One of my favorite moments in The Deep Things of God is Sanders’ explication of what happens when a culture becomes decadent.  He writes:

“Inhabitants of a decadent culture feel themselves to be living among the scraps and fragments of something that must have made sense to a previous generation but which now seem more like a pile of unrelated items. Decadent cultures feel unable to articulate the reasons for connecting things to each other. They spend a lot of time staring at isolated fragments, unable to combine them into meaningful wholes.”

There are, according to Sanders, two responses to this fragmentation:  one that is conservative, which collects the fragments and treats them as “museum pieces,” and a liberal response that tosses the fragments aside.

That’s an illuminating cultural analysis in itself.  But Sanders applies it theologically, arguing that the fragmentation in our understanding of salvation is actually a manifestation of evangelicalism’s decadent theological culture.  Again, Sanders:

“Is Christian salvation forgiveness, a personal relationship with Jesus, power for moral transformation, or going to heaven? It is all of those and more, but a true account of the thing itself will have to start with the living whole if we ever hope to make sense of the parts. Just think how tricky it is to combine free forgiveness and moral transformation in an organic way if what you are starting with is the individual parts. A dreary back-and-forth between cheap grace and works-righteousness is one of the bedeviling distractions of evangelical experience under the conditions of decadence.”

The solution is, no surprise, an understanding of the Gospel that reaches behind the fragments and sees the whole, which is that God has given himself to us for our salvation.  As Sanders puts it, “The gospel is that God is God for us, that he gives himself to be our salvation. In this sense, as John Piper has said in a series of meditations on God’s love as the gift of himself: “God is the gospel.” He does not give us some thing that makes us blessed, but he blesses us by giving us himself.”

It is only in the Triune life of God that our decadent views of salvation will find both unity and coherence.

There’s still time to enter to win one of three copies, if you haven’t already.  I’ll pick names on Monday.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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