Montoya’s Prophetic Call
“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” –Montoya
In the 1987 movie, The Princess Bride, one of the main characters, Inigo Montoya, delivered what has now become an iconic line. After one "inconceivable!" too many from Vizzini, Montoya looked at him and said, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Is it so “inconceivable” that Montoya’s now iconic line could be applied to some of the most common Christian lingo in modern evangelicalism? When one’s ears are tuned to the New Testament, much of the conceptual meanings carried in the linguistic universe of the modern evangelical church seem strangely out of tune.
For example, the word “salvation” understandably lies at the center of the church’s linguistic universe. Questions like “Are you saved? or “When were you saved?” are often used as means to gauge one’s spiritual testimony. Some of the most common responses to questions like these include concepts such as praying a prayer or inviting Jesus into one’s heart. But how does the Bible define this word? What is the Bible’s conceptual meaning of the word “salvation?”
While an investigation of the Bible’s conceptual meaning of the word “salvation” from just one Gospel passage does run the risk of over extrapolation, the story told in Luke 18:18–30 can offer valuable insight on this issue. In Luke 18:18–30, Jesus interacts with a rich ruler, who is inquiring of him about how one obtains eternal life. Jesus’ response, which was a directive to the rich ruler to give everything away to the poor, has caused some controversy and interpretational angst in the church over the course of her history. A cursory reading of any modern commentary on Luke reveals the debate concerning the meaning of Jesus’ response. But lest one run the risk of divorcing Jesus’ directives to the rich ruler from the concept of salvation, the disciples’ response in v. 26 should be noted. In the midst of a conversation about “eternal life,” “treasure in heaven,” and the “kingdom of God,” the disciples invoke the language of “salvation.”
What’s the point of all this? . . . Jesus and the rich ruler are talking from the start about this issue of “being saved.” Absent from Jesus response are the commands to pray a prayer or offer him entrance into his heart. Rather, when Jesus talks about “being saved,” he utilizes phrases like “follow me.” This conversation between Jesus, the rich ruler, and the disciples indicates that in Jesus’ conceptual universe words like “salvation” and “follow” belong in the same galaxy, because they revolve around the same central definition of “eternal life” and the “Kingdom of God.”
With the voice of the New Testament now echoing in our ears, the common usage of the language of salvation in today’s evangelical church betrays a faulty definition. We keep using these words. I do not think they mean what we think they mean. And so here, Montoya’s iconic line becomes a prophetic call to the church to reexamine closely her central theological concepts against the conceptual context of the New Testament. As Dr. David Platt once wrote, “Our attempt to reduce this gospel to a shrink-wrapped presentation that persuades someone to say or pray the right things back to us no longer seems appropriate.” The pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, once called out similar incorrect definitions of salvation when he identified them as “cheap grace.” Lord, may the voice of your Holy Word echo so loudly in my ears that it challenges and corrects any cheapness or incorrectness that I might place upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ.