This week’s video, as always, is both longer and shorter than I’d like it to be. When I started this Searching Sabbath series, I wanted to keep the videos to about a 3 minute length, obviously overestimating my ability to be concise, which has never been my strong point. Instead, they’ve generally exceeded five minutes, which I think exceeds most people’s YouTube attention spans. This one is no different. But it’s also shorter than I’d like because, as always, there’s so much more to say about the topic of “salvation” than what I can cover in a short video.
In the video, I touched mostly on a question that I think is of great concern within the Adventist church and other evangelical churches: is the message of “salvation” relevant to the people we’re trying to reach? Speaking, that is, from the perspective of the twenty-first century church in North America. If what we are offering is “salvation from sin” and most people don’t have a sense that they are “sinners,” are we connecting? And if not, is the solution to try to make people more aware of sin — i.e. to induce guilt? — or to find out what people really do feel a need for in their lives?
However, there are whole other huge swathes of the idea of “salvation” that I haven’t touched on. One of these is: Do people really need salvation? Is sin, or the sense of being separated from God, really a problem that needs to be solved?
I guess that with all my doubts and questions, this is one of the places where I come down most firmly on the side of traditional evangelical Christian doctrine, because I don’t see how anyone can look at this world and say, “Everything is as it should be.” Something has gone sadly wrong, and all our best attempts have not fixed it. Or rather, we’ve fixed some things while at the same time making other things worse.
This, by the way, is also where I have a problem with a purely evolutionary view of human origins that denies we were created in the image of God or that we ever “fell.” As I see it, sin=selfishness. Nearly all the problems in any society anywhere on earth (barring natural disasters) can be put down to people doing things for selfish reasons that hurt themselves or others. From a purely evolutionary standpoint, there’s no reason this should happen. Evolution rewards selfishness in some cases (striving to stay alive and pass on your genes) and rewards altruism in some cases, where it’s obviously for the greater good of the species (i.e. mothers sacrificing themselves to save their children makes good evolutionary sense).
So, if we were a species that had simply evolved, we should see humans making decisions that would benefit the survival of the species. But in fact what we see is humans sometimes showing incredible selfishness (i.e. “sin”) even if the results are demonstrably bad for them and for the species. A species that had evolved naturally would not, I think, have developed the level of knowledge and technology that our species has done, and then use that knowledge and technology to make the planet unliveable for future generations of our own species. Obviously all the data is not in yet, but it seems as humans that we may be in the process of doing just that which, if true, is obviously sinful. I don’t think (correct me if I’m wrong, experts!) animals making selfish, short-sighted decisions that result in their own suffering and death and the possible elimination of their species. Animals, guided by instinct, act in ways that preserve themselves and their species. Humans, guided by reason, often act against our own and our species’ best interest.
The flip side, of course, is that we humans can be stunningly altruistic, even when there’s no benefit for ourselves in it. In my view, the way humans act is far more consistent with a species created in the image of God but fallen into sin, than with a species that has evolved and is evolving. Of course, that’s just the way I read the data, and there are other ways to interpret the human experience. But in general I come down on the side of the traditional view: we are sinners in need of redemption.
Most of my non-Christian (and even my more liberal-Christian) friends will be uncomfortable, I think, with the language of evangelicalism I’m using here in this blog and vlog. I think we evangelical Christians hugely underestimate how offensive our efforts to “evangelize” (that is, to convince others of the truth of what we believe) are to the majority of our neighbours and co-workers. There’s an assumed superiority in evangelical Christianity that people of other religions and no religion at all deeply (and understandably) resent.
So, do I believe in evangelizing? Not in the sense that I want to browbeat anyone into agreeing with the way I see God and the universe. On the other hand, if my faith “works” for me, if it gives me a sense of love, purpose and one-ness with God, why would I not want to share that with you? Particularly if you appear to be in need of it. My kind of evangelism is much too low-key for most Adventists. If you have your own beliefs and seem to be content with them (whether they are religious or non-religious), I’m not going to bother you with mine (particularly as I don’t believe you’re at risk of burning forever in hell … more on that later). If you ask about my beliefs I’ll do my best to explain them and discuss them with you, but I won’t go the further step of trying to convince you — partly out of respect and partly because I think it’s pointless anyway. Any “evangelizing” I do is more in the realm of giving information and trying to live in such a way that people will think better, rather than worse, of Christians and of Seventh-day Adventists based on what they’ve seen in my life. But if someone comes to me with genuine need and wants to know what I believe and how it applies to the need they feel in their life at that moment, I’m not going to refrain from telling them that I believe God loves them and Jesus saves.
As always, I’d love to know what others think about sin, salvation, and sharing our faith.