Monday, October 4, 2010

What does "Christ is my savior" mean?

M. Scott Peck, in his “Stages of Spirituality” from his book The Different Drum touches on the idea of what the statement “Jesus is my savior” would mean to people at different levels of spiritual growth.

Peck expanded his view on how Jesus is a savior in an interview / book review by Ben Paterson, published in Christianity Today, timed for the release of Peck’s then-new book People of the Lie (1985).

Quoting Paterson from the review:
I asked [Peck] what he meant when he called Christ "Savior." He suggested that there are three ways to understand what it means to call him Savior. One way is to think of him as Savior in the sense that he atones for our sins. Peck termed that "my least popular level." A second way is to see him as Savior in the sense that he is "a kind of fairy godmother who will rescue you when you get in trouble as long as you remember to call upon his name." Peck believes that Jesus does just that. A third way to see Jesus as Savior is to see him as the one who shows the way to salvation through his life and his death. So Peck likes Jesus the Savior as fairy godmother (a term I am sure he does not use flippantly) and as exemplar, or one who shows us how to live and die. But he does not like the idea of Jesus the atoner.

Jesus as atoner: Jesus makes amends for your bad deeds.
Jesus as rescuer: Jesus gets you out of trouble.
Jesus as exemplar: Jesus is an example of how you should be.
In all fairness, Peck does not reject the idea of Jesus as atoner, he just does not see that as very helpful in the healing of human evil. Why? Because, in his view, it compromises human responsibility. He thinks that as long as we think Jesus has done it all for us we will be encouraged to live passively in the face of our own sin and evil.
At the mission, and I suppose - from my limited knowledge - it is true for Protestant Christianity, generally, “saved by grace” is the key, and the doing of good deeds is widely disparaged.

As I understand it [and accept as Scriptural, reasonable and logical, thanks to David's (of Heart Talk Ministries) help], good-deeds doing is rejected because of the inclination people might have to do good for the wrong motivation. If you’re doing good in an effort to, effectively, “buy your way” into heaven, then you are leading yourself astray.

The ticket to heaven comes to you “as a gift,” we are told. You just have to accept it. It is in this sense that Jesus is just, merely the atoner. But what kind of justice is this? And what kind of heaven can there be if the place is filled with people who very self-interestedly snatch the easy-to-grab ring to escape responsibilities for whatever awful things they did in life?

The problem, then, with going for the easy grab [“saved by grace”] is that it’s little different than the problem of good deeds done for the wrong motivation [getting to heaven via good works]. Both can be wholly selfishly motivated.

Another Christian path to heaven, that Peck doesn’t mention, is the combination of “easy grab” — accepting the gift of salvation — and necessarily following up on it with the ‘goodness’ of deeds and works that are rightly motivated. This would fill the bill of “But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” as proclaimed in the Book of James 2:20.

OK, fine. But what, exactly, are good works rightly motivated? Faith motivates good works in a right way, how?

I think that here it has to be that one is now using Christ as one’s exemplar. To have faith in Christ and then take action, the action you take has to be with the same feeling Christ had for the meaning of life: to be unselfish; feel others’ suffering; and be motivated by compassion to act for others’ well-being.

And this "rightly motivated" action must not be faked!  Just as we're supposed to not be self-satified self-righteous individuals but, instead, actually be righteous in such a way that it is internalized and without our self-congratulating, looking-down-on-others awareness, we should have Christ as our exemplar without faking it. We should act in the way that we want to, and the way that we want to act should be good and compassionate because that [That! That!] has become our nature.

So. Peck is right (I think)! Jesus as exemplar is the most-proper meaning of "Christ as savior." I do wonder how many people, at the mission either at the pulpit or seated on the floor of the chapel, think of “Christ is my savior” in that way. [I write that, not because I think there are none; it is just that I don't know.]

I think most of my Christian friends would object:  It all comes from faith, not from 'imitating' Christ, they'd say.  Faith, once you've stewed in it, awhile, manifests in you becoming a new being. And the fruit of being made anew is the drive to be good, act good, do good.

Yes. Yes.  But I don't think that 'faith alone' carries that much oomph.  People from many religions find their way to be Christ-like.  There are realized Sufi mystics, and Buddhist mystics and Taoist mystics and Hindu mystics, all of whom share qualities found in Christ.

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