Since the 25th anniversary re-release of Resident Aliens, I’ve been reading the book again in bits an pieces.
Ever since my first reading of the book, I’ve struggled with the ways that the narrative-based theology and ethics the books advocates undermines or sets aside historical Christian ideas.
For instance, here is how the book describes the nature of salvation:
Here, with our emphasis on the narrative nature of Christian life, we are saying that salvation is baptism into a community that has so truthful a story that we forget ourselves and our anxieties long enough to become part of that story, a story God has told in Scripture and continues to tell in Israel and the church.
There is something appealing in this, but it also troubles me when I stop to think about it.
My primary source of discomfort is that it makes salvation about freedom from anxiety and self-centeredness. Or not freedom so much as forgetfulness. For all the ways that the authors write about Christian ethics being incomprehensible without Jesus Christ, their definition of salvation comes down to the commonplace notion that it is good to be caught up in something bigger than ourselves.
In the end, salvation is about learning to see the world differently and learning to tell our own story in reference to a different story than we did before anyone taught us the story of Jesus. In the end, salvation is about getting our mind right.
In other words, salvation does not appear to have much of anything to do with the Holy Spirit grabbing hold of sinners and breaking up stony hearts. Nicodemus need not be troubled by the implications of this. He just needs to learn how to inhabit a new story.
The salvation offered in the book feels much too safe. It feels well suited for a Duke University classroom or an encounter group. It feels like it leaves much too much room for the distant and ironic stance that allows us to talk about salvation without being shaken up by it too much.