Sin, salvation, grace, damnation, repentance, revival, judgment, forgiveness, soul-winning, heaven, hell

The following set of words has the capacity to annoy and intrigue me: sin, salvation, grace, damnation, repentance, revival, judgment, forgiveness, soul-winning, heaven and hell. This is the vocabulary I learned in the church of my youth. These were the signature words for a thousand sermons I heard preached by my Baptist preacher father, my grandfather, and half a dozen uncles whose task it was to save souls and instruct me in how to win more souls for Jesus throughout my own life. The words themselves continue to exert a raw power over my deepest emotions.

My strategy in recent years has been to try redefining the words of fundamentalist faith. A sin, for example, is not a superficial thing like playing cards, learning to dance, or attending a movie in a public theater, as I was taught. Rather, a sin is damage to another human being through malice or neglect. Damnation, for example, is not what happens when a spiteful God sends us to an eternal lake of fire for violating his code of moral behavior. Rather, damnation is what we do to ourselves when we alienate ourselves from the spirit of God within us. Hell is what we create when we destroy the earth that gives us sustenance along with the thousands of species with which we share it. Judgment is what we deserve when we place our own individual welfare above the welfare of our neighbors.

Grace is the unmerited gift of life. Revival is what we need to remind ourselves daily of grace. Heaven is the vision of a world in which we have worked to alleviate suffering, seek justice, care for creation, and heal the broken parts of ourselves.