By Berry Friesen (February 7, 2015)
Paul believed that Jesus (his life, death and resurrection) changed something fundamental. As a result, he spoke of a “new creation” here on Earth (Gal. 6:15; 2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 8:21).
What changed? How we understand salvation will depend on how we answer this question.
In the tradition in which I was raised, it was something about God that changed. Before Jesus, God had been peeved with us and had turned his back; now God stood smiling, with open arms because Jesus paid a debt and accepted the punishment humanity deserved.
An alternative view–the one our book reflects–says that Jesus changed something about the world. “The people who sat in darkness saw a great light” (Matt. 4:16) as Jesus set humanity free from evil’s stranglehold. His liberating life crested most unexpectedly in his willing acceptance of a violent execution on a Roman cross. On page 238, we quote Tony Bartlett's explanation of this.
Thus, when Paul speaks about “salvation” and “faith,” we hear him telling us that Jesus and his way have provided an alternative to the destructive road the empire has us on. Other implications also follow from Paul’s teaching, but this is clearly one of them.
Most decisively, we find this view confirmed by the gospels and their accounts of Jesus’ teaching. He repeatedly called us to repentance and to participation in the newly-arrived empire of God. But he never spoke of God as being estranged from humanity. Instead, he spoke of God as the father who “makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45), gives good gifts to his children (Matt. 7:11) and searches for the sheep gone astray (Matt. 18:12).
Paul frequently used terms such as “sacrifice” and “redemption” when talking about what Jesus did. These metaphors were a part of his effort to communicate the astonishing claim that the execution of an enemy of the state had changed the world.
John and I claim these metaphors for ourselves. As we understand Jesus, he clearly sacrificed his life for us and by that costly act, rescued us from our hopeless bondage to the Empire's earth-ending ideology. Unfortunately, those metaphors are often interpreted metaphysically, thus separating them from the decisive change Jesus inaugurated here on Earth.
This subject has been discussed and debated within Christianity for 2,000 years. The view John and I take has been part of that debate from the very beginning and is not at all novel. When reading what we say about Paul’s letters (pages 268-298), I hope readers will keep this in mind.