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  1. Good article. I think the same idea is true in regards to the concept of salvation. Is it a one time event? Well yes in regards to the renewal of the spirit and your final destination but the idea of salvation is an ongoing one that is supposed to effect and ultimately transform every area of your life. Its that idea of ‘working out your salvation’. God isn’t purely interested in saving our eternal soul, He is interested in saving our LIVES. Christians seem to sometimes lose the idea that God desires us to have a successful walk down here as well, His salvation is a gift that we are to then take and embrace in every area of our lives. Christianity is indeed a way to live. A conscious choice to allow the Lord into every area of our lives and is something we will struggle with and work on throughout our time here on earth. I’m thankful that I have a God who is willing to give me “fire insurance” but I’m even more grateful that the Creator of the Universe cares enough about me that He wants to see His saving grace permeate my entire existence.

  2. Good thoughts, Carl. I have to admit being torn between the two ideas of what salvation is. On the one hand, I tend to reject the “walking down the aisle” approach, because of its heightened emotional state. It’s an evangelical method that blasts an unbeliever with religious fervor, but often abandons them by the following Sunday.

    On the other hand, if salvation (and Christianity by extension) is merely “a way to live”, i.e., behavior modification… what then separates us from the Muslim, the Buddhist, or even a humanitarian atheist?

    It’s got to be a bit of both I think.

  3. Good thoughts here, in both the article and the comments. I think salvation and Christianity must be two different things that are linked together in purpose… salvation being the experience and Christianity the living out and being changed afterward (“He who began a good work in you…”). The Christianity can’t be fueled though, at least not for long, by the initial conversion experience. There has to be more along the way to guide us and cause us to keep looking at our own hearts with honesty. I think this was the point of Professor Gushee in the article.

  4. what about Christianity as a worldview? (baker, don’t laugh!) the article doesn’t really give much consideration to this idea. Worldview — more than just a set of beliefs, but the frame of reference in which you view the entire human experience.

  5. Salvation is merely a part of Christianity — perhaps the foundation if you will.

    I look at salvation as being a three part process:
    1) Justification
    2) Sanctification
    3) Glorifiation

    Justification being the act of placing our faith in Christ (relying wholly on Him as our means of redemption / reconciliation with God). We are fully justified at the moment in which we are awakened by the Holy Spirit and indwelt by the Spirit of God — meaning we are no longer objects of wrath, but have been given right standing with God through Christ. Sanctification is the process by which we wage war against the fleshly, corrupted nature of our humanity — progressively compelled to holiness by the discipline of God and the refinement by trials. The last step, glorification, is the ultimate healing and escape of the mortal flesh, the sin nature, etc. upon death. There are arguments to be made as to how this happens / when, but ultimately we will be glorified (by that I mean completely freed from the shackles of this life and sin) and given new bodies…

    I am NOT a fan of the “walk-the-aisle” view of salvation or of altar-calls in general. The root of the practice stems from Finney — a man who has unfortunately become the author of much of modern evangelical technique (“salvation” by emotional appeal). Finney did not believe in the substitutionary atonement of Christ (and thus embraced a works-based idea of salvation) which had been and still is considered heresy. But, this is another issue…

    As far as what seperates Christianity from Islam, Buddhism, etc. is the fact that true Christianity is relying upon our right standing with God in Christ to redeem us. Our works, even if motivated / flowing out of the ministry of the Holy Spirit through us, do not save us. If that were true, then we could argue that we are capable of saving ourselves and thus negating Christ’s sacrifice. True Christianity, in my opinion, is far more difficult for us to see / put into practice because it is the progressive dying of self for the purpose / hope of Christ becoming more alive.

  6. Good article. It hit upon some points that my one friend has been trying to make for a while now.

    One thing I haven’t heard/read said yet, is the relationship aspect. Sin estranged us from God. Jesus bridges that gap so that we can have a relationship with Him. The fellowship that was lost in the Garden of Eden. Everything else should stem from that fellowship. Our works should be a product of our faith. Intimacy with our Creator.

  7. I used to have an issue behind emotional pleas for Christ from the pulpit but I don’t so much any more. There are of course those exceptions of people taking things too over the top but I believe that in this world of bombarding messages and instant gratification if your emotions can be touched in such a way to make you reject your human self conscious response to just sit in your seat and actually get up and make a physical commitment to literally come to Christ it is a good start. I believe Christ sees the sincerity of the heart at that vulnerable point and meets the person where they are at as they accept his gift of salvation. Where they go from there is indeed a responsibility of the church and some churches admittedly need some more work in this area but I also believe that we as individuals take some responsibility there to seek out more about Christ…we need to take an active part in our own growth. The baby analogy only goes so far, we are adults and do bear some responsibility for relating Christ without having to be entireley dependent on others. Its a two way street and both sides could use some work.

    I think ultimately Christianity/salvation is about the personal relationship with our Creator. That truth is what trumps all the other “ways to live”. No matter what level we are at in our growth, how good our church is, etc. the act of salvation allows us to communicate personally with a God who loves us beyond our ability to truly comprehend. Cool stuff.

  8. I went down the aisle to accept the Lord when I was 12. I am very thankful the pastor had an altar call. I chose to get involved in the youth group after that. I made sure I made it to church, because I was very hungry to know God more. I guess I don’t see what the problem with altar calls is.

    I don’t go by my emotions. My faith is based on a set of beliefs, not how I feel. But, we don’t live in Ethiopia where showing emotion is taboo. We live in an emotionally driven culture. It’s ok to be emotional about our faith. If we can laugh and cry during movies, and yell and whoop during football games, why is it suddenly wrong to be emotional about the things of God. I think we have to be careful. To say emotion is bad, sounds like religion to me.

  9. Jules, I think you are an exception, someone who sought God out on your own after walking the aisle. There’s nothing wrong with that.

    In my experience, I remember seeing the same people walk the aisle every week for salvation, despite being taught that salvation was a single event. What, did it not “stick” the first time?

    Or then there were the other people, the outsiders not raised in church, who walked down the aisle but never returned to church. I began to wonder if perhaps the method of convincing them to walk the aisle in the first place — using more fear of hell, than desire to commune with God — was flawed.

  10. I’m not the biggest fan of fire and brimstone teachings but I do believe there are different types of sermons that make more of an impact on one person vs another and although a person may hear the same call over and over again I believe that God gets everyone to a place, multiple times, in which we finally “hear” the message and can make a choice. I think the emotional part is an important part of our initial connection with God as emotions do play a big part in our lives and what impacts us and it is only through maturity that we begin to rely on faith and not feelings. I do think it is highly important that churchs, and we as individuals, recognize the need to disciple new believers so they can have a much deeper relationship with God and understand that they don’t have to keep making that walk down the aisle.

    I don’t entirely fault preachers for making people feel, based on emotional pleas for Christ, that they need to walk down the aisle again. Its easy to start feeling overwhelmed with guilt, fear, etc. once you make a decision to accept Christ and try to become more holy. That is a very normal thing for a baby Christian to do and is something that should be explained to them immediately after they accept Christ.

    I also place a great deal of responsibility on the person, especially if they are an adult. We are one of the few cultures in the world who are brought up from birth to expect that everything be given to them…handed to them with little or no work. If an adult makes a commitment to Christ some of the responsibility for picking up the Bible and going to church to learn, etc. has to fall on them. I think one area where churches can improve is in emphasizing more of the commitment aspect of accepting Christ rather than just presenting it as a way to escape hell.

    I also think it is important for people to recognize that there are different churches with different callings/missions and it is important as a believer to be in the right church for where you are in your life. This is something else I think is important to teach new believers…you have to be hearing stuff that challenges you to grow, etc.

  11. I don’t think that all altar calls are bad, but I will have to say that a great many that I have seen are nothing more than emotional appeals. But, if God is calling someone, they will hear — in spite of the preaching.

    My biggest beef with the altar call is the term “altar” itself. If we still need an altar, then Christ’s sacrifice was not enough. Christ’s sacrifice did away with the need for any altar.

    I don’t understand the idea that the front of the church is more holy than anywhere else. We worship in spirit and truth and our God has never been hampered by location.

    Perhaps the front of the church / walking there, etc. becomes more of a psychological step which assists people in coming to a decision and making it public. But, I cannot find explicit scriptural basis for such practices. But, neither can I find scriptural references for “Sunday School” either. So, that does not make either inherently bad in and of themselves.

    I don’t understand the “new” need to oversimplify things — perhaps it is a reaction to the church’s past history of over-complicating issues. We come to God with a child-like faith, but we should not stay there (else Paul is wasting his time when he chastises the Corinthians for being unable to chew “solid food”).

    It seems to me that we need to find some balance between being “Bereans” and searching, analyzing, and studying the Scripture and allowing ourselves to feel / experience emotion in worship. And since when is worship just singing? Studying, praying, preaching, discipling, obeying, and living holy lives are all elements / acts of worship.

    One of the most troubling experiences in my life was when I went to a U2 concert on my 25th birthday. I was less than 50 feet from the stage and they played most of my favorite songs. Upon leaving, I felt this emotional high like I had never felt before — it literally lasted for about a month. I really started to question whether emotional high was necessarily an indicator of God’s presence or absence.

    When I recently almost choked to death, I felt a peace that transcended any emotional high I had ever felt and I certainly was not enjoying myself! I just realized that this could be the end of my time on earth and the only thing that could save me from eternity in hell was God’s presence in my life which was provided by the sacrifice of Christ…

  12. I was at a Bible study at church on Nov. 8th…I was holding the cap from a water bottle (20 oz. water bottle with a screw-on cap like a Pepsi or Dr. Pepper) in my left hand. I raised my hand to wipe my mouth (with the back of my hand) and a friend of mine made a joke. I inhaled and the bottle cap lodged right in middle of my trachea. No air for a while until the second person who tried the heimlich was successful — the cap hit the back of my tongue and I inhaled (hadn’t breathed in a while) and it got stuck again. So, I swallowed it (OUCH!) and it lodged on the food side of the esophagus — got to ride in two ambulances, go to two hospitals, had LOTS of morphine (WORST pain I have ever felt!), and 16 hours later, it was removed from my esophagus. For every moment during that time, I was afraid that the cap would flip over and block the airway again and it was too low to do a trach…

    As a result, I had a very different perspective when I turned 30 a couple of weeks ago…

    Folks, don’t try this at home… 😉

  13. Christianity is a life long relationship. Salvation is when you meet. This may sound overly romantic, but really, what are the scriptures emphasizing if not full reconciliation with God? I have many friends; the closest ones are the ones I have the most conflict with, love the most deeply and am loved by most deeply. They have been the clearest picture of what my relationship with God is like. It is an ongoing discussion – sometimes in words, usually through demonstration (I will eventually connect something I’ve been praying about with something that is repeatedly happening around me or to me), usually spoken through the people around me (they’re usually oblivious to the fact that they’re answering prayer for me).
    Relationships are cultivated, chosen. Some people are really hard to know, but you get glimpses of their inner world and find it stunning and it pushes you to know them even when you don’t easily click with them or understand them naturally. This is what it is like for me and God in the hard places where I don’t want him to be right or I don’t want to go where he’s asking me to go (usually emotionally, occasionally physically). I have found enough in scripture and in past experience to know I trust God enough to want to trust him in scary places; I trust he’ll make up the difference. That’s my 2 cents.

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