The church has one thing it can offer that no one else can: forgiveness of sins and salvation. Any secular organization can rectify social ills, provide basic human necessities, and build parks and schools. These are worthy goals, and we should not forget about the physical needs of the people around us. But if we forget that we have a mission and that that mission is preaching the good news of salvation and the forgiveness of sins, then we are salt that has lost its savor. If we are not reconciled to God, no amount of clean water, social justice, and redistribution of wealth will save us.
One of the aspects of the New Perspective of Paul is a focus on the corporate, as opposed the individual, aspects of justification and salvation. In the Christian church today, there is a move by some to “correct” an overemphasis on the individual believer. The desire is to focus on the corporate aspects of Christianity.
One of the best-known proponents of the New Perspective on Paul is N.T. Wright, formerly Bishop of Durham. In his book, Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright explains that the church has misunderstood the gospel and the mission of the church. According to Wright, the gospel is not about saving individual people from their sins, but rather about how God is using His people to redeem the cosmos:
to insist, in other words, that what happens eventually to individual humans is the most important thing in the world – may be to make a mistake similar to the one made by the Jewish people in the first century. To focus not on the question of which human beings God is going to take to heaven and how he is going to do it but on the question of how God is going to redeem and renew his creation through human beings and how he is going to rescue those humans themselves as part of the process but not as the point of it all.
Unfortunately, this stress on the importance of the cosmos is part and parcel of Wright’s theology. Wright truly does believe that the cosmos are more important in the grand scheme of things. He believes that we have become far too focused on saving people and lost sight of our role in redeeming the cosmos.
Not only has the church misunderstood the purpose and overarching theme of redemption, according to Wright, the church has misunderstood the gospel. When Scripture says that Jesus came to save His people from their sins, Wright believes that the point is not so much about individuals being saved from their moral failures, but rather, that Jesus had to come to put God’s rescue plan for creation back on track.
Wright recognizes that his interpretation of the gospel and salvation will have an impact in the work of the church:
As long as we see salvation in terms of going to heaven when we die, the main work of the church is bound to be seen in terms of saving souls for that future. But when we see salvation, as the New Testament sees it, in terms of God’s promised new heavens and new earth and of our promised resurrection to share in that new and gloriously embodied reality … then the main work of the church here and now demands to be rethought in consequence.
What happens when pastors and churches decide that what really matters is how the people of God act to redeem the world around them?