Just as the ancients longed for a hero that could bind the cosmic forces that generated suffering, misery and death, we are no less desperate to find an escape from the darkness and chaos we face today. The standard of living and the quality of life for vast swaths of the earth’s population are abysmally low. People lack access to the necessities of life and struggle with the multiple destructive effects that come from loneliness, isolation, and stress. These problems are remarkably complex and defy human efforts to overcome them. Even when we thought we were gaining some ground on them, we saw the exacerbation of all of it all because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The glaring spotlight put on institutional racism at the same time also showed how us much more some populations must endure these problems than others.
As if this was not enough, we have the existential threat of death looming over us. Like Hamlet wondering whether we “dream” when we fall asleep in death, we struggle with an uncertainty that we simply cannot pierce. What happens to us when we die? Will we simply cease to exist or will there be a judgment of some sort, calling us to account for how we have lived and what we have believed?
What we yearn for is salvation. Salvation that unsnarls the chaotic forces destroying life in this world and that shines light on the deep darkness of the grave with the assurance that something good waits for us. We need a salvation that is both earthy and heavenly, one that meets us in the muck of our physical, psychological, political, economic, and social needs and that inspires us spiritually. We need life that is abundant, unmarred by pain and death.
By the same token, since we are not the ancient writers, we need a way to talk about this salvation that is not premised on mythological genres. We need language and concepts that will make sense in a post-Enlightenment, secular culture. We need ways to measure this salvation that will show we are attaining it as individuals and communities of faith as well as sharing it with everyone in need.
By making use of the terms standard of living and quality of life, we have that language and measurement. We can recast the Christian experience of salvation using secular vocabulary and metrics, giving those formed by a secular culture a way of understanding salvation that they have not had before. By linking these terms to eternal life, we ground these ideas in our Christian hope for glory.
These terms are not just helpful for communicating the Christian experience of salvation to those who are outside the church. They also provide those of us in the church new tools for rediscovering what we believe about salvation. We have become so influenced by secular thinking, formed by our regional and socioeconomic situations, and so hardened in our partisan theological traditions that many of us can scarcely articulate what salvation entails without reducing it to fit within our narrow range of vision. By reconsidering the concepts related to salvation, we are challenged to reflect on what we understand salvation to be and expand it.
This more expansive view of salvation is witnessed to when we take the whole Bible into account, finding in it that God has a much larger vision of salvation than our common Christian ways of talking about it would lead us to believe. It is cosmic in scope, caring both for our daily needs in this world as well as for our eternal state. It saves us from physical privation as well as our own pettiness and sin, giving us all we need for our bodies, our minds, and our spirits now and eternally. In short, it offers us abundant life through Jesus Christ. More than that, it invites us to participate in abundant life through providing:
- A way to measure ministry effectiveness that is both meaningful to the Christian faith and to those outside the church.
- A rationale for Christians to start partnering with others of goodwill to strive for the common good.
- A way to start conversations about working for the common good between Christians and secular people.
- A basis for Christians to reach across theological, regional, racial, and socioeconomic divides within the church as joint workers for the good that all Christians believe God wants others to share, especially those who are neediest.
- Ways to start bridging the divide between practices of ministry we long thought to be antithetical, such as evangelism, humanitarian aid, and community organizing.
- Inspiration to start stewarding the good things that we have been given, including our finances, our belongings, our time, and the gospel message.
- Tangible evidence of how the kingdom of God is made manifest now, which provides us hope for the eternal promises of Jesus eternally.
- A warning that we must give an account before God at the final judgment based on not just what we believe but how we have lived.
In all this, this recast and expanded idea of salvation points to practical, empirically verifiable ways that we live into the abundant life of Jesus as we share that abundance with others. And, in doing that, it offers us hope that salvation is not something that is far in the future but rather something that has the power to inspire and unite people now as we look forward to the consummation of God’s work in eternity.
Praise for Participating in Abundant Life
“Mark Teasdale’s new book comes at the right time. In a crisis-ridden world, churches everywhere are challenged to find timely expressions of the gospel. Without a clear and holistic understanding of what salvation means in our day and age, churches will struggle in ministry and mission in their given contexts. Participating in Abundant Life follows a positive approach and is deeply encouraging reading-rooted in Scripture, theologically comprehensive, and convincingly clear in its conclusions. It is a highly recommend resource for students of theology and evangelism as well as for clergy and lay leaders with a ‘bias for the gospel.’”
—Achim Härtner, academic dean and E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism at Reutlingen School of Theology, Germany
“Mark skillfully widens the scope of salvation-connecting back to the concepts of shalom and the kingdom of God-to show that a more holistic and yet deeply biblical view of abundant and eternal life is for both the world now and the world to come. So good, and a much-needed word for the times we’re living in.”
—James Choung, author of True Story: A Christianity Worth Believing In
About the Author
Mark Teasdale (PhD, Southern Methodist University) is E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. He is ordained in the United Methodist Church, has served as director of the doctor of ministry, lifelong learning, and course of study programs at Garrett. He consults with churches locally, nationally, and internationally regarding evangelism, discipleship, and leadership, and volunteers on community boards and commissions in his neighborhood. He is the author of Evangelism for Non-Evangelists, Go: Becoming a Great Commission Congregation, and Methodist Evangelism, American Salvation.