Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Images of Salvation in the New Testament

Imagery and metaphor are the language of religion. We will all use earthly pictures to convey the meaning of theological concepts.

The Bible is full of images. Think of Psalms and Proverbs and the way that imagery is used. God is called a “rock” and “fortress” in Psalm 18:2. Students of Wisdom are told to write their lessons upon “the tablet of your heart” in Proverbs 3:3. People use that which they understand in order to describe and explain that which they don’t. In the New Testament imagery abounds and is found in the teaching of Jesus at almost every turn. He is constantly comparing the Kingdom of God to this image or that.

But coming to grips with how to interpret this imagery is not always easy. Do we really think God is a literal rock? No, but what does the image tell us about this God?

In her book, Images of Salvation in the New Testament, Brenda Colijn examines some of the more important imagery in the New Testament as it relates to the theology of Salvation. The focus of Colijn’s study is to determine, “What does salvation look like”? (p. 23).

The book is an exercise in New Testament theology. Colijn is aware of the debates and pitfalls that are associated with such a task. She carefully avoids talking about biblically based theology. Rather, her focus is on theology contained in the Bible. She is looking at the theology of the New Testament writers and teasing out what their use of imagery can tell us about salvation. In other words, she does not start with a definition of salvation and then work backwards to find passages that support that definition. She is attempting to allow the authors to communicate their own message about salvation, albeit through images.

The book is descriptive rather than prescriptive (p. 29). She does not outline “the way to salvation” with the various steps one must take. It is also not comprehensive. It does not say everything there is to be said about salvation in the New Testament. In fact, it is more evolutionary in focus. Colijn helps her readers to see how the concept of salvation has developed not just within church history, but within the New Testament itself.

The book has thirteen chapters. In the first chapter she discusses her methodology for approaching the subject. In the next twelve chapters she looks at a variety of images related to topics including Inheritance/Covenant, Deliverance, Slavery, and Election. Each chapter is written at an accessible level covering the topic in an introductory, non-technical way. Each chapter opens with a personal story that helps to connect with the reader. Although introductory, there is sufficient evidence of research and interaction with a variety of scholars. Each chapter is complemented with a bibliography that will help the readers to pursue further reading on the topic.

In the conclusion Colijn lists seven features that rise up in her study and can challenge our theology. They are: 1) Salvation is not first of all about us, but about God; 2) Salvation is based upon the whole career of Christ, not just his death; 3) Salvation requires our allegiance; 4) Salvation is fundamentally covenantal; 5) Salvation is inescapably social; 6) Salvation is transformational, not transactional; 7) Salvation is Eschatological.

Overall this is a valuable contribution that highlights the importance of salvific imagery to our theology. If there is any drawback to the volume it is that the topic of each chapter could be the subject of a separate monograph. On a number of occasions I found myself wishing she would say more. This is not a criticism of Colijn’s work but rather an acknowledgment of the importance of it. All of these are topics that need to be introduced to and understood by students. With the helpful bibliography at the end of each chapter readers will be well positioned to learn more. The chapter on Justification and Faith(fullness) is particularly praise worthy. In 21 pages she skillfully distills down the issues related to the New Perspective on Paul and the debate surrounding subjective and objective reading of genitive nouns. I have decided to require this chapter for my Introduction to the New Testament and Exegesis of Romans class.

Colijn wrote the book for her seminary students, but it would be accessible to the interested lay person as well. I can easily see this book being used as part of a small group discussion. I highly recommend it.

I also want to thank the folks at IVP for sending me a free copy of the book. As has been my habit on this blog in the past, I will give away a copy of the book on Friday. So stop back again on Friday for a chance to win.

Of course that means I won’t have a copy for me, so maybe they will send me another one. J


  1. Please sign me up! It sounds worth buying, but hey, free is good!

  2. Mike,

    The giveaway is on Friday. Stop back then.

  3. I took Dr. Colijn's New Testament Theology class while in seminary. It was one of my favorite courses. Dr. Colijn is a passionate professor who inspires her students to allow God's word to challenge, inform and transform their lives. I am going to have to order a copy of this book because if it is anything like her teaching, I know I will be changed for the better.

  4. Jason,

    Stop by Friday for a chance to win a copy

  5. Yes! A free book giveaway! I was wondering when you were going to have another one. Sign me up please.

    This book sounds excellent. Actually, I will have Dr. Colijn for class next quarter. I have not met her yet, but have heard good things.

    Beth Hoffman

  6. Sounds like a great sermon series! Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

  7. Hebrew children in the Old Testament were born into God's covenant, both male and female. Circumcision was the sign of this covenant for boys, but the sign was not what saved them. Faith saved them. Rejecting the sign, circumcision, for boys, either by the parents or later as an adult himself, was a sign of a lack of true faith, and therefore the child was "cut off" from God's promises as clearly stated in Genesis chapter 17:

    "Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

    What was the purpose of this covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? God tells us in the beginning of this chapter of Genesis:

    "And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you."

    This covenant wasn't just to establish a Jewish national identity or a promise of the inheritance of the land of Caanan, as some evangelicals want you to believe. In this covenant, God promises to be their God. Does God say here that he will be their God only if they make a "decision for God" when they are old enough to have the intelligence and maturity to decide for themselves? No! They are born into the covenant!

    If Jewish children grew up trusting in God and lived by faith, they then received eternal life when they died. If when they grew up, they rejected God, turned their back on God, and lived a life of willful sin, when they died, they suffered eternal damnation. Salvation was theirs to LOSE. There is no record anywhere in the Bible that Jewish children were required to make a one time "decision for God" upon reaching an "Age of Accountability" in order to be saved.

    Therefore, Jewish infants who died, even before circumcision, were saved.

    The same is true today. Christian children are born into the covenant. They are saved by faith. It is not the act of baptism that saves, it is faith. The refusal to be baptized is a sign of a lack of true faith and may result in the child being "cut off" from God's promise of eternal life, to suffer eternal damnation, as happened with the unfaithful Hebrew in the OT.

    Christ said, "He that believes and is baptized will be saved, but he that does not believe will be damned."

    It is not the lack of baptism that damns, it is the lack of faith that damns.