salvation: [ Latin salvatus, past part. (to save); fr. assumed Indo-European solu- (to make whole or complete again) ]
The core biblical meaning of 'salvation' has to do with being rescued from danger or death. Indeed, that is what the name Yeshua (Jesus) means : 'he rescues'. It is what the crowd shouts as Jesus entered Jerusalem that last time before death: hoshi'annah, 'save us!' (in this case, from the Romans).
You are rescued by Christ's work, the work of one who knows what we're going through because He went through it Himself. You didn't make it happen; it is only God's doing. We are saved not because we want to be saved (we don't want to be saved), but only because God wants to save us. God needs no help from us. God wants and intends that we are all saved. Salvation is a gift given because God favors us even though we don't and can't merit it. (That is what is meant by grace.) God will not force it on us; God's gift is lost on those who spurn it through wanton sin and rejection of Christ. It works in us through faith.
Saved From, For, and By
Salvationhas already been done (by Jesus on the cross). It is happening now (in each believer), and it will come to fruition in the future (when Christ returns). Salvation is also power in life: saved people have the fruit of the Spirit developing in them, and the support of the Spirit in doing what the Spirit leads and empowers them to do.
Many of today's Christian writers and pastors choose to express this slightly differently than in the past. They're re-stating and re-balancing their soteriology. From about the fifth century AD on, the main theme of salvation-talk in Christian thought and in sermons has been about what we are saved from. But people have heard that part of it non-stop for centuries; they're so used to hearing about it that it goes in one ear and out the other. So, everyday Christians and Christian thinkers are talking a lot more about what Jesus has saved us for. Salvation is, in part, about being restored to wholeness, which was a part of the early Christian view that was neglected for so long. And, salvation is being described more often as being a part of a larger work: God at work saving all of creation, to make a new world, called 'God's Kingdom'. Or, to speak more 'theologically': the salvation of each person is a microcosm (a small version) of Christ's work in rebirthing all of creation. And the rebirth of the universe is a macrocosm (a huge version) of what Christ did in us and for us. The important thing is to keep in mind the only One whom we are savedby. All this talk is dung unless we trust Jesus.
Christ rescues us from:
sin (our broken relationship with God, shown mostly in our broken relationships with each other);
death (we die because we are kept apart from God because there is something in us that rebels against God -- Christ addresses that, overcomes it, transcended it, and is working to complete it in the future);
captivity (we are set free from all that shackles and hinders us);
the Devil ("deliver us from evil");
the wrath that is to come (when Time ends).
Christ rescues us for:
a restored relationship with God (reconciliation) and life with Christ without end;
new wholeness or completeness of being;
citizenship in Christ's Kingdom;
new realms of possibility beyond what we can now imagine.
"Not the labors of my hands
could fulfill thy law's demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone.
Thou must save, and Thou alone."
--- "Rock of Ages", by A.M. Toplady.
What Is Redemption, and to Redeem?
redeem and redemption [< Latin
redimere (to redeem) < emere (to buy)] To recover ownership by way of payment; to buy back. Related words are to reclaim, restore, win back, retrieve, and pay off.
In religion, it means to make good on the price of the consequences of crime, sin, or error, and thus to make the person free from the captivity or cost that is the penalty for the crime. In Christianity, it is the primary way to describe what Jesus has done -- his death was the price of our sin, releasing us from captivity to sin. There are other ways to describe what Christ did, but the courtroom image catches an essential facet of it: he took on the ultimate consequences of your decisions, in your stead. Thus, one of the key titles of Jesus is "Redeemer". It's important to remember that redemption is about you, but also not about you. You are redeemed, but only as part of God's larger redemption of the human race and, indeed, all of created existence.
"... we shall be redeemed with world, not from it." Jürgen Moltmann, *The Spirit of Life*, p.89
soteriology: God-talk about salvation (Greek soteria ). Non-Christian religions, such as Islam and Buddhism, have their own soteriology, but it plays a very specific role in the Christian faith. For Christians, it deals with core questions about Jesus and what he did, and still does through the Holy Spirit. Jesus saves -- it's even in the meaning of his name, Yeshua ('he saves') -- but what does that mean? How does Jesus save? Why? Saving from what, for what, for whom? And what does that have to do with me, and how I live my life as a saved person who is part of a saved people? Those are questions of soteriology. There are some theological topics that theologians tend to think they know more about than they actually do; soteriology is one of these.
"Soter" (Saviour) was a Greco-Roman term used by many of the Mediterranean nationalities to describe their human heroes, the ones who would save them from various calamities. (For instance, Caesar Augustus was often called 'soter'.) The word was politically-charged, bearing an assumption of ultimate loyalty to your soter. In that way, it is like the word 'Lord'. Because of that, the earliest churches rarely called Jesus the 'soter'. But as caesar-worship petered out and the old paganisms faded away, the Church felt free to use it more often.
What is Vicarious?
vicarious: someone else did it, and you got the benefit. Christians believe that whatever 'it' was that keeps you apart from God (orthodox Christians call 'it' by the name of sin, but some also use other words to describe it), 'it' was decisively dealt with by Jesus the Christ. He took care of it. None of us were around then, and none of us took part in the deed, but we sure reap the benefit of a new relationship with our Creator. This is called the "vicarious atonement" by those who speak theologese. While what Jesus did is fully vicarious for you, that does not mean God will allow you to sit back and mooch off of it. Now that Christ gave you your salvation, he calls on you to serve and to spread the good news. That's two things which are not meant to be vicarious; you're to do them in person.
And just in case you're thinking it: "vicarious" does not mean 'something done by a vicar'. Yet, the two words have the same source. A vicar was, originally, a substitute for a higher-level minister. Christ was a substitute too, for us when we are sentenced for sin, and for the animal in ancient animal sacrifices for sin.
What Is Epistemology?
epistemology [ < Greek : episteme (knowledge) + logos (word, theory, study). The word was originally popularized by the philosopher James Frederick Ferrier.] The philosophy of the ways, grounds, and scope of how we know and understand. Epistemology looks at what makes up the knowledge-base of our way of viewing the world. Epistemology is about probing questions such as: What is knowledge? How do we get knowledge? Is knowledge like truth, or belief, or learning? And to what extent should knowledge be doubted or trusted? The ancient Greek philosophers such as Socrates and Plato probed these questions as they sought to build a base of firm knowledge. Christian thinkers also ask questions of epistemology, with widely-varied rigor. Scholars and philosophers argue about how we learn and know from 'a priori' (from before you come to the matter, from reasoned thought, usually triggered by other people's reasoning or from writings) or 'a posteriori' (your experiences and observations on the matter as you go through it, and thereafter). Much of your time is taken up with learning what you can a priori before life's experiences kick you in the a posteriori.
"Epistemic humility" is about understanding the limits of our ability to know, especially for matters that are hard to quantify or measure. We know there's only so much we know, only so much we can know. There's even more that we don't know, and the latter includes much that we think we know. Without epistemic humility, I would merrily go on my way with the belief that I am right, you are wrong, and that means you should do (or think) things the way I want you to. This is the pride which goes before many a thinker's fall.