Salvation in the here and now

  • Question from TS, USA

    If Jesus destroyed the power of sin and death, why does salvation seem to only give future and not present hope?

    One criticism that is frequently levelled at Christianity is that it promises ‘pie in the sky when you die’ – the inference being that the promises of eternal life distract people from the injustices and hardships of day-to-day living. This view of salvation as something to come was the basis for Karl Marx’s famous description of religion as the ‘opiate of the people’, used by the rich and powerful to dupe the masses (proletariat) into accepting oppression and exploitation now in the hope of a better life later.

    It would be fair to say that Marx’s criticism of religion has a point. Wherever Christianity and government have formed an allegiance, oppression has usually been the result; spiritual and temporal authority have been a feature of European history since Constantine made Christianity the official religion of Europe in the fourth century. However, there have been many movements over the years that have sought to address this.

    Currently there are two significant movements that strongly advocate salvation as something realised and effective within this life. Liberation theology arose out of the experiences of Christians in South America, but has replicated itself in impoverished and oppressed people groups all over the world. With roots in the liberation from colonial rule after the Second World War, liberation theology has repeatedly asked questions of Westernised Christianity – particularly where Christianity has legitimised injustice and oppression. The main proponents of liberation theology have appeared in the Roman Catholic Church, ironically one of the most autocratic churches.

    While it took some time for liberation theology to establish itself as a force in world theology, with some major participants excluded for ‘extreme’ views, its impact on the contemporary Christian scene has been dramatic. By rejecting a form of Christianity that had ‘spiritualised’ much of the Bible as referring to the inner life of believers, and rediscovering the essentially practical and compelling message of justice and compassion for the poor and marginalized, liberation theology provided the foundation for such high profile movements as Jubilee 2000 and Make Poverty History, both of which emerged from within Christianity.

    The second stream that sees salvation as a ‘now’ issue is the charismatic stream, which like liberation theology stretches across the denominations. Within this stream there is a strong emphasis on ‘experiencing God’ through ‘Spiritual Gifts’.

    While this is a more spiritualised version of Christianity, in the sense that it applies to the life of the individual believer, it still locates God within the context of daily life, active in the here and now. The sanctifying and empowering action of the Holy Spirit thus take effect immediately with ‘eternal life’ beginning in the life of the believer before death.

    Thanks for your question, TS.

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