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What does salvation mean in Progressive Christianity?

Q&A WIth Rev. Dr. Robin Meyers

Question & Answer



Q: By Nancy Rowles

Growing up and attending a southern Baptist church, I was constantly aware of the term salvation. I am now, thankfully, attending a more progressive and open minded church (PCUSA), but still hear this word. I have never been comfortable with this term and would like to know how you see salvation and what it actually means in progressive Christianity.

A: By Rev. Dr. Robin Meyers


Dear Alice,

Great question, and a perennial one for those who grew up in more conservative churches where “salvation” meant believing certain things in order to get certain rewards, especially the assurance of going to heaven.  Your discomfort comes from critical thinking, since to be “saved” assumes that you are lost and cannot save yourself.  It also assumes that we are born into Original Sin as an inheritance, like being born left-handed or with red hair.  Like so much of the language of evangelical Christianity, the “believer” is helpless and hopeless until we submit to a higher power.  Or, more accurately, until we agree to say that we “accept Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior” and know that our sins were forgiven by his death on the cross.  It also assumes that the whole purpose of the life of Jesus was to die, when in fact he was killed.  So, when you begin to consider old words like “salvation” and what they might mean in progressive Christianity, it is always helpful to turn to the wisdom of Marcus Borg, whose work in helping us reconsider and even redefine words like salvation is found in a book called “Speaking Christian.”  Here are some of his words on this topic that I hope will be helpful:

The term “salvation” and the concept afterlife have been linked in Christian and religious conversation. Salvation has been made to be about gaining a “positive” afterlife.  It has become a normative thought that this is the point of all religions—to ensure a happy eternal resting place.  Borg would argue that the goal of the Christian life is salvation—but not primarily about before or after death . . . The best single English synonym for “salvation”—“transformation”. Transformation of ourselves and the world. It’s about personal transformation and transformation of society as a whole. Salvation can be experienced as healing—a salve. Salvation is a healing ointment. Giving the transformation from blindness to seeing. In Eastern orthodoxy—primary definition of salvation is enlightenment. Jesus came as a light in our darkness, etc. This speaks to the idea of living people who are dead inside—salvation being the transformation from death to life. Moving people from pre-occupation and anxiety to presence and compassion. Salvation is about the individual transforming and also the transformation of the world, transformation from a world justice to a world of justice. Transformation from a world of war to a world of peace.

~ Rev. Dr. Robin Meyers

This Q&A was originally published on Progressing Spirit – As a member of this online community, you’ll receive insightful weekly essays, access to all of the essay archives (including all of Bishop John Shelby Spong), and answers to your questions in our free weekly Q&A. Click here to see free sample essays.

About the Author
Rev. Dr. Robin R. Meyers is retired senior minister of Mayflower Congregational UCC Church, Oklahoma City, Distinguished Professor of Social Justice Emeritus in the Philosophy Department at Oklahoma City University, where he still teaches.  He is the author of eight books on religion and American culture, the most recent of which is, “Saving God from Religion:  A Minister’s Search for Faith in a Skeptical Age.”  More information is at

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