A. T. Robertson is one of my heroes. “Dr. Bob,” as his students called him, was perhaps the greatest Greek scholar Southern Baptists have ever produced, teaching a hundred years ago at the denomination’s flagship seminary. He wrote a monumental study of Greek grammar based on research into various cognate languages. He also wrote a little book about how knowledge of the Greek language can be a powerful asset to preachers. He was a bona fide genius, but he was committed to the ministry of the local church.
Robertson once quipped, “The greatest proof that the Bible is inspired is that it has stood so much bad preaching.” There have been times I’ve felt that sentiment in my soul. I count myself blessed to be the recipient of a solid, thorough biblical education, but being informed has its drawbacks.
I remember a time I heard a preacher deliver a sermon that was literally a textbook example of how not to interpret the parables of Jesus. I remember a preacher claiming that a particular English word was based on the Greek word in his text…only it was a word with Latin roots, not Greek, and it had nothing to do with what he was talking about! In short, there have been plenty of times when all I could do was sit in a pew and cringe.
All this to say that when I hear a preacher start to talk about “being saved,” my defenses go up.
Now, I believe in “being saved.” Salvation a good, biblical term that features prominently in today’s passage (vv. 5, 9, 10). Jesus enters the world to be its Savior (Luke 2:11; John 3:17). He comes with saving power (Rom 1:16). Biblical scholars rightly speak of God’s plan for the ages as “salvation history.”
But too often preachers flatten all of this into a simplistic, individualized transaction. It’s all about checking a box or shaking the preacher’s hand. Then we can go on living more or less the way we always have. And, of course, in the hands of some, it provides a convenient shorthand for deciding who’s “in” and who’s “out.” The emphasis is on “fire insurance” to avoid divine punishment, not empowerment to participate fully and freely in God’s kingdom. It’s no surprise, then, that Christians of a particular theological outlook tend to approach the term with a bit of hesitancy.
Can we rehabilitate this term? Of course, we can. It’s in the Bible, so we have no choice but to face the cringe factor and find ways to embrace—even celebrate—God’s promised salvation.
The way forward, I think, is to take a step or two back so that we can see everything the Bible has to say about God’s saving work. In that light, 1 Peter begins with an expression of praise to God for the salvation that God has made possible through Christ. The prophets of old anticipated this salvation, and even the angels hoped to behold it. Now it is the inheritance of believers, even though they currently face various trials.
• What are we saved from? What are we saved for?
• Why does the biblical writer describe this salvation as a new birth (v. 3)?
• How can suffering cause us to lose sight of what is ours in Christ?
• What can we do to realign our perspective?
Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.
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