Jesus and the Third Spiritual Law

In this the fourth in a five-part set of posts on the Four Spiritual Laws, I will look at the 3d spiritual law:

Jesus Christ is God’s ONLY provision for Man’s sin. Through Him you can know and experience God’s love and plan for your life… The “law” then goes on to point out that Jesus died in our place, that he rose from the dead, and that He is the only way to God — citing Rom 5:8; 1 Cor 15:3-6 and John 14:6 as scriptural proof. The diagram at the bottom shows the chasm between God and Man bridged by the Cross of Jesus.

Whenever anyone shortens the gospel to a tract of this size there are elements that any one of us might wish were present but which aren’t. The issue is whether or not central elements are omitted or whether or not secondary features are raised to be central.

First, again, the focus of this tract is “God’s love and plan for your life.” I see too much Individualism here. I do not dispute that the “plan” of God concerns individual persons being drawn into union with God, but the one-sided focus is obvious. (After all, it might be argued, this is for witnessing to individuals. Which is precisely the problem. An individualistically-shaped gospel produces individualistically-shaped Christians.) I would say that God’s plan is for the world, and that “my” plan is to get into God’s plan for that world.

Second, I like the personal emphasis of the “law”: Jesus Christ is God’s only… It is in relationship with Jesus Christ that the Christian is reconciled to God, to others, and to the world. But, the 3d spiritual law spells out “Jesus Christ” in impersonal categories: he died, he rose. But, to come back, the last scriptural text appeals to Jesus being the Way, Truth, and Life. Once again, personal.

Third, it is the diagram, which is the image that was used in the 2d spiritual law as well, that concerns me. Here there is “Man” and “God,” and it is the Cross of Jesus that enables the human being to get back to God. Once again, we are dealing here with a truncated gospel: the diagram depicts a gospel in which the problem is separation and the resolution is reconciliation. The gospel is always defined by the problem it depicts, and the Bible describes this problem in a number of ways, including but not limited to separation. In other words, if you define the problem as separation, once separation is resolved in reconcliation, the gospel has run its course. Once a person crosses the Cross to get back to God the gospel’s work is done. (Few admit this; but the image seers it into the mind of those who are being evangelized and it leads to Christians who see the Christian life as the “second phase” and not the “gospel” phase; it leads to seeing fellowship/ecclesiology as something in addition to the gospel and not integral to the gospel; it does to the same to holiness, etc..)

Is reconciliation of individuals all there is to it? What then of the Church? What then of the World? Whenever the gospel is understood as an individual person finding his or her way back to God, the gospel is reduced to Individualism — and anyone who reads the Bible knows that page after page is about the people of God (Israel and then the Church) and that the “plan” of God is to build a people for the good of others and the world.

Fourth, I believe the Holy Spirit has to be brought into play whenever we talk about the gospel. Campus Crusade has a tract that led in part to my own conversion, and that tract is happily called the “Bird Book.” It has the title “Have You Made the Wonderful Discovery of the Spirit-Filled Life?” The 4th spiritual law will bring this up as well, but for an accurate depiction of what God does — which is what the 3d spiritual law is doing — we need some Holy Spirit to give a biblical view.

I will bring this matter up again: I am dealing here with the tract, and not with Campus Crusade or with the individual users of the tract. I worked for eleven years with an excellent evangelist and an excellent teacher of evangelism, and he got tired of our carping about the Four Spiritual Laws and urged us to evangelize and quit carping. His name is John Nyquist and my work with college kids has only made me admire his teaching more. My point is this: time and time again we were told that the tract is shaped by the evangelist. I agree and will agree again and again. I know for a fact that many use this tract and take it up into a much wider sense of the gospel in the dialogue. My issue is not with them: the issue is how the gospel is told and I see room for improvement.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/9548318 John Frye

    Scot, will you address the element of time in the gospel? I appreciate your spirit in discussing the tract, not CCC or users of the tract. Regarding time: if the controling crisis is to cross the Cross and get to God, and if assurance is boldly given that you’re now going to heaven when you die, doesn’t this shift the present decision to the afterlife assurance? The convert’s first temporal reference is eternity, not time. Jesus did not say, “Believe in Me and you’ll go to heaven when you die.” He said, “Repent, believe (receive) for the kingdom of God is AT HAND.”Present, available now. Eternal life in NOT about eternity, it’s about the here and now (which if lived faithfully brings us into eternity). Someone said that the gospel is not about going to heaven when you die, but living the life of heaven while you live. I’m concerned about this initial shift to eternity in the mind of the new concert. Am I right to be concerned?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/8111113 Scot McKnight

    John,Yes, I believe you are right to be concerned. But, in an earlier post I said that the 4SL uses the term “abundant life” for what the gospel is designed to bring, and I happen to think this choice of terms is very, very good — and the laws themselves are not focused at all on “getting to heaven.”For the 4SL the promise is the “abundant life,” and the 4th law, which we’ll look at tomorrow, deals with life in the here and now as a Christ-enthroned life.I’m not astute enough on this question to know “whom to blame” for shifting the gospel to “getting to heaven.” I do know it has happened for far too many and for far too long. But, I don’t think this is a major issue with the 4SLs.I like that last paragraph, John.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/9548318 John Frye

    Scot, thanks for the good reminder about the “abundant life” in the 4SL. I think I muddled the 4SLwith the question from Evangelism Explosion, “If you died tonight and stand before God and He asks you, ‘Why should I let you in heaven?’, what would say?” The opening question is a shift to the afterlife. So, the decision is framed around getting the “right answer” when God asks the question. Someone has said that the real question to ask is “If you get up tomorrow, who will you follow?” Excellent question, eh?So, the major issue with the 4SL is its persistent individualism?

  • Kevin

    Scot, I am enjoying this series, and look forward to its conclusion. If the diagram at the bottom of the 4SLs showed a separation from God, other men, the world, and yourself and Jesus bridging the gap to all four I would be ecstatic.I am no good at tract-length anything. If I have anything to say, it tends to take pages, so maybe this is just a matter of “what to leave out”. Still, I have the feeling that expansions on the 4SL still focus on sin and separation. I think that we spend too much time trying to accomodate individuality with our gospel, when really a cure for isolation is probably the biggest hunger of our generation.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/4421543 Milton Stanley

    Good stuff, Scot. I wrote about your series at my blog today. Peace.

  • http://www.antioch.com.sg/th/twp baruch

    I think what we’ve done in the 19th-21st century church is reduce the overal message into logical components. What you’ve described here is the “Evangelistic” component, what is popularly called “the gospel message”. The reason why it stops short as soon as man is reconciled to God (according to the “third law”) is that at that point, the “Evangelistic” component is replaced with a “teaching”, or “discipleship” component. For those already discipled, there are then other components, such as the “end time prophecy” (which ammounts to a Christian version of sci fi) etc. This whole process is quite clumsy. Because we’re so ingrained in our system, we don’t know any better way. As you’ve implied, the whole Biblical gospel actually points us all the way to the restoration of all things, thus combining all three components. Instead we still have Sunday night services at our churches where the pastor preaches a basic “salvation” message to a building full of believers. Is that the pastor’s fault (it’s the only gospel message he knows how to preach)? or is it the congregations fault (they didn’t manage to drag any non-believers kicking and screaming into church)?


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