This is a "guest blog" by my husband, Revd Paolo Castellina. His English sermon site is here
Anxiously concerned to "be relevant", much of contemporary Christianity seems to be increasingly oriented to earthly things. As a result, it is losing sight of the otherworldly dimension of its message.
Who still talks today, in fact, the "salvation of the soul"? This expression itself is even considered old fashioned. For some, this is an "outdated concept", often claimed to be charged with what they call "a Platonic influence" on Christianity. Consequently, most Christians seem ready to say: "Let us be concerned with this world. God will take care of the salvation of our soul. This is what Jesus preached”. But is it?
The fact is that, today, where the concept of “afterlife” is openly criticised, it betrays a basic atheistic attitude or will lead to atherism. We could say that today what prevails is a sort of “confident agnosticism”. Those who are engaged with “religion” tell us that “the purpose of religion” (note here the pragmatism) is mainly directed to the "improvement" of this world and that it is essentially "a matter of ethics," the promotion of human dignity and human rights, working for peace, justice and the "integrity of creation." To this end, we are told, we must work together with all people of “good will." Who would dare to question the need for all this? Those who talk about “soul saving” are consequently suspected to be only dealers in “the opiate of the masses”, at the service of those worldly powers who would want people to be so dulled as not to pose for them any threat. Is it so? It could be so for some, but certainly not for the whole Christian message.
Fearing irrelevancy or not wanting to be accused of dulling people, the message about the “salvation of the soul” has almost disappeared from Christian pulpits. Matched by the contemporary ridicule attached to beliefs in the “afterlife”, the message was indeed effective. Who seems to care anymore about the salvation of one’s own soul?
Everything now seems, in fact, to have been absorbed and "reinterpreted" by what one might call a vague religious humanism, increasingly shared by Roman Catholicism, by modern theological
liberalism, and even from much of modern evangelicalism, which also seems to be concentrating on “this worldly” needs, such as healing of body and mind, giving good advice using pop psychology and offering comforting "experiences". Is it not for this that religion is there for? Other things wouldf not be understood or appreciated. Is this true? Must Christianity be subjected to responding to “felt needs” only? Is the result the same religion announced and explained in the New Testament?
Those who do not read the Bible with the twisted presuppositions now prevailing, although well aware that the Christian faith, to be authentic must profoundly affect the lives of those who profess it and society at large, cannot and will not limit their perspective to this world, only. This world is not the only field of action where faith can be understood as "relevant".
The New Testament expressly declares: “If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should bepitied more than anyone" (1 Corinthians 15:19). Our present life in all its manifestations must of course be transformed by the Lord Jesus Christ and lived in an earthly perspective. "This life", however, is relative and temporary. In fact, "...based on His promise, we wait for the new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness will dwell" (2 Peter 3:13). This is not a metaphor for the transformation that we have to promote in this world, but a statement that this world, although important, is relative and that it will be superseded by a different kind of reality to which God calls us: this is Salvation. Christianity is not just "a fix " for this life, but recovering our basic relationship with God according to the teachings of Jesus Christ, through Him we reach a new dimension of existence, both here and in the afterlife.
Concepts such as "sin," "wrath of God," "opinion," "salvation," "Paradise" and "hell", indigestible as they are for most of our generation, are not "metaphors" of life in this world, or worse,
"myths". They indicate that these objective realities have necessitated the coming of the Saviour Jesus Christ Himself into this world, and that, therefore, we would do well to take them very seriously indeed. These are not things which, as in the current "confident agnosticism", will be put in place "by themselves."
Jesus continues to tell us: "Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28). Does He use those possibly "metaphorical images" to urge us to engage in social work? It is certainly the duty of the Christian "to engage in social work", but this work in itself does not "save the soul." You will receive salvation from Christ - in all its dimensions - in diligently following the Christ of Scripture, when the Spirit of God regenerates your spirit, "straighten" your mind and "reform" your behaviour, according to the revealed will of God. This not only in terms of its relations with others, but especially in terms of its relationship with God.
Paolo Castellina, November 13, 2011