During the Annual Meeting of Texas Baptists, Todd Still, dean and professor at Baylor University's Truett Seminary, provided a workshop on the concept of salvation and how it has been broadly understood throughout Texas Baptist life in the 20th Century.
Utilizing Hebrews 2:1-4 as a starting passage, Still focused the group on the "great salvation" afforded to mankind through the message of Jesus Christ. He then turned his attention to the Baptist Faith and Message, both the 1963 and 2000 versions, and how this salvation had been described in those confessions.
"Interestingly, these statements are more or less identical," Still explained.
The difference comes at the inclusion in the 2000 version of the single sentence, "There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord," a statement Still suggested could be easily affirmed by those who embrace the 1963 version. With the confessions as a framework, Still unpacked the doctrine of salvation, beginning with the concept of redemption.
"Salvation, then, is this idea of being rescued, the whole of one's self," Still stated. "One gathers that this is meant to iterate that salvation is not a feeling that we feel when we feel a feeling we have never felt before. It is much more than a flash of faith. It is much more than simply cognitive ascent.
Going on he said, "Salvation is a call in the words of our Lord to deny self, to take up the cross daily and follow Him. As Bonhoeffer rightly notes, it is costly grace because it costs us our life; it is costly grace because it is the only true life, and when Jesus bids us come follow Him, He bids us to come and die."
Working through the four categories of salvation—regeneration, justification, sanctification and glorification—Still explained how salvation involved more than just a one-time choice, but rather deliberate life-style change focused on acknowledging and following Christ.
"I am a conversionist," he stated, "from the top of my head to the tip of my toes. That being said, a walk down an aisle, a chit chat with the pastor in a corridor and a filled out card is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. It is just the end of the beginning, and we have to do better, and in my own ministry, I want to do better in not only calling people to faith, but encouraging people to launch into a life of faith."
After covering the categories of salvation that are seen in the statements, as well as the reference verses provided, he then reflected on the concept of salvation. He suggested that, among many things, salvation could be understood as requiring both repentance and faith from the believer; seen as effecting the past, present and the future of the believer; and a rescue from not only sin, but also separation and self.
"We see in Romans 8 that we are not only saved from sin, but we are saved from self," Still said. "and I gather that in this generation being saved from self is a really great gift."
He also reflected on the concept of salvation as a divine gift, a gift available to all who believe. Turning his attention to Romans 10:8-13, where Paul commends to the readers to call upon the name of the Lord, ending with these words, "For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, 'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'"
"All' and 'every' seem to be instructive," Still stated as an aside. "We call eisegesis reading into the text that which is not there, and we call exegesis reading out of the text that which is there, and if salvation is meant to be limited, you will need to bring that to this text."
He continued with comments concerning the growing divide which has developed over those Baptist coming supporting a Calvinistic view of salvation and those purporting an Arminian view. Although clear ground divides the two camps, common ground can be found.
"I have spent much of our time intentionally focusing on things that Baptist Christians, at least who have found either the 1963 and the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message instructive, upon which they actually agree," Still explained. "So let's not allow our congregations to fissure over the Calvin/Arminius debate."
Ending the session on salvation, Still led the group with a common and well-worn hymn, "Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul; thank you, Lord, for making me whole; thank you, Lord, for giving to me, Thy great salvation so rich and free."
Blake Killingsworth serves as Vice President for Communications at Dallas Baptist University.
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