L. Ann Jervis responds to my Christological questions

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 ‘injervis.jpg 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.

Any thoughts?


11 thoughts on “L. Ann Jervis responds to my Christological questions

  1. I think Dr. Jervis’ comments go a long way to clarify your concerns about our participation being ‘salvific’. I especially appreciate the statement:

    “Atonement is unique to Christ’s death – only his death reconciles the world to God – but salvation is not unique.”

    While I am reluctant to give full support to this view it is a fascinating concept that at a brief glance does appear to be supported in Paul’s letters. As we have discussed briefly in the past, I have found certain perspectives of the atonement to be lacking a motivating factor- perhaps this concept of the participation of the disciple in suffering for the redemption of creation might help fill the gap.

    At the very least this will provide some interesting conversation with my wife over lunch this weekend.

  2. Earl –

    I agree. I found Jervis’ comments to helpfully clarify and expand on what she said in print. It seems she is drawing here upon the larger biblical notion of “salvation” (beyond the individual/eternal significance the word carries in other contexts) then applying that to the present scenario.

    I still have “worries” about the language of participation in this regard though. I just wonder if we shouldn’t be expecting our doctrine of the Spirit to be doing this work for us rather than our doctrine of atonement. The recent Finnish reinterpretations of the doctrine of justification (e.g. Mannermaa) leave me with the same questions. Anyway, that is a conversation for another day I hope.



  3. salvific? How is that pronounced? I agree that Paul thought that Jesus’ death completed His atonement of our sin. It was in God’s plan that Jesus would be the substitutionary sacrifice to pay the payment of the penalty that God required. From my study of Scripture there is no idea that sin would be taken out of the human life experience. After the man or woman has accepted Jesus’ act of sacrifice to be applied to their life they become a member of His family. They then as babes in Christ begin to learn to be more like Him. They begin to yield their lives to His example living their life worshiping Him (the vertical relationship) and loving others (the horizontal relationship). With each of us focusing on this we draw nearer to be like Chirst. We are to share Christ with others showing our life style before them, giving Jesus Christ glory and inviting them to believe and begin to practicing those things you have been. Sin won’t be taken out of any influence until the end of the 1000 year reign of Christ. That will be the end of sin when the author of sin, Satan is removed forever being placed in the Lake of Fire for eternity. The last couple of paragraphs seem to bring out a lot of our “doing” things to reduce the influence of sin. I believe that our “doing” is the practice of becoming more like Christ. While suffering is involved, it is not where we should have our focus. It is through our giving glory to Christ during our suffering (whatever that may entail) that Christ will be shown to be sufficient encourage others to trust Him. To be honest I have come across this blog and have not read Dr. Jervis and know nothing about her. I hope I have not spoken out of turn.


  4. Perhaps we back up one step from the salvific effects on this world through suffering. Is not the purpose of suffering greater godliness?

    1 Tim 4 (ESV)

    7 Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; 8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 9 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. 10 For to this end we toil and strive, [2] because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

    [2] 4:10 Some manuscripts “and suffer reproach”

    In other words, is it through godliness, brotherly kindness and ultimately love or is it through suffering that His kingdom comes?

    Does godliness take form in the life of a believer if s/he does not enter into suffering by faith?

    Can suffering be both an opportunity for godliness and a byproduct of it?

    And finally, if suffering is only one means among many God uses towards greater Christlikeness within His Body, is the author placing too much significance on salvific effects of suffering?

  5. Rhett –

    Good words indeed. Jervis does emphasis the sanctifying work that suffering can accomplish but she restricts herself in this book to only commenting and exegeting the particular books of 1 Thessalonians, Philippians, and Romans. In the chapter we discussed here it was only 1 Thessalonians. So she limits herself a bit – but she would agree with you 100% because she emphasizes some of the same points from that text.

    The questions you pose are good ones and I would love to see someone else pick up on them.


  6. Dlg –

    From her comments, I am sure Jervis would not disagree with you regarding the “source” of eternal salvation being found only in and through the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus. Rather, what Jervis wants to emphasis here is the role Christians should play in resisting and working againt the ongoing presence of sin in the world.

    I don’t think she is saying we can rid the world of sin, but that we can work “against” sin through or suffering and compassion for others and against the powers of evil (however they are manifested). This is were a strong doctrine of the Spirit would come in to explicate how we understand this.


  7. Pingback: Everyday saints « Blog Archive « Filling the Chalice

  8. I recently posted a comment on this site, which was merely a scripture quote, originally spoken by Peter, the apostle. I provided no comment to go along with it, inserted no contextual remarks of my own – just a scripture from the word of God out of the Bible. It was censored from this site, and that tells me it must have hit the nail right on the head.

    • Robert, sorry to give the impression that we had censored your comments because of your scripture quotation. We allow comments that make a contribution to the discussion, it was unclear how yours did so. Feel free to elaborate.

  9. “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… 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.”

    I am still unclear regarding what Dr. Jervis is saying here. Is she arguing that Christ’s death propitiates sin, whereas our sharing in the suffering of that death contributes to expiating sin?

    Or is she maybe saying that in Christ’s atoning death we are reconciled to God (through God’s activity only), whereas in our participating in the suffering of that death we help complete our salvation ?

    Either way, and even if ‘salvation’ here means an entering into God’s fullest shaloam (beginning now and fulfilled in the future), I would struggle with a move that divides God’s work on the cross so as i don’t see how it can diminish the shear ‘gratuity’ (ref. Eilers) of God’s gift of God’s self on the cross. In the end it would lead to God in some way needing humanity to achieve God’s purposes.

    Dunno… just musing…

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