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Soteriology:  Ways of Salvation and Liberation 



Soteriology can be defined as a study of the ways of salvation by religious traditions. The word “salvation” comes from the Latin word for “health, wholeness.”  While it may not be appropriate to use this term in every case, it is a fact that every major religious tradition teaches that human beings are in need of  need of transformation, deliverance or wholeness.  In this unit we will focus on three major ways of salvation found in the major religions of the world. Keep in mind, however, that these paths to wholeness are not necessarily mutually exclusive; moreover, although one path may be dominant in a religious tradition, other paths or "ways or being religious) are also present.  

The Way of Grace through Faith

  Faith refers to “the total response of a person – heart, mind, and will.” It implies not simple intellectual assent, but a trust in divine grace and unmerited love. Examples of the salvation through faith include Protestant Christianity as articulated by Martin Luther and Mahayana Buddhism as taught by Shinran.
      Martin Luther (1483-1546) was the leader of the Protestant Reformation in Europe. Through his own struggles and doubts he came to the conclusion that salvation or righteousness is attained not by good works, but by God’s grace through faith alone. Righteousness thus is a gift simply to be accepted by faith rather than a reward for one’s own achievements.  This is not to say that good works are unimportant.  Rather, good works flow naturally from those who have been saved by grace through faith.
      Amida Buddhism: Shinran (1173-1262 C.E.) was a Buddhist teacher who advanced the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Amida.  In Mahayana Buddhism, Amida was the celestial Bodhisattva who was most concerned with the earthly beings.  Amida used his merit to create a world that would provide people the perfect environment to reach enlightenment and Nirvana. Shinran came to believe that it was impossible for a person to do good works and thus through good karma to achieve Nirvana. The only way to be released from the endless cycle of births and deaths is by trusting only in the mercy of Amida, whose out of compassion brings the person to his perfect land.  It should not be assumed that the way of faith is easy, however;  rather, it is extremely difficult because human pride always tempts us to seek salvation by our own deeds rather than by relying on Amida.

The Way of Devotion

Livingston suggests that the way of devotion is usually a component of the way of action and the way of faith.  Devotion is usually an intense, emotional sense of love and loyalty  to a deity for his/her kindness and grace.  In addition, the way of devotion is often characterized as deeply personal and even ecstatic.

Examples of the way of devotion are numerous and include  many different religious traditions:

  • In Christianity, Protestant Revivalism and the writings of  St. Teresa of Avila reflect ecstatic, emotional experience of God. .
  • In Islam, Sufism is a mystical path that focuses on an ecstatic direct experience of God.
  • In Hinduism, bhakti is an intense devotion to a deity such as Krishna or Kali.