Canadian Mennonite
Volume 8, Number 02
January 26, 2004

Four Spiritual Truths of God's salvation

We need a clear, simple framework to explain our understanding of Christianity, says J. Nelson Kraybill. Here he offers a Mennonite version of the Four Spiritual Laws.

If someone asks you how to become a Christian, can you give a short, clear answer? There are various ways to explain salvation, and theologians write volumes. But in day-to-day witness, many of us need a thumbnail framework to explain the basics of our faith.

In 1965, Bill Bright of Campus Crusade drafted a summary of how to be saved. His “Four Spiritual Laws” are as follows (with his capitalizations):

1) God LOVES you and offers a PLAN for your life.

2) Man is SINFUL and SEPARATED from God. Thus he cannot know and experience God’s love and plan for his life.

3) Jesus Christ is God’s ONLY provision for man’s sin. Through Him you can know and experience God’s love and plan for your life.

4) We must individually RECEIVE Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; then we can know and experience God’s love and plan for our lives.

In booklet form, Bright backed up each of these points with New Testament texts. Seeking to avoid the scare tactics of fire-and-brimstone evangelism, the Four Spiritual Laws emphasized God’s care for each individual.

In Bright’s summary, salvation happens when we put Christ rather than self “on the throne” of our personal lives.

The Four Spiritual Laws booklet ends with this prayer: “Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of the throne of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be.”

The Four Spiritual Laws have had an astounding impact on the worldwide church. Translations are available in hundreds of languages. God has used this instrument to point thousands to salvation in Jesus Christ.

Yet many Mennonites—myself included—have not used this formula for sharing the gospel. This is not because the Four Spiritual Laws are wrong, but because Bright’s summary gives too incomplete a view of salvation.

Anabaptists generally agree that God is love, that humankind is sinful, and that we are separated from God. We believe Jesus is the way for us to be reconciled to God. But the Four Spiritual Laws omit essential parts of salvation. They place too much emphasis on the individual, as if salvation is a private transaction apart from God’s plan to redeem all of creation.

Ways to explain salvation
The Four Spiritual Laws represent one way to explain salvation. The closing prayer reflects “substitutionary atonement” theology, which holds that someone must pay when sin offends God. In this view, Jesus took the punishment we deserve.

Such an explanation can be inferred from the New Testament, and should be included in our theological toolbox, but to use that explanation as the primary way to understand salvation could make God look like an angry deity who “evens the score” with violence.

Ethical, social and political implications of salvation are absent in the Four Spiritual Laws approach to evangelism. The prayer, “Make me the kind of person You want me to be,” is too easily understood as a private commitment to holy living.

In much of the West, “Christian” behaviour is taken to mean attending church regularly and giving up lying or sexual immorality or substance abuse. Appropriate Christian behavior generally is not also taken to mean loving our enemies, sharing possessions, caring for the environment, and giving loyalty to Jesus above nation, class or ethnic group.

Substitutionary atonement teaching did not become prominent in the church until medieval times, with Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109). The church of the first centuries emphasized what was called Christus Victor (“Christ is victor”) theology: In Christ, God intervened in the world to stand up to Satan and his forces of idolatry, materialism, violence and domination. Jesus came to free all of creation from the warping power of sin, showing with his life and teaching what it means to be fully human in the will of God.

The way God intervened in our broken world was by confronting the structures and practices of evil with truth, authority and suffering love. Jesus called the Pharisees “whitewashed tombs,” dined with despised tax collectors, touched lepers, healed demoniacs, calmed the storm, and called followers to lives more holy than the most esteemed spiritual leaders. In so doing he disarmed the powers of evil by taking off their mask of respectability and legitimacy.

Such bold confrontation evoked response, and Jesus absorbed the abuse that followed without hatred or revenge. Jesus called men and women everywhere to become part of the peaceable Kingdom of God. The Gospels—especially the Sermon on the Mount—spell out in practical terms what this kingdom looks like. Salvation happens when, by Holy Spirit power, we “turn around” (the literal meaning of repentance) and move toward obedience and service in the Kingdom of God.

Jesus was more than mere example. He is Lord because he is God-with-us, continuing to break Satan’s stranglehold in our lives and our world.

The same power that raised Jesus from the dead allows us to be victorious over s

in in our lives and confront the powers of death and sin in our world. We become part of “one new humanity” (Ephesians 2:15) in the church of Jesus Christ.

Salvation for our time
Christus Victor theology is a useful way of explaining salvation in our day, when conflict is so prominent. Terrorism threatens the West as people from less economically-privileged regions strike out at our wealth and power. World religions, especially Islam and Christianity, are competing with each other. Brutal conflicts fester in Palestine, Iraq, Colombia and other parts of the world. Species and habitats disappear as human greed or carelessness destroy the natural world.

In this age of conflicting global allegiances, we need to proclaim that Christ “disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them” through the cross (Colossians 2:15).

Salvation surely has a personal dimension, and it means letting Christ be the centre of our individual lives. But we live in hope of a “new heaven and new earth” (Revelation 21:1). We know that God through Christ plans to “reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven” (Colossians 1:20). The gospel message compels us to be involved economically, politically and socially in a world which God seeks to redeem.

Because substitutionary atonement theology accents punishment, it could appear to justify war, capital punishment and other forms of violence that plague our world. If God strikes out at people who do not conform, and even meted out punishment on Jesus at Calvary, why should Christians hesitate to support violence against nations and individuals who transgress? Jesus, however, shows us a better way.

The “Lion of the tribe of Judah” also is the “Lamb that was slain.” He has conquered through the cross and resurrection, ransoming people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:1-9). We who “once were far off [from God] have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace . . .” (Ephesians 2:13, 14). Jesus confronted the powers with truth and has overcome evil with love.

Is there a succinct summary of this salvation theology? I offer my summary (in the box) as an alternative to the Four Spiritual Laws.

No thumbnail explanation will ever do justice to the majestic grace of God in offering us salvation. New Testament authors use a variety of images to explain the meaning of Jesus’ death. We need them all, including vicarious (substitutionary) suffering, sacrifice, redemption, reconciliation, justification and adoption.

But if we must accent one explanation for evangelism today, I opt for Christus Victor. Salvation through Jesus Christ is the triumph of love, not the appeasement of a vindictive God.—J. Nelson Kraybill

The writer is a New Testament scholar and president of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana.

Four Spiritual Truths

J. Nelson Kraybill offers this summary of salvation theology, according to Mennonite understandings.

1) A God of love made you and me in his image as a good part of creation. God wants us to live at peace with our Maker, our world, and one another.

2) Sin destroys harmony in creation when we try to run our own lives apart from God. Suffering, greed, violence and broken relationships result.

3) Jesus died on the cross because he confronted the powers of sin that fracture our world. Jesus healed the sick, forgave enemies and lived in the joy of the Kingdom of God.

4) You can have a new beginning by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. God forgives when we confess our sin, and the Spirit of God enables us to follow Jesus in all of life.

Prayer: God, I have sinned by turning away from you and trying to run my own life. Separated from your love, I am shaped by the powers of greed, lust and violence that bring chaos to the world. Forgive my sin, and let me start anew. Thank you for your Son Jesus, who defeated Satan and brought the Kingdom of God to reality. Give me power to live like Jesus—loving the enemy, sharing possessions, serving others, caring for creation and speaking Good News of your salvation. I commit myself to the church as the body of Christ. I give allegiance to Jesus and his way of forgiveness above every other loyalty. Amen.

Revisiting the 'missional church' vision

When Mennonite Church Canada launched its new structure and program in 2001, a “missional church” vision focused the direction. How has that vision shaped the church? In this two-part series, Jack Suderman offers an assessment.

A missional church is one that organizes its entire life around what it perceives God to be doing. We must learn to “look around and see what we can do to fit in with what God is doing in the world.”

That’s the way Mennonite Church Canada moderator Ron Sawatsky described the missional vision at Abbotsford 2001. What have we done since then?

Primarily, what has happened in these two years is that the missional vision has been thoroughly aired:
• All area conferences in MC Canada have focused at least one of their assemblies on clarifying this vision for themselves.

• MC Canada staff has been invited to well over half of MC Canada congregations to help process implications of the missional vision for their settings.

• Several congregations have adjusted their program and structure to fit the vision.

• Articles in the Canadian Mennonite have focused on many aspects of this vision.

• A Missional Formation Leadership Course is providing dialogue among 50 leaders from across Canada. A similar course is being planned for regions.

• Resources have been generated, including Sunday School curricula and a CD of children’s music.

• A new magazine from Mennonite Publishing Network, Leader: Equipping the missional congregation, was unveiled last July.

• Colleges and seminary have initiated workshops and courses to explore the missional church vision.

• Mission workers, conference ministers and Christian educators have participated in workshops and conversations about implications. Boards and Councils across the church have devoted time to discern this direction for their ministries.

• There has been much informal conversation.
Is it possible to assess the fruits of this exploration? We have received much feedback at MC Canada and I have tried to monitor both written and verbal responses. I will limit myself to broader areas of response.

(There have been three formal “soundings,” one in Canada and two in the United States, on missional emphases. Mennonite Publishing Network asked whether “missional” should be in the title of its new Leader magazine. Canadian respondents were 97 percent affirmative, Americans 80 percent. The Missional Project Team USA asked about the usefulness of missional language. About 78 percent were very positive; another 12 percent made suggestions to make it more effective.)

Positive impact
What seems to be “catching?” about this vision?
Clarifying purpose. For many, these conversations have been a reminder that the church indeed has a compelling purpose in the world. This purpose has been clarified in ways that make sense to people.

Strengthening identity. We have heard that there is a heightened sense of identity as God’s people, connecting with the purposes of God for the world.

Regaining confidence. Clarifying purpose and identity have generated a renewed sense of confidence in being God’s people on earth, even in the face of increasing marginalization of the church in our society.

Energy and creativity. Confidence, identity and purpose are translating into new energy and creativity for ministry. We have heard numerous stories of new initiatives, reshaping of ministries, and more persons willing to get involved.

Alignment. The concept of “alignment with God” is catching. It is both logical and imaginative.

Imagination. With a renewed sense of identity comes a fresh imagination. This relates not only to new ways of doing things, but to an energized understanding of how we are to be an alternative people in a post-Christendom world.

• Global yet local. The slogan “from across the street to around the world” relates to the missional vision by recognizing that God is present in all contexts and that all contexts are in need of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Reciprocal movement. In recognizing the presence of God everywhere, we have gained a new appreciation for the need to learn about God from everywhere. Mission is not a one-way street.

New missionary context. We are increasingly aware that the familiar world of “Christendom” is crumbling. This calls for new assumptions. A missional framework is helping reshape our understanding of the church.—Jack Suderman

The writer is executive secretary of Mennonite Church Canada Witness Council. The second in this series will look at criticisms and successes of the missional church vision.

Copyright for the contents of this page belongs to the Canadian Mennonite. Please seek permission to reprint from the editor .

Canadian Mennonite
490 Dutton Drive, Unit C5
Waterloo, ON
N2L 6H7
Phone: (519) 884-3810
Toll-free: 1-800-378-2524
Fax: (519) 884-3331