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Treasure in the Field: Salvation in the Bible and in Our Lives.

TREASURE IN THE FIELD: SALVATION IN THE BIBLE AND IN OUR LIVES. By Robert Krieg. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2013. Pp. x + 165. $19.95.

Even centuries before it became a tractate, soteriology was really a harnartiology. God acted through Jewish rites and the death of Jesus to redeem humanity from its sinful state, original and personal. Even the outpouring of the Spirit was for the forgiveness of sins. Contemporary soteriology moves from this "redemption from" to "salvation in" a restoration of humans to their full authenticity, personal and social.

Krieg, professor of systematic theology at Notre Dame, moves from the "literal sense" to the text's "spiritual sense" to retrieve for his undergraduate students the biblical teaching on salvation, and to recast salvation in contemporary terms of our personal wholeness. God creates humans to be an individual ("I"), social ("we"), and responsible agent ("doer"). By choosing radical theonomy or radical autonomy over theonomy, humans sin and so are alienated from their authentic selves. They need conversion from the false self to the true self. Suffering is a challenge to belief in an all-powerful and all-loving God, but, as a result of freedom, suffering can also be retribution and purifying love. Both prophetic and apocalyptic eschatology provide hope for a divinely achieved happy ending through a messianic figure. The final three chapters present Jesus as the messianic bearer of salvation in God's reign, whose passion, death, and resurrection finally reveal who he is as full personal wholeness and source of our salvation. The "Lamb that was slain" has already conquered evil and death, and so is the divine covenant that God will eventually destroy the world's corrupt powers.

K. sums up his book in the paradox of love and freedom. God is both the divine "I" and the divine "We," the agent of our salvation through the work of the Holy Spirit. God draws us into the divine union of love in Jesus Christ through the Spirit. God empowers us to become freely individuated, and so the treasures for whom God sells all to buy. Living in the triune God is salvation.

This is not a systematic soteriology but a biblical soteriology with some contemporary understandings. On the literal sense, K. is a good guide to the background, sources, and literary forms of the Bible. But throughout the book he reads contemporary understandings into the text and ascribes them to the biblical author. By having God supply a helping partner, the Yahwist does not say in Genesis 2:18-24 "all genuine encounters between human persons are simultaneously encounters with God" (8-9). Jesus did not intend the treasure in the field (the kingdom of heaven in Matthew 13:44) to be interpreted as our authentic selves for whom he will give his life. Other examples abound. The uninitiated undergraduate might easily draw the conclusion that anything in the contemporary Zeitgeist is the fuller sense of the Bible. To get to these deeper meanings one must argue from a middle term, derived in systematic theology from one's psychology, philosophical anthropology, or literary theory--in the manner of John Haught in his classic Religion and Self-Acceptance (1976).

K. is sometimes undone by inaccurate language. He asserts that "God does not program us to accept God as our source or our goal" (22), when he means God does not determine us. (If God is not programmed into human nature, then choosing God is heteronomy, not theonomy.)

For all his emphasis on the authentic self, K.'s description of human authenticity in the Bible falls short of how Jesus describes it in the Sermon on the Mount, or as Paul does in his trenchant passages in Romans. Even the contemporary notion of authenticity has been better articulated by Josef Goldbrunner's Holiness Is Wholeness (1955). Finally, biblical salvation is more social than the individualistic freedom that K. affirms for his contemporary readers.

In spite of these methodological shortcomings, the book is a valuable text. It is a mine of pedagogical analogies for teaching biblical truths: our human situation as falling into a pit, or God as a choir director. K. illustrates salvation from folktales, biblical fiction like Jonah, contemporary literature, movies, and personal experiences of contemporary persons of great stature. He offers insightful comments on the false self, radical heteronomy and autonomy, and frequent reprises of the interrelationship of freedom and love. His doctrinal concepts are rooted in reality, even if his method does not support them. His best chapter is a brilliant exploration of the opaque mystery of human suffering. Most of all, K. reminds us that soteriology is not primarily about redemption from sin, but about God's creation of "new heavens and a new earth" (Isa 65:17) by incorporating us into the divine life of the Trinity. That is salus.


St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish, Port Townsend, WA
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Author:Topel, John
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2013
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