Saviour. If you had asked me what my view of this Christian term meant to me when I was ordained in 1990 I would have responded from a defensive posture. I would have acknowledged the terrible baggage this term brings with it, the way Christian missionaries used it to convert indigenous cultures, the way preachers would suggest that being “born again”, rescued by a Saviour, was the only way to become a believer, the way Saviour sounded to those persons of Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist faith, namely that only Jesus could lead one to God. Such baggage made the word unworkable in a modern era, it was borderline offensive, most clergy ordained in mainline denomination in the 80’s and 90’s would just ignore this term in hopes it would eventually fade away.
But 26 years later I use the term all the time, indeed I think we who believe in living a different way than our surrounding culture need to be saved. In a world where people increasingly love the god of materialism, where the Creation God gave us is imperiled by the good and services we are addicted to, where people have so many choices that a path to a meaningful life seems elusive, being saved by someone or something may be our only hope. For most of our younger people the word Saviour comes without the baggage it carries for people my age and older. Constantly deconstructing the Christian iconography and vocabulary no longer feels fresh and edgy, it now feels dated and irrelevant, especially to those seekers who are spiritual and kicking the tires of all faiths.
Younger people are less troubled by “Saviour” than they are that we Christians remain committed to an institution that is so poor at defining its reason for being. Younger people want to know what exactly we Christians want to save people from. They are a lot less interested in us apologizing for what we did years ago in the same of that Saviour.
Still I think it is essential we learn from our mistakes and in offering this Saviour point out that way we are saved is less through being compelled to do something and more in the apage self-giving love that Jesus modelled, in his life, in his death and in his resurrection. Being saved from a culture of narcissism cannot mean replacing it with something equally problematic, namely cultural imperialism. What we are being saved for is not to become part of the American Empire, but rather that we are saved to become the family of God, a household of generousity, awe and deep connections.
I now feel the need to embrace the term “Saviour”, to demonstrate what our culture could find by adopting this Saviour’s way. The Christian church, large or small, is the demonstration plot of what God can do with us. God can save us to live in covenant with one another and with creation in the Creator’s image and purpose.
It’s not just possible but imperative that we be saved.