A Broad View of God’s Redemptive Purposes and your Role (and Mine) in Accomplishing those Purposes

In the pietistic Lutheran sub-culture into which I was born and raised, we were led to believe in a very narrow view of God’s Redemptive purposes: God only wishes to redeem individual persons.

In 1972 I began to seriously question that narrow view of redemption during a sabbatical leave while teaching mathematics at The King’s College (NY), when I read the Bible from cover to cover searching for clues as to God’s intentions for Creation. I have been refining the results of that quest ever since.

While still embracing the importance of “individual redemption,” I now believe that God has a much broader set of purposes for the world, as follows:

  • Positive Relationships of human beings with God
  • Truth about all aspects of our world
  • Loving relationships among all humans
  • Justice for all humans, especially for the poor and marginalized
  • Physical and emotional well-being for all humans
  • Peace among humans experiencing conflict
  • Harmony among humans and other living beings
  • Flourishing of the natural environment
  • Flourishing of all expressions of beauty in human creations

The magnitude of this task is overwhelming. And it seems like a colossal case of “wishful thinking” to believe that all of these purposes of God will be accomplished one day in the future. But, in ways that I cannot comprehend, that is what I believe the Bible teaches. Ultimately, the accomplishment of these purposes will be God’s work. But I believe that those of us who aspire to be “followers of Jesus” can “partner with God” by creating intimations of that future total accomplishment, analogous to the way in which a morning sunrise far off in the distance gives an intimation of the sun eventually shining overhead.

Of course, I am open to the possibility that the list of God’s redemptive purposes that I gleaned from my reading of the Bible needs amending. Therefore, you may want to read your Bible from cover to cover to come up with your own list. If you do so, I will welcome receiving the list you arrive at.

But, whatever list of God’s purposes for all of Creation is arrived at, I must emphasize that partnering with God toward the accomplishment of those purposes is not my work alone. It is the work of the collective body of Christians. To understand this, we must consider the Biblical teachings about the nature of the “Body of Christ.”

The “Body of Christ”

The teachings in 1 Corinthians 12-13 about the nature of the “Body of Christ” are too often neglected.

I Corinthians12 clearly teaches that the collectivity of Christians is comprised of followers of Jesus having a variety of “spiritual gifts.” For example, some have the gifts needed to be effective “apostles,” some “prophets,” some “teachers,” some “healers,” some “leaders” (vs. 28).

But, after having listed this variety of gifts, the author adds “I will show you a still more excellent way (vs. 31),” pointing the reader to the “way of love.”

The lesson to be learned from this transition from chapters 12 and 13 is that the foundational gift is the “gift of love,” and there are multiple ways to “love others,” with the way that any given follower of Jesus chooses to love others depending on his/her other particular gifts.

What, then, are the implications for any given follower of Jesus? I answer by starting with my own situation. The expression of love that I have been focusing on for about the past 12 years, my Respectful Conversation project, emerged from my painful experience of having been silenced (not being given the opportunity to tell “my side of the story” when my employment as an academic administrator at Messiah College (PA) was terminated). That painful experience led me to the conviction that a deep expression of love for another person who disagrees with me about a contentious issue is to provide a safe and welcoming space for that person to express that disagreement.

But I am not suggesting that my chosen “focus” for “loving others” (which reflects my experiences; my life-story) should be the focus chosen by other Christians (whose differing experiences and life-stories may suggest a different focus for “loving others”). It is the collective “Body of Christ” that is called to plant seeds of redemption for accomplishing God’s broad redemptive purposes for all of Creation. It should be obvious that no one Christian should attempt the impossible task of focusing on “all of it.” Each person who aspires to be a “follower of Jesus” should choose a focus for “loving others” that fits best with his/her giftedness and flow from his/her life-story.

But I am suggesting that whatever the breadth of your understanding of God’s redemptive purposes for our world, and whatever purpose you decide to focus on, when you attempt to discern “how” to foster the accomplishment of that purpose, it will be important for you to engage in respectful conversation with other Christians pursuing that focus who may disagree with you about the best response to that “how” question. In other words. I dare to propose that my aspiration to provide a safe and welcoming space for someone who disagrees with me to express that disagreement is a deep expression of love to which all followers of Jesus should be committed.

After writing the above narrative, I wondered whether all, some, or none of it comports with biblical teachings. I close this Musing by addressing that issue.

An Apparent Contradiction in Biblical Teachings

The apparent contradiction in biblical teaching emerges when one compares the teachings of the Apostle Paul with the teachings in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark. Luke-Acts).

The starting point for the Apostle Paul is that a person is justified not by the works of the law, but through faith in Christ(see Galatians 2:16). Paul believes that good works follow from being saved, which has been described as “accepting Jesus as Savior.”

This starting point for Paul is understandable in light of one aspect of his “life-story,” his dramatic conversion experience on the road to Damascus.  

In sharp contrast, for the authors of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke-Acts), the “good news” of the “gospels” is broader than a one-time experience of “being saved.” As my dear friend of many years, Paul Borgman, a retired emeritus professor of English from Gordon College (MA), puts it: “In the synoptics, the good news is obtainable for everyone who accepts the challenge of turning-around daily (repenting) from self-serving individualism to other-serving communal flourishing as a member of God’s covenant people, the kingdom come to earth.”

Paul Borgman also uses the words “being saved” to describe the view presented in the synoptic gospels, but he is not referring to a one-time decision to “accept Jesus as Savior.” Rather, he views “being saved” as “a process, a journey – an entering the kingdom come (the “good news”!) and the communal involvement in the “good works” as guided by the principles of law taught by Jesus.”

How can one reconcile these two apparently discordant views of what it means to “be saved?” I believe that reconciliation is possible if one embraces a dynamic view of what it means to follow Jesus.

A Dynamic View of Following Jesus

I believe that this apparent contradiction in biblical teachings is overcome if one embraces a dynamic view of what it means to follow Jesus, which asserts that it is in the very process of following Jesus that you gain insight into how to continue following Jesus (I elaborate on this assertion, which I embrace, in a previous Musing titled “A Dynamic View of Following Jesus”). Some explanation is obviously called for, and I will now provide that by drawing on my own experience (for reasons that will soon become apparent).

When I was 13 years old, a traveling evangelist spoke at a meeting in the basement of the church I attended in Brooklyn (NY). I don’t recall his words, But I do recall being overwhelmed with a sense that God loved me as I was, not as I hoped to be, and that the person and work of Jesus Christ were sufficient for me to enter into a personal, loving relationship with God. I didn’t raise my hand in an alter call. But in the quietness of my own heart, I made a commitment to be a follower of Jesus. In the phrase used above, I “accepted Jesus as Savior.”

But (and this is of utmost importance), at this moment in time, I didn’t have a clue as to the implications of my decision. It was only later in my Christian pilgrimage that I was exposed to the radical (and meddlesome) teaching of Jesus recorded in Matthew 25 about who will “inherit the Kingdom.” It will be those who gave food to the hungry, something to drink to the thirsty, welcome to the stranger, clothing to the naked, care for the sick, and visitation to those in prison; summarized by Jesus as caring for the “least of these” (vs. 40); the poor and otherwise disadvantaged and marginalized in society.

As you can see by now, it took me a while, long after I was 13 years old, to come to adequately understand that my “accepting Jesus as Savior” entailed much more that a one-time decision. I came to understand that such “acceptance” involves “imitating Jesus” (based on a belief that “conversion to Christ implies conformity to Christ” as suggested in Romans 8:29). And such “conformity to Christ” includes a commitment to live out the Sermon on the Mount; particularly the exhortation to love those who consider themselves to be your enemies.

My point is that there is no contradiction between a decision in a moment of time to “accept Jesus as Savior” and continuously learning, during a dynamic, lifelong process, what the implications of that decision are. I now understand better, and embrace the views of the authors of the synoptic gospels that the “good news” of the gospel calls for every follower of Jesus  to turn-around daily from self-serving individualism to other-serving communal flourishing as a member of God’s covenant people, the kingdom come to earth.

1 reply
  1. Nate Huyser
    Nate Huyser says:

    Harold, thanks for this thoughtful musing. It provided a helpful spiritual reflection for me on this Easter night 2024. I have many take-aways, but the following was especially helpful: Ultimately, God will redeem the world in a way that our limited human mind can’t imagine. However, as an individual and collectively as followers of Jesus, we are to partner with God in this redemptive work in the unique ways God provides for us. The biggest challenge for me is overcoming my fear in order to do the main task I believe God has given me. Do you have advice for this? Thanks for being a wonderful mentor and role-model in following Jesus.


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