I. Salvation Is a (Threefold) Way to 'Life Abundant'
A 'folk' view of salvation is of one instantaneous conversion yielding the promise of heavenly fellowship with God.
This is an adaptation, with slender biblical warrants, of a Platonistic vision of redemption.
Then what is Christian (especially church) life for?
And why are the stories of Christians interesting, inspiring, and helpful?
N.T. Wright: "After we believe," Christians live in new ways that 'anticipate' new creation.
The Bible is full of material concerned with Christians' imaginative, moral, and spiritual lives.
New Testament apocalyptic stresses behavior's eschatological consequences
of (so James) "sin leading to death" and receiving "the crown of life."
Later, Christianity articulates these concerns in the Greco-Roman language of vice and virtue.
Medieval spirituality concerns God's process of bringing us into personal interior order and loving union with God.
The transformation happens as God moves us along what come to be called
the purgative way,
the illuminative way, and
the unitive way (Dionysius the Areopagite).
These are originally seen as simultaneous (Bonaventure),
We can draw more loosely on them to expose dynamics of formation in Christian life.
II. "Behold!" The Illuminative Way
We have life from the Father (James 1:17)
through Jesus Christ, "light from light" (John 1:4-5).
The Bible's storytellers show us what they saw ("Behold" in especially the Gospels and Acts).
Followers receive illumination (sight through the Son, illumination through the Holy Spirit)
as they heed the Father's will, and sometimes as they collide with it.
The cross is prophetic, illuminating: facing it saves us (John 3:14-15). Theoria, illumination, brings us out of sin's darkness and foolishness into light and wisdom ("And Can It Be").
Receiving salvation's gift of life takes us on a way that is as messy as life itself.
Living in trust that is grounded in this knowledge is truly Christian faith.
Illumination is a process, not just an instant (Mark 8:22-26, Philippians 1:9-11).
Famous messy stories of illumination include
Joseph, Moses, Solomon, the Queen of Sheba, the Twelve, the Easter witnesses, Paul, John of Patmos, Perpetua, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Julian of Norwich, Martin Luther, Ignatius of Loyola, Karl Barth ...
Illuminative practices include
faithful (and, by grace, unfaithful) life, worship, education/Bible study, preaching/prophecy, words of knowledge/visions, friendship, listening, mindfulness, analysis/contemplation, journaling, pilgrimmage, testimony.
III. "Go!" The Purgative Way
American 'folk Christianity' rarely goes beyond the idea of an eternal, disembodied "life after death."
In the contexts of Israel, Jesus, and the Church, these are not finally alternatives,
but a sequence: of calling, deliverance, apostasy, ruin, and restoration in the face of God's blessings.
"Heaven and earth will pass away": We (and all things) have death in the Son
according to the will of the Father (who kills and makes alive; Deut 32:38-39 beneath Rev 1:17-18)
through "the way of the cross."
Deuteronomy's (and the Didache's) two ways, of life and death, actually lead to a multiplicity of outcomes in the NT:
death, disposal, and punishment; and
life, fruitfulness, and exaltation.
Appreciation for these outcomes
deteriorates in the patristic, medieval, Reformation, and modern eras.
If the illuminative way concerns death and life,
the purgative way concerns disposal and fruitfulness.
Katharsis or disposal in transformation:
Leaving to follow (Luke 6:20-26, 9:22-25, 9:59-62, 10:4, 12:32-34, 14:25-33, 18:18-30, 21:34-36).
Pruning for fruitfulness (John 14:31b-15:11).
Freedom from slavery to sin (Rom 6:1-14) and crucifixion of the flesh (Col 3:1ff, Gal 5:16-24) for sanctification.
Letting enough be enough (1 Peter 4:1-7).
Character freed from distraction, impulse, and instability faces the future virtuously,
with hope that perseveres (Rom 5:1-5).
(Purgation and edification depend on each other: Luke 12:24-26).
Stories of detachment and fruitfulness include
Abraham, Ruth, Josiah, Daniel, Rahab, exiled Israel, Job, John the Baptist, the woman at the well, the Twelve, Paul, Basil of Caesarea, Francis of Assisi, John of the Cross, John Wesley, Amy Carmichael, Mother Teresa, Thomas Merton ...
IV. "Come!" The Unitive Way
Protestant theology's hallmark has been justification by grace through faith:
God regards us as having Jesus' ('imputed', 'alien') righteousness.
This is a 'forensic' effect of fellowship with God.
Other effects can be neglected.
The unitive way concerns the third pair of consequences: shame and exaltation.
In fact, we (and all things) gain more than just an end to our unworthiness:
New creation is resurrection through the Holy Spirit
of all that is by, in, and for the Son (1 Cor 6:16, Phil 4:10-11).
Fellowship with YHWH, our relational God, also yields likeness: sanctification and glorification (2 Cor 3:17-18).
Common ethics of rule-following ("righteousness based on Torah") and personal authenticity ignore
the character transformation that comes from 'anticipating resurrection' (Col 3:1-4).
Beloved, lost, and loving back: the "S curve" of interacting wills in salvation.
Images of 'new will':
"The prodigal God" reunites with his wandering son (Luke 15:11-32).
Abandonment (= wrath?), sacrificial pursuit, relief, gratitude, and assurance.
Bernard of Clairvaux's The Four Loves. Theosis, or 'divinization' (cf. 2 Pet 1:4).
Stories of union and exaltation include
Enoch, Moses, David, Esther, Mary (especially in later Mariology), the Twelve, John the Evangelist/the Beloved Disciple, Gregory of Nyssa, Dionysius the Areopagite, Gregory Palamas, Teresa of Avila, John Calvin, George Fox, Evelyn Underhill, Mother Teresa.
Unitive practices include
Praise, prayer, sabbath-keeping, communion, "Spirit baptism," charismata, fruit of the Spirit, marriage/ordination/monasticism, hesychasm, martyrdom.
V. Relating the Ways
Are the ways simultaneous and mutually interdependent,
or sequential (beginning, proficiency, perfection)?
Is their traditional sequence problematic? Does it even revert to Platonism?
Is walking them formulaic, or personally unique?