I have tended to use the term "salvation" as an umbrella term for all three tenses of Christ's work (past, present, and future). In other words, salvation is "the entire work of God, from the first dawning of grace in the soul, till it is consummated in glory” (John Wesley, “The Scripture Way of Salvation” I.1). Although I still agree with the implications of this broad use, I no longer consider “salvation” to be the best all-encompassing term.
Because of the way Paul uses the term salvation generally in his letters and specifically in Romans 5. In verse 8 he utters that classic insight that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. That’s in the past tense. Then he goes on to say in verse 9 that all the more now we have been justified. That’s a perfect tense, which always has a present effect. Plus there’s the “now”. Finally, Paul goes on to say in verse 9 that we will be saved through Christ from the wrath. There’s the third tense: future.
Will be saved? What? I thought you are supposed to get saved (past tense) or be saved (present tense). Salvation isn’t something we wait for, Paul. Or if it is, that is certainly just one aspect, just one tense of the whole work of God from past through the present into the future, right? It looks like Paul uses the term "salvation" in the narrow sense I’ve been trying to flee: being saved from the wrath of God at the end of time. And he and the rest of the NT authors seem to use it in this sense consistently.
What’s the alternative?
The idea that Christ’s work includes all three tenses is a good idea. I think it is worth keeping. And it seems to be a biblical pattern as the above notes suggest. But if “salvation” is not the big umbrella term for the whole of Christ’s work, what is? I submit that we simply follow Paul’s pattern here too. Throughout this very passage, as well as in the rest of his letters, Paul repeatedly uses a term that is not temporal specified: reconciliation. Reconciliation. Now that’s a term that can hold the weight of “the whole work of God”: atonement, justification, salvation. Reconciliation. That’s a word that can naturally be formed into all three tenses: past, present, future. Reconciliation. That’s Paul’s “big word” for the whole work of God from beginning through the middle to the end.
May I dare suggest we use it too?
Are there reasons not to?
Has it fallen out of common usage for a reason?
Are there reasons I missed for retain the broad sense of “salvation”?
If neither is good as an umbrella term, what other terms could be used?