On May 25, I gave my latest sermon at my church, The Well, entitled, “You Will Be Saved Because You Have Been Saved.” We are preaching through the book of Acts in lectio continua style, and I was given the text of Acts 16:16-40. This is the famous passage in which Paul and Silas are in prison, singing to the Lord, when suddenly an earthquake occurs, breaking them free. Instead of fleeing the scene, Paul and Silas remain in their cells. This act of witness prepares the jailer for his conversion. The jailer asks, “What must I do to be saved?” And Paul answers, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
I decided to use this text to preach a thoroughly theological sermon on the nature of salvation. In short, it is an attempt to provide an exegetically responsible soteriology. As readers of this blog know, I am an advocate for Christian universalism. Ever since my (still incomplete) series on universalism from 2006, my views have become far more refined and nuanced. I abandoned the series both because it was taking too much time, but also because my theological commitments have shifted and evolved since I began that project. While I still agree with my earlier position, two important things have happened: first, I heard Bruce McCormack lecture on the problem of universalism at last year’s Barth Conference at Princeton Seminary. He affirmed the right of theologians to adopt universalism as a theological position, but he argued that churches themselves must remain in the tension between salvation and damnation, between universalism and double predestination. Churches must not adopt univeralism (and fall into complacency) or adopt double predestination (and fall into despair). Instead, from an ecclesial standpoint, one must remain under judgment.
While McCormack’s position is very Balthasarian, it is also a healthy one, primarily because of the second change to my earlier position: viz., my adoption of missional theology as the basic framework within which to think theologically. A missional theology need not undermine Christian universalism—in fact, reflection on the mission of God leads us in that very direction, I would argue. But missional theology is also fundamentally an ecclesial theology, and within the sphere of the church, a theology which does not propel us into mission is in some way deficient. McCormack’s position is missional, at heart, though he did not use that language. My adoption of missional theology thus leads me to emphasize not only the objective-christocentric reality of universal reconciliation, but also the subjective-ecclesial reality of our calling as ministers of reconciliation in the world. It is this dynamic relationship between reconciliation and mission, between Christ and the church, that I chose to explore in my sermon.
I would call my position a missional theology of universal reconciliation. The church does not continue or augment or complete the mission of God accomplished in Jesus Christ, in whom God reconciled the world to Godself (2 Cor. 5:19). And yet the church is called by God to be the witnesses of this reconciliation to the world. They are called to be missionaries, in the sense that they engage in the mission set before them by Jesus. Of course, Jesus has already gone before them as the Resurrected One, and thus the church is by grace able to follow Jesus in humble and faithful obedience, acting as his ambassadors to a world bereft of good news.
You can hear my exposition of Acts 16 here. Give it a second to load. Because the sermon does not begin until 7:00, click ahead until you reach that marker. Since I speak a bit fast and it may be hard to understand what I am saying at times, feel free to email me and I can send you the text of the sermon.