Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Salvation from Fundamentalism to Universalism

In thanksgiving for the life, ministry, and writings of body theologian James B. Nelson. For posts on this blog that reference his insights, click here and scroll down.

The following is excerpted and adapted from a talk previously given to the Georgia Mountains Unitarian Universalist Church in Dahlonega, Georgia, where I will be speaking at 11 a.m. Nov. 8 on “Grounded Spirituality” and offering a free workshop after the service on “Spiritual Self-Exam.”

Salvation has come to mean something very different for me over my lifetime than it did when the word slipped so easily from the mouths of the fundamentalists around me in the Baptist church and Christian school in which I grew up.

“Salvation” or “being saved” implies that we are in danger, a danger we cannot escape without help. We need a rescuer, a defender, a knight in shining armor, a hero or heroine, a messiah, a god or goddess—or, as in ancient Greek theater, a “deus ex machina,” a god who magically comes on stage via a machine-like apparatus.

We don’t like to admit our vulnerability in sometimes needing a rescuer!

But salvation in both Jewish and Christian meaning also means deliverance, implying a release from oppression, from bondage, from captivity, from injustice, from unrighteousness, from meaninglessness—and here you can add anything we might need deliverance from, such as addiction, greed, poverty, ignorance, prejudice—even wealth and privilege.

Thus the children of Israel were delivered from the hand of Pharaoh in Egypt through the Exodus, the formative story of Judaism. And early Christians were delivered from purity codes and ritual requirements, and more importantly, delivered from sin and death in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the formative story of Christianity.

Regarding either of these stories as myths does not diminish their roles as foundational stories; in fact, it may enhance their use in speaking to the unfathomable mystery of human experience.

But the words translated both “salvation” and “deliverance” have another meaning still, and that is “liberation.” Liberation means we are set free from all that holds us back, keeps us down, interferes with a life filled with meaning, love, and hope, freeing us from oppressive institutions, beliefs, and systems, whether economic, political, or religious.

Thus liberation theology has spoken to so many around the world, from the barrios of Latin America to the pockets of self-determination in totalitarian states across the globe.

As a progressive Christian, as a believer in interfaith and multicultural spiritual wisdom, I can identify with all three of these terms: salvation, deliverance, and liberation.

But what I’ve needed to be saved from, delivered by, and liberated for has changed over the years.

Today I need to be rescued from parochialism, my narrow and often privileged view of the way things are.

I need to be delivered by insights of a wider range of thinkers—those of other faiths, races, conditions, and cultures, as well as scientists, artists, and atheists.

I need to be liberated for new ways of experiencing and understanding the world and our lives and God.

My salvation from fundamentalism (of all kinds, political and religious, conservative and liberal) has led me more and more to a kind of universalism, an ever-expanding realization that we’re all in this together, need one another, and share a collective stake in the salvation of the world.

For those interested in knowing what progressive Muslims think, please visit:
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Copyright © 2015 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  


  1. Thanks, Chris... Jim was one of my professors in seminary...

  2. Thanks, Chris... Jim was one of my seminary professors and a good man...