Salvation (Theology)

According to dictionary definitions, salvation has four meanings. It can be defined as the act of saving or protecting from harm, risk, loss and destruction; the state of being saved or protected from harm and risk; a source, cause, or means of being saved or protected from harm and risk, or its meaning in theology is deliverance from the power and penalty of sin.

In Christianity, salvation is the deliverance from sin, spiritual death and divine punishment. The theological study of salvation is called soteriology, which deals with the doctrines of redemption and atonement. It also explains the meaning of salvation and the means by which it is achieved. The word "salvation" originates from the early 13th century and derives from the Latin word salus. In Christianity, Jesus is seen as the source of salvation. Christians believe that human life is marked by suffering, illness, violence and death. This situation is neither desirable nor natural, hence the need for salvation. The cause for humanity's problems is sin. It is the disobedience of both God's external commands and the individual's internal awareness of good and evil (Romans 2:14-16).

Most Christians believe that it was the sin of Adam and Eve that brought physical death into the world and perhaps also natural disasters and illness. For everyone after Adam and Eve, sin leads to sorrow, suffering and violence. Even more importantly, however, sin results in separation from God, both in this life and the next. According to Christian teachings, God is good, perfect and just. Therefore sinners cannot enjoy the full benefits of knowing God in this life, such as peace, comfort and help in times of trouble. They cannot spend eternity in God's presence, meaning that their soul will either be annihilated at death or will suffer eternally in the state or place known as Hell.

Christians believe that salvation was made possible by the sacrificial death of Christ by crucifixion. The word "atonement" - one of the few theological words of English origin - is used to describe this concept. The verb "atone" derives from the adverb "at one," and therefore means "to reconcile." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church describes "atonement" as "man's reconciliation with God through the sacrificial death of Christ." The death of Christ on the cross is seen not just as a historical tragedy but as the basis for salvation from sin.

The nature of salvation has been understood in various ways throughout Christian history. There are four major perspectives on the meaning of Christian salvation: deification, righteousness, authentic human existence and liberation. The notion of deification (Theosis in Greek) is based on the perspective that when Christ was incarnate as the man Jesus, he did not take on just one human nature but all of human nature. He made it possible for the reverse to occur, for humans to participate in the divine nature. Salvation is also viewed as the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ on believers. During the Enlightenment, the idea of "authentic existence" had considerable importance.

New Testament authors and other Christian theologians believe that individuals must repent, believe and otherwise work for their own salvation. They also argue that salvation is not entirely a human enterprise as God takes an active role, helping humans to be saved through his grace. Some Christians have even taught that humans are so helpless in their state of sin that God most do all the work, or at least take the first step. This raises the complicated issue of how human free will and effort relates to God's grace and predestination.

In Judaism, the salvation of the individual Jew is connected to the salvation of the entire people and the nation of Israel. This view comes directly from the teachings of the Torah, the five books of Moses. The concept of salvation is related to the notion of redemption and Jews believe that God is the universal spirit and creator of the world and the source of salvation for mankind. An important principle is to honor God by observing the Torah. Salvation in Hinduism is referred to as Moksha, which is defined as when an enlightened person is released from the cycle of life and death. At this point he/she becomes one with God. Buddhism, which is based on a moral philosophy, does not place any emphasis on a divine being or the concepts of redemption or salvation.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

New Testament Theology
G. B. Caird; L. D. Hurst.
Clarendon Press, 1995
Jesus and Salvation: An Essay in Interpretation
Haight, Roger.
Theological Studies, Vol. 55, No. 2, June 1994
Christian Salvation: Biblical and Theological Perspectives
Clifford, Richard; Anatolios, Khaled.
Theological Studies, Vol. 66, No. 4, December 2005
Theology: A Very Short Introduction
David F. Ford.
Oxford University Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Salvation -- Its Scope and Intensity"
Luther's Legacy: Salvation and English Reformers, 1525-1556
Carl R. Trueman.
Clarendon Press, 1994
The System and the Gospel: A Critique of Paul Tillich
Kenneth Hamilton.
Macmillan, 1963
Librarian’s tip: Chap. VII "Salvation and Creation"
Resurrection and the Costs of Evolution: A Dialogue with Rahner on Noninterventionist Theology
Edwards, Denis.
Theological Studies, Vol. 67, No. 4, December 2006
Ecumenical Theology in Worship, Doctrine, and Life: Essays Presented to Geoffrey Wainwright on His Sixtieth Birthday
David S. Cunningham; Ralph Del Colle; Lucas Lamadrid.
Oxford University Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 16 "Reordering Salvation: Church as the Proper Context for an Evangelical Ordo Salutis"
The Catholic Tradition of Eucharistic Theology: Towards the Third Millennium
Kilmartin, Edward John.
Theological Studies, Vol. 55, No. 3, September 1994
Soteriological Issues in the 1999 Lutheran-Catholic Joint Declaration on Justification: An Orthodox Perspective
Turcescu, Lucian.
Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Vol. 38, No. 1, Winter 2001
Multiple Religious Belonging: Opportunities and Challenges for Theology and Church
Phan, Peter C.
Theological Studies, Vol. 64, No. 3, September 2003
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