Over at the White Horse Inn, Mike Horton offers a review and engagement with Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel under the heading, Are You a Soterian? Typical of Horton, it is a learned and even generous review, though clearly concerned and critical and certain points.
I’m partly sympathetic to Horton because in the Reformed tradition many have tried to tie in the story of Israel and the story Jesus to the gospel more than others have (Hendrickus Berkhof being the best example that comes to mind). However, McKnight is quite correct that many Reformed folks have made the ordo salutis the context and content of the gospel (what McKnight calls “The Plan of Salvation”) and simply do not have the theological framework to be able to preach the gospel from the Gospels or even from the speeches in Acts (other than Luke 18.9-14 and Acts 13.39 and only because they use the word “justified,” but even there the word “justified” does not mean what they think it means). This is a real problem! I see it in students and preachers, both local and international. For such folks, the OT is a mash of proof-texts and Jesus is the opening act to Paul.
Horton is in basic agreement with McKnight when he writes:
When the Bible talks about “getting saved” (which it never does in precisely those terms), the focus is on the Triune God saving sinners through the twists and turns of redemptive history, from one end of the book to the other. Typically, where the Bible sweeps me into its grand story of redemption in Christ, many evangelistic presentations reduce that grand story to “me and my personal relationship with Jesus.” We talk about the gospel as an announcement—a promise—that is revealed as a grand drama that unfolds from Genesis 3:15 to the close of Revelation. The gospel isn’t an offer to appropriate, decide, or contract for with Jesus. It’s an announcement—a declaration—of God’s saving accomplishment in Jesus Christ. Promised in the Old Testament, the gospel is fulfilled in the New. The call to repent and believe is not the gospel, but the proper response to the gospel. In fact, the gospel is not a call to do anything—even to believe. The gospel itself is simply an announcement that we are therefore called to believe.
Horton also rightly identifies the key issue as being the relationship between the ordo salutis (order of salvation) and the historia salutis (history of savlation). Horton calls this the gospel in the “narrow” (Rom 4.25; 1 Cor 15.1-2) and “broader” (promise-fulfillment theme) senses – and he rightly affirms both as integral to the gospel. I would add to that by pointing out how Rom. 1.3-4 announces the gospel, while Rom 3.21-27 unpacks how the gospel applies to the believer. So you do have two senses in which the gospel is first announced in the coordinates of redemptive-history and Jesus’ role in it, and then second how the salvation announced in the gospel is appropriated and applied to the believer.
But just when I think I’m on the same page as Horton, he says this: “This announcement is as ambiguous without the news of justification as is the news of justification apart from the Story of Israel and Jesus.” This statement has two problems: (1) It privileges ONE image from Paul’s letters, namely, justification as THE key image for gospel, when other images like reconciliation, rescue, or redemption could be said to be more prevalent and comprehensive for both Paul and the New Testament’s soteriology. Justification is Paul’s contingent metaphor drawn from his little bag of soteriological gems that explains in covenantal and forensic terms how it is that God accepts the ungodly and brings Gentiles into the family of Abraham. But it is not the canon with the canon. It’s not the only image, not even the most significant one! (2) If Horton’s statement is correct, then we are back to McKnight’s original objection, how do you preach the gospel from the Gospels or from the Speeches in Acts if they don’t explicate the gospel in terms of justification? Do the Petrine and Johannine letters contain the gospel, well, in the absence of “justification” terminology, it would seem not. Here’s my beef (and McKnight’s as well): the soterians still need to expand their soteriology, without diminishing the value and richness of Paul’s remarks on justification, but without making it the single model of explicating the gospel.
So I thought Horton’s review was hit and miss, but he’s on the right track in rejecting a simplistic decision-based gospel for a more comprehensive one. And he’s right again that in the Reformed tradition there are authors and resources to help us bring the ordo salutis and historia salutis together. But Horton rehearses some of the key problems that McKnight warns us about. In the end, we need the Reformed soterians to not necessarily give up their justification blanky, but to sew onto it some other pieces of fabric drawn from the material of scripture that will enhance rather than hinder their gospel ethos and proclamation.
Anyway, here is Horton’s closing quote:
I would encourage likely critics of The King Jesus Gospel to hear out the argument, setting caricatures and false choices to one side. There is a lot in this book that should resonate with Reformed Christians. Whatever inaccuracies in his description of the views of others who deserve better, Scot McKnight is reacting against a serious weakness of contemporary evangelism that plays out in church life abundantly. To enthusiastic readers of the book, I’d caution against exchanging one set of reductionism for another. Let’s not polarize into even more extreme camps of “story-people” and “doctrine-people”; “kingdom” and “personal salvation”; “Jesus is Lord” and “Jesus is Savior.” We can all be evangelical soterians, rejoicing in the gospel as the Story of Jesus that proclaims the only one who saves us from our sins. Despite my concerns, this is a great starter for some remarkably important conversations