I recently read a quote on a Web site recently that struck me as provocative, if not altogether theologically accurate. The owners of a particular agribusiness described their purpose with these words: "We are in the redemption business: healing the land, healing the food, healing the economy, and healing the culture. Writing, speaking and farm tours offer various message venues."
Now I've seen a lot of mission statements, both for congregations and organization, but I've never read one quite like this. This one is unique for several reasons. But is it right?
Redemption is the central category of Christian theology. It explains the Christian proclamation of Jesus as the Christ, as our redeemer and savior. The English word "redemption" literally means a buying back. The term is closely associated, but distinct from, other terms like atonement, and reconciliation. Salvation might be the broadest term to describe all three: redemption, atonement and reconciliation. All of these terms refer to a gracious transition from one state to another: from bondage to liberation.
The underlying assumption of orthodox Christian theology is that redemption takes place by God's grace through Christ. It comes through what he has done for humanity. There are differing theories about the nature of this redemption, and how it is precisely accomplished, but there is no disagreement among serious Christians that this is Christ's work accomplished on our behalf.
Though the church has had debates about how Christology, justification and the eucharist affect redemption rarely has the word been explicitly defined. Read that sentence again. It is a remarkable statement and one generally agreed upon by academic theologians. We have sought to understand and define sin and grace, the church and sacraments, creation and eschatology and Christ and mission. Redemption includes all of these discussions yet most still conclude that it is fundamentally about deliverance from sin and death and the renewing of self and society through Christ alone.
The Hebrew uses two terms to describe redemption. One means "to purchase or ransom" while the other refers to redeeming relatives from slavery or the redemption of property from foreign owners. This last concept gets very close to the use made by the Web site I quoted above.
The New Testament spells out the meaning of redemption with a myriad of symbols, images and terms. These terms and symbols are cultic, legal, medical, cosmic, social and political. This underscores how rich and varied the term redemption really is, a fact lost on many fundamentalists. From these terms the church, both East and West, explored the idea of redemption over the centuries and developed a rich tradition related to this term.
If corruption and death are the primary effects of human sin then the primary effect of Christ's redemption will necessarily impact the whole created order. Human nature is deified by the incarnation, for by becoming human Christ restored the divine image in humans and therefore effected our deification. This language sounds odd to most evangelicals but it is historic, biblical language if understood and used properly. It is also magnificently expressed by the Orthodox Church far better than it is in the traditions of the West.
Sensing the importance of eschatology, properly related to Christ and his kingdom, the most famous theologian of the last century, Karl Barth, made eschatology the locus for redemption. He distinguished between reconciliation and redemption. Christ's life and death accomplished the reconciliation of the world with God but God's Spirit is still at work in the world bringing about redemption in both the church and society as we become the subjects of his grace.
This subject of redemption is vast thus a short blog cannot do it real justice. But the more I think about the mission statement that this Christian farmer made about his life and business the more I have to agree with it. It is provocative but it is deeply biblical, though it might at first glance seem odd to some. It is surely worth pondering by those who work for the glory of God in the redemption of all creation.