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Last updated March 03.

March 3, 2014 issue

Salvation here and now

By Daniel Hertzler

I do agree with his critique of the Joshua story, from which we might reasonably conclude that the way to deal with enemies is to try to destroy them. Bergen writes: “This is a basic attitude of many Christian armies and missionaries as they battled their way into Europe, Africa, the Americas and most parts of the world. It still forms the basis for modern American ideals like manifest destiny and exceptionalism.” Well, of course. We hear this from our politicians all the time.

The Old Testament has plenty of good news. Bergen says it teaches us to think about salvation communally: “The Old Testament is dedicated to the survival and well- being of Israel as a whole rather than the survival or success of the individual.” He prefers the Genesis model over the Exodus-Joshua model. In Genesis, the lead characters attempt to get along with their neighbors instead of seeking to destroy them.

Bergen essentially ignores the Old Testament prophets. I find this a limitation. He does say the prophets proclaimed a “God who fights against us” due to Israel’s failure to live up to its side of the covenant. But today the church has often seen itself as God’s weap­on to punish “evil­doers.” I agree that this is a problem, but I find a theology of the Old Testament lacking when it omits the prophets.

As for bad news in the New Testament, Bergen suggests it “often refuses to deal with the reality of the central character it proclaims.” Jesus died on a cross, and the New Testament writers spend much effort discussing how to deal with this reality. As a result, “the message of Jesus is lost in a message about Jesus.”

Bergen suggests “the New Testament offers two forms of escape: apocalypticism and heaven. Both of these allow us to wait for some future event (Jesus’ return or our death) when God will solve these problems without help from us.” But, he says, if we choose to do more than simply wait for “the big rescue from the sky, we are confronted with a wide variety of tasks, goals and offers of help from God, who is concerned about the world as it confronts us.”

After all the fire and brimstone, Bergen’s ending seems rather tame. He is just another Christian like the rest of us trying to find a way to be faithful while living in a culture that theologian Walter Brueggemann has characterized as “military consumerism.” At the end Bergen needles us again about our tendency to be more concerned about heaven than about the Christian task that is before us.

Who should read this book? Anyone who is willing to have conventional ideas challenged. Would I recommend it to my pastor? Of course. He can handle anything. To the grandchildren? Probably. Anything to get them into the Bible. To a fundamentalist friend? Only if he does not have high blood pressure.

Bergen offers a vigorous alternative to the otherworldly concept of salvation that prevails among Christians of our culture. But those who do not want to hear the message might use his anti-heaven rhetoric as an excuse not to listen.

Daniel Hertzler, of Scottdale, Pa., is a former editor of Gospel Herald and the recent author of On My Way: The View from the Ninth Decade.

Comments

  • '...'Bergen asserts that “going to heaven is not a significant part of a biblical understanding of salvation. This is not to say it doesn’t exist as part of the answer of what salvation is, but it isn’t a major part.” '

    If my recently departed sister could read that, I wonder what she would say. But I doubt very much she would agree. After all, her 53 years with us was just a blip in time in comparison to her new life forever with Jesus Christ. Had she lived twice as long here, to the ripe old age of 106, that still would only be one blip times two in the face of eternity. I think God's gift of salvation which leads to being with Him is pretty significant. I also think Bergen's book is best left on the shelf.

    - Elaine Fehr (mar 6 at 7:13 p.m.)

  • I find this idea refreshing. I have come to some of these same conclusions in my own journey. In my experience, many Christians have single-mindedly pursued the idea that the afterlife is all that matters with impressive dedication. I don't know how many times I was told to convert people so I could save their eternal souls, and was taught to say "what if you're wrong, what happens when you die?" as if Christianity didn't affect this life, but was merely a ticket to eternal paradise. If that is the case, why bother doing anything in this life, since it will all be over so soon? It's a dangerous way of thinking.

    I would rather see people making a difference in this world, instead of sitting back and waiting for the next, because if the next life is paradise, we don't need to feed the poor, support the oppressed, or stand against injustice. It will all be over soon. All we would have to do is convert the poor, the oppressed, and the persecuted and we can just wait for the next life when someone else will take care of them. Not our problem. Following Christ is so much more than a "get-out-of-hell-free card," if it is that at all.

    - Scott R. Troyer (mar 11 at 8:38 p.m.)

  • Scott, what kind of difference in the world are Mennonites making these days? The Mennonites are promoting same sex covenant relationships which violate scripture. They teach pacifism which Jesus did not. How many soup kitchens did Jesus set up? How many times did Jesus go into the government judicial system and protest against any injustice? How many times did Jesus take his disciples to a crucifixion and protest the death penalty?

    If Jesus were here, do you think he would purchase a vehicle and mount a mini drone on it and drive it to war protest rallies as did that retired couple in PA? Would Jesus take his disciples to the fund raiser in PA recently in support of same sex covenant relationships? Would he put his application in at EMU to teach Anabaptist history?

    How do you bridge these things with what Jesus said in the Great Commission which reads as follows: "And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen".

    - Dale Welty (mar 11 at 10:29 p.m.)

  • Sorry, but I gotta go with Scott's idea - kinda like that goat and sheep thing Jesus had going in Matthew 25.

    - Debra Bender (mar 11 at 11:26 p.m.)

  • Scott, what are Mennonites doing to help the oppressed that had their healthcare insurance canceled by Obamacare? What about those others oppressed who had their insurance costs significantly increased by Obamacare?

    I also await your response to my 10:29 p.m. comments above.

    - Dale Welty (mar 12 at 11:15 a.m.)

  • Mr. Welty,

    Since you seem so insistent on getting a response from my, I'll provide one (singular).

    First, I am not saying that Mennonites are making a difference in the world. I also am not saying that they are not. I am saying that followers of Christ should work towards that end, regardless of denomination. (Just to be clear, this also addresses your more recent comment)

    Second, I can easily see the idea of feeding the poor and caring for the ill in the actions of Christ and of the early church. Specifically, I recall one particular occasion where Christ fed 5,000 men and their families (Matt. 14:19-21).

    Third, one could argue compellingly that the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) contains a number of calls to stand against injustice by upsetting the social norm (loving enemies, not taking an eye for an eye, turning the other cheek, giving all your clothes to the man who sued you, going 2 miles instead of 1. All of these upset social expectations, and in several cases worked to expose the injustice of contemporary laws). This is not the place to exegete this particular scripture, but know that this interpretation exists with considerable scholarly backing. If you wish to know more, I suggest using an academic database or your local library to find some of this scholarship.

    Fourth, nothing I have said contradicts the so-called "Great Commission." By acting in the world, followers of Christ are teaching by example what Christ has taught them. As for baptism, it can still be offered to all those who choose it.

    I hope this clarifies my insights for you.

    - Scott R. Troyer (mar 12 at 3:50 p.m.)

  • Scott, I have no intention to utilize scholarly backing to interpret and understand scriptures where the Bible clearly identifies certain lifestyles as sin. It was the Apostle Paul who gave strong compliment to the Church at Berea saying in Acts 17:11: These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Further, they were filled with the Holy Spirit which aided them in their learning and Godly living. It is quit likely they had been through the Pentecost experience. They had that thirst for righteousness which Jesus spoke about.

    - Dale Welty (mar 14 at 10:19 p.m.)

  • Scott, I just want to point out that I don't believe that salvation is not of great importance in living our lives in the here and now. Being set free from the bondage of sin allows us to live fulfilled lives in Christ.

    I strongly object, though, with Bergen's notion that "going to heaven is not a significant part of a biblical understanding of salvation. This is not to say it doesn’t exist as part of the answer of what salvation is, but it isn’t a major part".

    - Elaine Fehr (mar 14 at 10:50 p.m.)

  • The title did indeed pique my interest. Salvation is most certainly available here and now the moment we transfer our trust from ourselves to Jesus Christ! But sadly the article said (read) something completely different. Is this not a little bit less than honest to make the title say one thing and the article something else?

    - whentz40 (mar 24 at 6:52 p.m.)

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