Saving More Than Souls

by Brian Gray

Almost 15 years ago, my co-pastors and I stumbled into a theological conversation during an annual vision casting session when one of them asked us, “How would you summarize ‘the gospel’ in one word?”

My word? “Forgiveness,” I offered, too confidently. The teaching pastor liked my answer. The worship pastor’s answer? “Redemption.” I looked down my seminary-educated nose at his overly-broad answer. But he was right and I was still unlearning.

I grew up in a church with a strong individual soul-salvation narrative. Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice captured our functional theology well in their book, Reconciling All Things:

“There is a widespread notion in some of the most energetic contemporary Christian movements that the biblical call to reconciliation is solely about reconciling God and humanity, with no reference to social realities. In this view, preaching, teaching, church life and mission are only about a personal relationship between people and God. Christian energy is focussed on winning converts, planting and growing churches, and evangelistic efforts.”

For the gospel to be orthodox–meaning traditional and true–it must include individuals being saved by grace through faith in Christ. But to be orthodox, it also must include more than the redemption of individual souls. We’re reminded that God is “pleased to reconcile to himself all things” (Col. 1:20). And “all things” there involves a very technical Greek phrase which means…well…“all things.”

Redemption happens biblically in five places where God wants us joining him against brokenness in our world:

1. Redemption with God: salvation, which allows our union and communion with Christ – now and eternally;

2. Redemption of our lives: sanctification; healing of our thoughts, words, and deeds for God’s purposes, including our motivations, our workplace performance anxiety, the idols of our hearts, or how we influence and lead;

3. Redemption with each other: seeking forgiveness, making peace, loving our enemies, not repaying a co-worker’s backstab;

4. Redemption for systems and structures: My seminary professor summarized the minor prophets’ message this way: “Your worship of God and doing of social justice is broken.” Today, this could mean engaging Denver’s affordable housing crisis, implicit racial bias in hiring, and the gender-wage gap;

5. Redemption for the created world: The creation groans to be “set free from its bondage to decay” (Rom. 8:21), so we take seriously climate change and pine beetles and sustainable energy production.

As we sing triumphantly each Christmas in the classic carol Joy to the World, “He comes to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found…” What a gorgeous vision! Does the work of Christ on the cross apply principally to restoring individuals to union with himself? I think so. But it must extend beyond that to all the ways God is healing sin’s corrupting effects on the flourishing of humanity and the world. As God’s people, we partner with him in this redemption of all things.

Why does this matter? People tell us all the time that they don’t see the “spiritual significance” of their “secular” jobs. At best, they’ve been taught an instrumental view of the sacredness of work – it’s a means to earn money and give to God’s mission, and it allows us to build relationships to share the gospel.

Well, yes. But also, no.

Work includes, but is way more than, an instrument for the mission of individual’s salvation. This broadened biblical framework for redemption allows us to see our story and work in the world more deeply rooted in God’s story and work in the world.

Here are some questions to reflect on that draw us into the breadth of God’s redemption through our work:

  • If you were to answer the question, “What is the gospel?”, would your answer be more about individuals being saved or the redemption of all things? More importantly, why? Reflect on “the gospel” and the story of redemption you’ve been taught.

  • Which of the five aspects of redemption feels the most and the least connected to your work? Why? Is there a way to better connect all of the work you do – in your job, home, and community – to that overlooked aspect of redemption?

  • How would you describe the spiritual significance of your work? Or, how does your work in the world fit within God’s work in the world? For this reflection, don’t include building relationships with those who don’t know Jesus and earning money which supports explicit Christian mission.
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Brian Gray

Brian is the COO here at DIFW and also leads our 5280 Fellowship program.  Prior to landing at DIFW, he served in pastoral ministry for thirteen years and at Denver Seminary for four years. His vocation includes moving ideas out into life through relationships and conversation – whether that applies to God, work, the Church, good beer, or Liverpool Football Club. He married way out of his league, and spends most of his free-time being parented by his two daughters.