Lesson 14: Challenges

A couple of my face- to- face fall classes used Kristen Largen’s What Christians Can Learn from Buddhism: Rethinking Salvation. In her last chapter she suggests four challenges Buddhism offers to our popular Christian picture of salvation. In many ways, the suggestions simply ask us to recognize parts of our tradition that have always been there, even though we presently ignore them.

First, Largen believes Buddhism reminds us of the communal nature of salvation. Most modern Christians see judgment and salvation completely directed at individuals. Some even speak of an individual being raptured out of the relationships of this life. Largen asks Christians to take “into consideration the lives of others who interact with them and shape them on a daily basis.” They have made us who we are. Surely they deserve any blessings we receive.

Her second challenge is related to the first. She asks us recognize “humanity’s fundamental interdependent existence”. When we do, salvation becomes the transformation of our relationships and organizations. It is amazing that many modern people describe themselves as self-made people when they actually depend on others from all over our global village for just about every thing they use. The epitome of this might be the Left Behind series that makes the destruction of our world and our relationships part of the salvation process. When we read the Bible carefully, we find God loves and saves the world.

A third challenge asks us to rethink the possibility of universal salvation. Salvation’s goal always included the blessing or healing of all nations. We tend to overlook texts, such as Colossians 1: 15-20 and Ephesians 2: 10, that imply all will be saved in the end. Whenever we rejoice in God’s unconditional love, we should pause to acknowledge this means there are no exceptions. I’m not sure Jesus meant to exclude anyone when he spoke, “Forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.” from the Cross.

Largen’s last challenge calls us to stop concentrating on salvation as something happening only in the future. The Bible speaks of it beginning far back with Abraham. It claims it is offered to us at baptism, describing the sacrament conferring the first fruits of salvation. Largen sees a “now-not yet” scenario here. Marcus Borg hops on board when he claims one of modern Christianity’s primary problems is speaking about salvation as something that happens in another world after we die. He and Largen call us to practice our salvation now rather than later. Now is the time to participate with God in healing the creation. They certainly receive biblical support when Jesus proclaims “The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe the good news (Mark 1: 15) or when he observes the Kingdom is among us (Luke 17: 20, 21). Paul acknowledges the same when he writes “I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1: 6)

I was genuinely surprised when the classes examined Largen’s challenges. I can not say most of the people rejected the challenges. They seemed to hope maybe she was right. However, they were convinced the Bible did not support any one of the four. I, on the other hand, do not think we need Buddhism to make these challenges. I think they have been right there all the time in our tradition. We have simply ignored them to our loss.

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