“Your Personal Lord and Saviour”.
It is a phrase bandied about by street preachers and enthused evangelists across the denominational spectrum, and it might give the impression that our salvation is the result of our personal assent to something or personal allegiance to someone.
Whilst there is certainly an individual dimension to the confession in Christ, such an individualistic focus seriously truncates the whole economy of salvation. A 1995 essay in the journal Communio by Avery Cardinal Dulles makes clear that, as far as the Catholic is concerned, there is an indispensible “ecclesial dimension of faith”. The confession of faith in Christ one makes individually is inseparable from his or her belonging in that collective known as the “body of Christ”. Indeed, that individual confession comes out of one’s member in that body, and that priority to membership in the social body then renders problematic any claim that it is the individual onto which salvation is effected. In other words, Dulles’ essay draws our attention to a profoundly social dimension in the economy of salvation.
This claim on the social inflection to salvation is not something that is new, nor is it a claim that is exclusively made by Catholics. A homily by Stanley Hauerwas at Duke Divinity School would alert listeners to a theme in the Old Testament that often escapes even the most ecclesially minded Christian – that God’s salvation involved the creation of a holy nation. Moreover, it is in that incorporation into this nation that salvation takes place. In our day, the nation that is the Body of Christ functions as the site of incorporation.
Thus, incorporation into a nation or social body is not just a convenient means to an individual end, but also has a salvific horizon. This would explain why every act of incorporation is given a salvific inflection within popular culture, whether it be finding love (listen to Celine Dion’s “I know what love is” and try to deny it), dancing in the clubs (the coincidence of trance music and quasi-scriptural lyrics is not accidental), or running away from zombies (there is another essay in how the AMC series The Walking Dead is a tale of the striving for redemption by belonging to a community). Each of these acts of incorporation is an attempt to parallel the kind of salvation that God brings about through is forging of a holy nation.