Review of Being Saved: Explorations in Human Salvation edited by Marc Cortez, Joshua R. Farris, and S. Mark Hamilton

July 26, 2022

Cortez, Marc, Joshua R. Farris, and S. Mark Hamilton, eds. Being Saved: Explorations in Human Salvation. London: SCM, 2018, pp. 361, $56, paperback.


Being Saved is a collection of essays circling around the twin topics of “theological anthropology and soteriology” (p. xiii). The essays explore classic systematic theological categories while also engaging with other disciplines of enquiry about the human condition. The editors acknowledge that this creates a wide variety in the essays, but they seek to avoid “a homogenous approach to this multi-levelled discussion” (p. xv). This approach makes clear several different modes of theological enquiry for Christian theology. By juxtaposing them in one volume, it serves as a sourcebook for contemporary questions about soteriology and about the interaction between soteriology and philosophy. Although a four-part division provides structure to the book, some essays fall more neatly into the given categories than others.

The first section, “Sin, Evil and Salvation,” centers on cosmic issues, or those outside the individual person. After initial forays into God and time (“Identity through Time,” R. T. Mullins) and idealism (“Divine Hiddenness,” Trickett and Taber), there are three essays on sin and atonement. Jonathan Rutledge rejects “Retributivism”, defined as the claim that “the punishment of wrongdoers is required because wrongdoers deserve to be punished” (p. 41). He argues retributivism as a philosophical position is open to several objections, and then interprets the book of Romans as coherent without retributivism. Thus, retributivism and its theological counterpart, penal substitution, are to be rejected and replaced with a “restorative” purpose to God’s punishments (p. 51). Joshua Farris and S. Mark Hamilton (“Reparative Substitution”) probe how their own view of the atonement is “efficient”, that is, how it accomplishes something definite. While acknowledging that Christ’s death is a type of substitution, they wish to focus attention on the repayment of honor to God rather than on the endurance of a penalty. Daniel Houck engages with Abelard on original sin, but perhaps a next step would be to apply this to contemporary ways of expressing the doctrine.

The second section is the “The Nature of Salvation” and asks about the ontology of salvific change. What is God actually saving? Contributions from Oliver Crisp (“Theosis and Participation”) and Myk Habets (“Spirit, Selfhood and Salvation”) continue larger projects for these authors. Crisp’s desiderata for a definition of “participation” in God are insightful: (1) a model that is closer than our closest human relationships, (2) one that unifies us with God, but (3) one that does not result in the loss of the individual human. Adonis Vidu (“Ascension and Pentecost”) addresses the sending of the Spirit as part of the divine missions. He seeks to avoid saying that Christ “merits” the sending of the Spirit since this introduces a sense of compulsion into the godhead. Kate Kirkpatrick (“Saved by Degrees?”) finds that the early Augustine viewed salvation as continuous, “an ongoing process of becoming” (p. 135). The payoff from such a focus on “being” is somewhat undeveloped. Benjamin Arbour (“Virtue Epistemology”) calls for deeper interaction between theology and epistemology.

The third section, “The Process of Salvation,” uses the traditional categories of the ordo salutis. Andrew Loke (“Doctrine of Predestination”) defends Molinism against an objection centered on the physical conception of new human persons. How and in what way is God involved in the individuation of new human beings? He believes a Molinist account can draw from both Creationism and Traducianism for explaining God’s involvement, but the “creationist” side is unclear—since it seems, in his view, that the shapes of individual humans (particularly that of Judas Iscariot) exist apart from God’s creative decision. John Fesko (“Priority of Justification”) continues his work of showing how traditional categories of justification and sanctification are distinct yet unified. His interaction with Marcus Johnson evidences how recent discussions that emphasize “union with Christ” are helping to refine a traditional Reformed position on the process of salvation. Adam Johnson (“Barth and Boethius”) emphasizes Barth’s account of salvation primarily through the lens of a “representative substitute.” A consistent emphasis on human identity in Christ should lead to a form of wholeness and security. W. Madison Grace (“Being Christ”) explores Bonhoeffer’s “communal notion of personhood” with special reference to the church as the place in which Christ exists in the world. Such a view should lead Christians to view salvation in communal terms, but the implications of such a view are unclear. James Arcadi (“Redeeming the Eucharist”) uses Edward Schillebeeckx as a resource for exploring the eucharist and justification. “Transignification” means that God “deems” the bread and wine to be body and blood, and so they are. While avoiding questions about substance and accidents for the eucharist, transignification would need to answer (or embrace!) the charge of “legal fiction” when speaking about justification—another form of “deeming.” Paul Helm continues his work analyzing Jonathan Edwards in regard to regeneration (“Regeneration and the Spirit”). There is no doubt that Edwards’s tone and vocabulary differ from earlier Reformed representatives such as Stephen Charnock. Helm appears to see weaknesses in Edwards’s use of the “new simple idea” as a term for the crucial change that brings about conversion. Evaluation of Edwards on this point is still ongoing: if he has appropriated categories from John Locke, in what ways do these categories make his view of regeneration more or less helpful?

The final section, “The Body, the Mind and Salvation,” includes more interaction with philosophical perspectives on the nature of human being. Carl Mosser (“Two Visions”) presents transhumanism as a rival eschatology to traditional Christian views. He finds an alternative in the Christian idea of “deiform perfectibility,” that is, a form of deification. Hans Madueme (“Theological Musings on Mental Illness”) addresses the challenge of mental illness for the Christian category of sin. He calls on psychologists to recognize the importance of sin and sanctification for mental healing. The crucial insight is that sin “truly discloses our hearts” (p. 298 n34), whether or not the act of disclosure is conscious and willed. Joanna Leidenhag (“Saving Panpsychism”) believes that Christian soteriology can be helped and extended by viewing soul as the fundamental reality of the created universe. Such a view would extend hope that a saving experience exists for non-human creatures who have minimal subjectivity. Marc Cortez (“Body and the Beatific Vision”) concludes the volume with an analysis of the resurrection body and the beatific vision. Jonathan Edwards, among others, suggested that the body was necessary for a proper vision of God, but Cortez finds these reasons unsatisfying. Better to speak about the resurrection body as fulfilling other purposes of God such as the image of God and human life in embodied community.

The studies in this book cover a huge swath of contemporary questions on soteriology and theological anthropology. The editors acknowledge the diversity of approaches (p. xv), and especially the different uses of philosophy and theology. A particular difference appears about whether the analytic philosophical tradition can provide a mode of discourse to evaluate theological vocabulary—even when the theological positions have not utilized that mode of discourse. Being Saved sets a full table of options and topics and will be a useful resource for Christian theologians.

Jonathan Hoglund

Hanoi Bible College, Hanoi, Vietnam


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