“You are the salt of the earth.”

– Jesus to his followers, Matthew 5:13

Those who embrace a Protective Social Action read that verse and primarily think of salt as being a preservative agent. They hear Jesus say, “You are salt, therefore, preserve that which is good in society. Engage in political action that conserves the present social order. Be suspicious of those who come up with progressive ideas or think liberally about reform in society.” To many evangelicals in the 20th and early 21st Centuries, being “salt” means to preserve God’s values in the world.

Those who embrace a Transformative Social Action read that verse and primarily think of salt as a seasoning, something that makes for a more savory life. They hear Jesus say, “You are salt, therefore, go into the world and make it a better place to be. Engage in political and social action that progresses the social order. Be creative with ideas that can make life a more tasty experience for all of God’s created beings.” To the emerging generation of Christians in the early 21st Century, “salt” means to be a blessing to those around them, to actively seek ways to transform society in progressive ways. Paul admonishes the Colossians, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt” (Col 4:6).

I know that this is a stark dichotomy I’ve painted. I’ve done it to make my point (I recognize that, to some degree, both camps would also embrace the definition of salt of the other camp).

I’m just trying to get us to think about that which primarily motivates us in our social engagement. In this over-simplified dichotomy, which of these definitions of salt do you resonate with?

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Anonymous said...

It seems a false dichotomy. If our christ-like self-sacrificial habits, as have also been emulated by non-Christians, are what make the present order function then there is nothing that implies we have arrived and are not in need of renewing the sorts of habits/disciplines we undertake as Christians in order to chang the present order.

I, for one, am quite concerned about the growth of a European-style neo-paganism and sexual libertarianism in the US, but I don't see legal marriage or making all elective abortions illegal as the right venues to focus on in countering such a tendency. As such, my problem with the religious right isn't with their "preservative" intent, but rather how the relative political/cultural naivete of many of them make them easily snookered by their (corrupted) leaders into picking the wrong sorts of battles.

RonMcK said...

I am for the transformative approach, provided it does not use force and coercion.

If we believe in the Holy Spirit, we must go beyond reaction and preservatation.

samlcarr said...

The evidence that we have indicates that Jesus thought of salt's 'purpose' as its savour. "If the salt has lost its savour..."

Ted Gossard said...

I agree with Ron. One question I would ask: Wasn't salt considered both a preservative and used to season food in Biblical times? I remember reading/hearing it was a preservative.

To be the presence of the kingdom of God come in Jesus, in the world, has to be transformative, by nature. Though the question would be, in what way. I see defintely a subversive influence we can exert across the board. Though I'm still not sold on the idea that in this present existence of wheat and tares, we can really have a kingdom of God kind of structure in the political sphere, or other spheres of life- I mean in toto. In other words, for me there is certainly a limitation in this potential for being transformative. For example I think there is much to commend in "America's" form of government. But it has its limitations, just as the "good" Paul talks about in Romans 13 has its limitations, too.

Thanks Bob (had read this, but now make a comment. a good post to ponder and hear others on)

samlcarr said...

We are citizens of a different kingdom. The better citizens we are of our kingdom, the better will our saltiness be.

We will challenge the world to change but whether we will succeed is a different matter.

What counts is our obedience to our King. like our Lord, that will also make us "better citizens", in the truest sense, and in a sense that the world may never understand.

Anonymous said...

All legal change is about wielding the sword of the state differently and so it seems impossible not to "transform" the existing order without having someone say it involves the use of force and coercion.

IMO, the best we can do is treat how we act politically as part of our missional witness and something that we all need to deliberate more on and be more disciplined about...