The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.


Deception and the Hand of God

Can We Still Speak Credibly of Salvation?


by Russell Rathbun

Epistle Reading: Romans 10:5-15

For Sunday, August 7 , 2011: Year A—Ordinary 19

I feel like I should post about the Epistles every now and then. I don’t really like to. A lot of times they feel like essays about particular theological points or ethical exhortations that I am not really that interested in, but, you know, they are in the Bible, so….

Paul sure talks a lot…

Whenever I write about Romans in particular I’m struck by two things: 1) Paul sure talks a lot, and 2) Why isn’t there a more recent translation of Barth’s Epistle to the Romans? 1932 was a long time ago. Any Barth scholars out there? German translator, theology nerds? But I digress.

I like that Paul talks a lot, and he is never more interesting then in Romans, but this week’s Epistle reading leaves me searching for something to preach. In chapters 9-11, Paul is getting himself all twisted up trying to get Israel saved. He wants them to be saved, he is pretty sure God is saving them, he just needs to reason it out.

The thing that keeps getting in the way is that he wants them to confess that Jesus is Lord. And given that Jesus is the end of law, or that the law is contained within Jesus, somehow a devotion to the law could get them there—as long as they don’t interrupt the doing of the law, as Moses puts it, in some way that contradicts Paul and Barth.

Salvation aside.

I want to put the issue of Israel’s salvation aside. That is one of those essay points that I am not that interested in—I am pro Israel’s salvation—just to be clear. But I guess I kind of want to put the issue of everyone or anyone’s salvation aside.

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, Paul tells us. Then he goes on to muse that how can people call on the name if no one tells them, and no one will tell them if no one is sent, and even if they are sent, how are they going to convince them that the God of the most powerful country in the world will save them if they just show a little interest?

Tentative to Credible?

The notion that someone’s salvation depends any human’s ability to communicate across cultural, socio-economic boundaries—even time—seems really tentative.

Of course we can re-interpret what the term Good News means and get free of this conundrum. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring Good News!” Like infrastructure and peace and food and medicine and respect and humility and love. And if those are the things that will free people, save them, give them life abundantly—why don’t we just say those things.

Trying to convince people that our understanding of God is the road to freedom no longer seems credible.

The Hardest Question

Can we still speak credibly of salvation?


Russell Rathbun is a preacher at House of Mercy in St. Paul, Minnesota, the author of Midrash on the Juanitos (Cathedral Hill Press, 2010) and the curator of The Hardest Question.


  1. Jim says:

    I’m intrigued about where you went with this; I’ve been thinking similar thoughts for some time and wish you had written more.

    In what ways does the idea of salvation seem less credible to you?

    Hasn’t the gospel always depended on the witness of frail human beings? Isn’t this in back of Paul’s understanding?

    I think the answer to both of those questions is yes, and yet I feel a certain dissatisfaction with “our understanding of God,” and even with the idea of salvation as I’ve understood it.

    Would like to hear more from you on this if you have time.

  2. CJ says:

    Indeed if the Good News of salvation depended solely upon our communication and diplomatic skills, salvation might end up in the toilet. But….Paul speaks hope amid his frustration. Despite our apparent failings the word of God is still available to us. At times it is a private thing, at times it is directed publically (wrongly or rightly) and sometimes as a holy moment created without thought of personal risk or gain. I am particularly cheered by an article in the New York times about the ladies of Palestine and of Israel frolicking in the waters of community.


  1. Immer die neuesten und besten Bücher im Überblick…

    [...] » Deception and the Hand of God[...]…

How do you read?