Book Review: So Great a Salvation

So Great a Salvation Soteriology in the Majority World Book Review

This book piqued my interest as it concerns one thing that I am fascinated by – soteriology, ie what it means when we talk about being saved – and a concept I am increasingly engaging with, namely theological reflection from diverse sources. In this book, nine individuals sharing a concern for biblically informed theology explore what ‘salvation’ means, through the lens of their various contexts. The contributors come from Colombian, Native American, Kenyan, Korean American, Botswanan, Malaysian Chinese, Puerto Rican, American and Chinese American cultural contexts, and the essays (with the exception of American Daniel Treier’s excellent contribution) are profoundly shaped by geography and culture. A particular strength of the book is a strong emphasis on the Bible as the shared book of the Church – across cultures – with all the contributors taking it seriously, and some focusing on particular texts explicitly.
The introduction by K. K. Yeo is a model for how an editor should introduce a collection of essays. Yeo carefully reads and celebrates each chapter – identifying common threads and suggesting fruitful direction for further conversation. Further context is provided by the only essay in the book from a North American perspective, which forms Chapter 1. Daniel Triers ‘The new covenant and the new creation: western soteriologirs and the Gospel’. Trier deftly analyses the eight (Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist, anabaptist, Arminian, Wesleyan/Holiness and Pentecostal) major perspectives in the tradition, noting significant overlap and difference. This chapter is both an excellent ‘field guide’ to key theological emphases on soteriology, and a challenging creative piece of theology: Trier closes the chapter offering a theological interpretation of Jeremiah 31 (and its NT appearance/echo in Hebrews 8:7-13) to suggest a soteriology that encompasses both personal salvation and creation renewal.
Chapter 3, ‘Telling Our Stories: Salvation in the African context’ by Emily J. Choge Kerama, is a beautifully crafted piece of narrative and contextually aware theology. Drawing on her own story (Born into a Christian Kenyan family, with a congenital defect at birth in a culture that shunned such children) and with a particular focus on Kenya, Kerama honestly and critically evaluates the religious and missional context of her culture. In a powerful methodology of inversion, Kerama flips the script: shifting the focus from the problems facing Africa, to the ways that the Gospel is transforming culture. Key takeaways for me from this chapter are the motif of the pilgrim from the Bible, and the challenge of the practice of hospitality. Chapter 4, ‘Luke 4:18-19 and Salvation: Marginalization of Women in the Pentecostal Church in Botswana’ by Rosinah Mmannana Gabaitse is a powerful hermeneutical survey of how Pentecostal churches in Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa interpret and apply Jesus’ famous quotation of Isaiah. This chapter is a robust challenge to Pentecostals to ‘fully realise’ the egalitarian thrust of the Holy Spirit. Gabaitse notes that “Luke’s Jesus was interested in the welfare of women“, and contrasts this with different kinds of patriarchy in the Pentecostal Churches and African Cultures, and suggests strongly (and, in my mind, convincingly) that “A thorough analysis of salvation in Luke-Acts and an analysis of Luke 4:18-19 in particular demonstrates that there is no need for spiritual and social salvation to exist in antagonism“. This chapter, as seems to be common in this book, is a clear invitation to a more holistic, all-encompassing soteriology.
Chapter 4 is one that I found particularly powerful, not least for the complex analysis of liberation theology, and an interesting discussion of the importance of Jesus’ humanity as he embodies the message of the Kingdom of God, as well as some life-giving teaching on the way that humanity participates in the Kingdom of God. Jules A. Martinez-Oliveri, a Puerto Rican theologian, offers us “Con Las Venas Abiertas: The Hope of Life and Salvation in Latin American Theologies”. This is a brilliant example of the power of contextual theology to speak truth to power, with Martinez-Olivieri providing a powerful apologetic for an eschatologically-oriented Liberation theology, which could offer helpful correctives to much Western theological reflection. I particularly appreciate the definition offered here of theological reflection: “Theology, as human discourse done in faith, takes the concerns of the historical moment that shaped the life experiences, cultures and linguistic meditations of their producers. Theological proposals do not enjoy a de-facto transcultural relevance. In Latin American theology, doctrine finds validation in the public orthopraxis of the church. That is, the church community is a visible sign of the truth of Christian theology“. This is a lively chapter, which is sure to provoke further thought from me, at least.
Chapter 5, by Milton Acosta from Colombia, asks an important question with reference to a wide spectrum of work, including that of Miroslav Volf. ‘From What Do We Need to Be Saved? Reflections on God’s Justice and Material Salvation’ is a powerful piece of biblical theology. From within a firm understanding of the realities facing many Christians and other people in the majority world, Acosta beautifully reflects on some of the Psalms that deal with God’s justice, as well as some of the New Testament material that echoes this theme. Echoing the type of literature that the Psalms are, Acosta majors on prayer as part of the way and outcome of doing theology. Chapter 6 represents something of a novelty to this reader – Ray Aldred of the Cree people (indigenous to Canada) offers a sobering and provocative essay, ‘An Indigenous Interpretation of Repentance: A Step on the Journey to Reconciliation’. With a clear and honest grasp of the history of colonisation and subjugation of indegenous people groups, including of their culture, this chapter offers some profound meditation on the role of place and land in the formation of identity, particularly with regards to how that plays into reconciliation. For anyone, like me, who is part of a culture that has historically oppressed indigenous peoples, this chapter makes for sobering but vital reading.
From the other side of the planet, Sung Wook Chung offers us Chapter 7, ‘Salvation as Reconciliation: Toward a Theology of Reconciliation in the Division of the Korean Peninsula’. With a keen awareness of the historical and cultural causes of conflict between North and South Korea, Wook Chung applies the reconcilatiory aspects of the Gospel to suggesting a controversial but Christ-centred resolution to the situation between North and South Korea. Particularly notable in this chapter is the practical use made of the recent retrieval of Trinitarian theology – again, as with other chapters in this book, this particular reflection deserves wide reading and prayerful meditation from other theological perspectives. The final chapter of the book is a careful reading of one of my favourite books of the Old Testament. Elaine W. F. Goh sketches the outline of ‘Qohelet’s Gospel in Ecclesiastes: Ecclesiastes 3:1-15, 7:15-22, and 11:1-6’. Rooted in her own understanding of Chinese culture and spirituality, Goh offers a creative reading of the text that stresses human limitation in a biblical way, but also offers hope to people from a Chinese context. This chapter is a beautiful example of a theologically informed and pastorally and cultural sensitive reading of Scripture, that I will return to and would recommend to pastors and preachers.
Overall, you can probably tell that I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Bringing together some genuinely diverse perspectives is one thing – to do so in a way that points toward Jesus and the Kingdom of God across and through that diversity is another. So Great a Salvation is a brilliant achievement – offering some beautiful, raw and provocative perspective on familiar texts and themes. I would hope that this book would find a wide reading amongst those thinking seriously about what the Gospel is and does, and I also think it would be useful reading for those who are keen to embrace a diversity of orthodox theological perspectives from across the worldwide church. It is not for everyone – the book is probably aimed at well-read church leaders, students and scholars, based on language and style – but for those who will benefit, this is a very helpful book.

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