prevent this flourishing. Empire is the largest and most powerful such structure, and as such, those who profit off of Empire were forced to act. In this way, God models for us what it means to build community in this world: it means to die in shame.
But then, three days later, God showed that, not even in this world, do Empire and death have the last say. The ground shook and the stone moved, and God made a promise to us: “Even though Empire seems to hold sway, and will do everything it can to halt you, my sway is stronger.” God promises us that God is with us, moving though us, as we attempt to live out God’s goal for us here on Earth: that we will flourish, that we will be able to live with one another in community. In this way, we, as a community, come to be saved.
I mentioned above that I do not dismiss personal salvation, and I do not. However, I think that the practices we are called to (conversion, baptism, Eucharist, prayer, confession, contrition, etc) are tied up with our corporate salvation. Each of these practices purifies us individually so that we might be better able to undo the parts of Empire in ourselves in order that we might be able to live more fully in community and help those around us to do so as well. What comes after death is God’s concern; we are told in the here and now what we are to do.