Guest Blogger: L. Ann Jervis
Note: When beginning an extended discussion with a particular book, such as At the Heart of the Gospel, we invite the author to participate in the dialogue for our accountability and to enrich the discussion. In the following comments, L. Ann Jervis responds to the “nagging Christological question” I posed last week regarding atonement and participation:
I think that Paul takes conformity to Christ very seriously: the lives of those ‘in Christ’ are to follow the pattern of Christ’s life – in our faith, which is Christ’s faith, and in our lives before our physical deaths, which are to be lived in Christ’s suffering and death and in hope of Christ’s resurrection.
Where Christ and those ‘in him’ differ is that Christ is the one who made possible what believers can know; and that Christ has already experienced what we can only hope for.
In terms of whether Christ’s “reconciling death needs completing” or whether believers suffering with Christ do so in “salvific ways”, I think that Paul thinks that Christ’s death atoned, and in that way it is a completed event. However, Christ’s death (and resurrection) has not finished the job. Paul is clear that God’s project of ridding the world of Sin is unfinished. The project’s conclusion will be at ‘the end’, when all creation will know liberty – Rom 8 – and when there will be a general resurrection (1 Cor 15).
Until ‘the end’, those ‘in Christ’ are called to suffer with Christ. Our suffering, while not atoning (and so it would be false to think ‘I atone for my sins or the sins of other through my suffering’), is salvific. Atonement is unique to Christ’s death – only his death reconciles the world to God – but salvation is not unique. Salvation, understood not in the narrow sense of setting things right between humanity and God, but salvation in the sense of healing, bringing life, deliverance from destruction, is what results from believers in Christ suffering with him. Paul describes his and his co-workers’ lives as carrying in their bodies the death of Jesus. The result of doing so is that life is produced (2 Cor 4:10-12).
When believers in Christ suffer with Christ we work along with Christ in diminishing the range of Sin’s influence, and this is salvific. Whether through acts of love in response to hate, through acts of justice, through making peace, through bringing joy in the midst of pain. These actions, while costly for those who do them, are salvific – they bring the liberation of the good news into the dark dungeons that remain in God’s world.
Thank you very much Dr. Jervis.