Ed Stetzer Interview on King Jesus Gospel

Ed Stetzer opened his blog last Wednesday for an interview he conducted with me about The King Jesus Gospel, and I’m reposting that interview here.

What was your primary purpose for writing this book?

I have been working on “gospel” for about a decade, beginning in my classes at North Park and some of this has been written up in Embracing Grace and A Community called Atonement. All along I had a sneaking suspicion that a whole new angle had to be found in order to open up a more completely biblical approach to the meaning of gospel. I had been following a traditional line of thinking and trying to be more biblical. That is, I was following the line of thinking that gospel and salvation (soteriology in technical terms) were more or less the same thing. I was seeking to expand salvation to biblical proportions – personal, physical, church, society – and I joined many voices in that pursuit. But all along I kept asking myself: what about 1 Corinthians 15, which doesn’t focus on salvation but on Jesus as Messiah and Lord, and most especially I kept asking where to put the gospel sermons in Acts? For a set of lectures in Stellenbosch I devoted myself to the Book of Acts and around the same time I became convinced that Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) are the gospel itself.

This set of factors is the entire purpose of why I wrote this book: I wanted to offer a more biblical view of gospel and to put what many of us (and I was one of them) call gospel to the test.

2. How do you define the gospel in the book?

The gospel is to announce that the Story of Jesus, who is Messiah/King, Lord and Savior, fulfills or completes the Story of Israel. It is the good news that God’s promises have now been realized in Jesus Messiah, Lord and Savior.

3. In the book you seem to want to emphasize the differences between
what you call a “soterian” gospel and the full evangelical gospel? How
do you define these and why do you believe it’s necessary to
distinguish between them?

In brief, the soterian (Greek word for salvation) gospel is a message of how to get saved from sins and how to be properly related to God. In brief, the apostolic gospel makes the Story of Israel and the Story of Jesus first, and not my personal salvation, and makes personal salvation second. I distinguish the two because our current models of the gospel — and here I ask that we consider what we tell people who we think are not Christians — do not sufficiently pay attention to how the New Testament talks about the gospel. We can find that gospel in 1 Cor 15, the sermons in Acts, and in the Gospels. I constantly ask this question: Do you think the gospel is found in those three points?

In brief, it works like this: the soterian gospel is a message of salvation without the Bible’s Story (Israel fulfilled in Jesus as Messiah and Lord) and the Story gospel I am pleading with us to consider more carefully has both the Story line and the salvation message.

The alternative is not “Story” vs. “salvation” but Story with salvation vs. salvation with no Story.

4. Why do you point to John Piper as one of the most poignant examples
of a “soterian” in our day? Are you suggesting that John Piper doesn’t
rightly define and present the gospel?

This is a tricky one, Ed. I value and welcome John Piper as a brother in Christ, and as someone God has used for the good of the church in our day. I was a fan of his Desiring God when it came out when many of my colleagues thought the book dangerous (that word “hedonism” got him in Dutch with some). I disagree with Piper at times, but we serve the same God in Christ and we are driven by the same things: to glorify God by living before him and proclaiming the gospel in our day and we do and say and write.

Having said that, yes, I disagree with how he sometimes (not always) frames gospel and he is in my view one of the most influential leaders in the evangelical movement today. So what he says matters to me. In King Jesus Gospel I engage Piper twice: the first time negatively, the second time positively. I hope that is observed.

Negatively, when John Piper asks if Jesus preached Paul’s gospel I don’t dispute that as a good question (my friend Mike Bird thinks that question is backward, which it is in some ways). I dispute how Piper answered it: he wanted to find if Jesus preached or taught justification by faith in the double imputation mode. I don’t think gospel can be reduced or defined that way, though I would say Luke 18 is not that far from justification by faith (though double imputation is much later and Piper does not push that element hard, so it’s not a concern of mine).

Instead, I think the question has to be otherwise: when I ask if Jesus preached the gospel I don’t ask if Jesus preached justification by faith. I ask if Jesus preached himself, if he preached himself as the fulfillment of Israel’s Story. I believe Christology precedes salvation (and justification is perhaps Paul’s major term for salvation) and that means I am asking what Jesus said about himself when I am asking if Jesus preached the gospel. Then we can talk about salvation.

First Christology, second soteriology.  I ask if Jesus is as ego-centered as Paul as Christ-centered. I believe he was.

In John Piper’s The God of the Gospel I find much more reason to be in agreement, though there he is pushing his very common theological core: the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. I have no reason to dispute that framework even I would like Israel’s Story and Jesus’ Story as Messiah and Lord to be more central. We are on the same page here but no on the same lines.

5. In your view, how does justification relate to the gospel? Are they
separate matters? And is it right or wrong to say that the church
stands or falls on the doctrine of justification?

Simply put: justification is the “effect” of the gospel. The gospel is about Jesus and Jesus brings salvation, and justification is one way of describing that salvation. God, in Christ, through his death and especially resurrection (Rom 4:25), makes us right with God. I tend to agree with double imputation, but it’s not clearly taught in the New Testament, and never in one text, so I don’t want to make it too central to how I understand justification. Justification is God’s judgment on us in Christ.

Well, stands or falls. That’s Luther. It’s not the New Testament. I can think of this in about ten ways, but if one denies that God declares us right in Christ, then Yes, the church stands or falls. But if justification gets ahead of God the Father, Son and Spirit, if justification is the dog that wags Christology’s tail, then I’d say No.

The church stands or falls on one thing and one thing alone: Jesus Christ, him who lived, was crucified and raised and exalted. That is God’s action in Christ is that on which the Church stands or falls. The Church does not stand or fall on an idea or a belief but on a Person. On God, Father, Son and Spirit.

6. How would you respond to the argument that you seem to be trying to
make the gospel story of Jesus and the plan of salvation mutually

Those who say that are not reading me carefully enough. I have made a sharp contrast in my book between ways to frame gospel . That is, one frames the gospel as salvation or as Story. But as I said above, the real contrast I’m making, which is clear in my book, is between a message of salvation that needs no Story (and I can give hundreds of examples, beginning with the four spiritual laws – how much Old Testament do we need there?) and a gospel that is about the Story that brings salvation. So here it is again:

Salvation with no Story vs. Story with salvation.

Not Story (without salvation) vs. salvation (with no Story).

I’m asking for more, not less. I think the standard gospel on offer is too much less and not enough more.

I also contend that a gospel that is first Christology and then soteriology is more biblical and differs from the gospels that are through and through soteriology. I ask this: Does your gospel tell me about Jesus (Messiah, Lord, Savior) or does your gospel tell me how to get saved (and Jesus is the one who does it)? That’s the difference.

The gospel of Jesus and Peter and Paul is a gospel that is first Christology and second soteriology.

7. If the church were to adopt your definition of the gospel, what
would the mission of the church look like and what would our
evangelism look like?

We would be telling people about Jesus, about a Jesus who fulfills Israel’s Story, who is Messiah, Lord and who saves us from our sins. Let me make this point clear because it’s subtle and pervasive: is our gospel something that tells us about Jesus (who saves) first and foremost or is about salvation first and foremost?

Our evangelism would be declaring what Peter declares in Acts 2, 3, 10-11 and what Paul declares in Acts 13, 14 and 17. And it would see that every passage in the Gospels is pure gospel. It would show how Romans explains how Gentiles now join Jews in God’s Story in this world, and it would show how they are both accepted on the same basis: in Christ and they respond to that message by faith and by faith alone.

8. Do you believe that individuals are called to make a decision to
trust and follow Christ?

Absolutely. In fact, Ed, I want to say it just how John Baptist, Jesus and Peter and Paul say it: Our response is to repent, to believe, and to be baptized (and that leads to the kind of confession of Jesus as Lord that Paul states in Romans 10:9-10).



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  • Jerry

    Great interview, Scot. Your work has given us a fuller understanding of “Gospel.” I find it interesting though that the Soterians focus a lot of energy in your last answer, particularly on “true” repentance and true “belief/faith.” Also, in a lot of circles baptism is simply an act of obedience and not an essential part of our response to the gospel.

  • Susan N.

    Scot, re: your answer to interview question #8, I wonder how the conversion model of repent, believe, be baptized leading to genuine confession of Jesus (exclusively) as Lord does or does not compute with Paul Hiebert’s ‘Conversion, Culture and Cognitive Categories?’

    Through some interaction with another commenter on a post last week ‘Christian Judgment,’ the notion of centered vs. bounded sets in defining “Christian.” My Bing search led me to Hiebert’s paper through post on this subject by Roger Olson, and also to a post at J.R. Daniel Kirk’s ‘Storied Theology.’

    So in “Papayya’s” case, how much belief, evidence of confessional faith, and fruitfulness are necessary to be “in?”

    I guess what I’m asking is, does the Story gospel get us closer to a centered-set Christianity, or is bounded-set the more biblical model in the first place, in your view?

    For what it’s worth, I believe that the scenario laid out for the hypothetical “Papayya” indicates that his conversion began the day he heard the gospel (soterian version or not) of Jesus. The journey of learning just what that knowledge meant to him and living more into that understanding would be years in the making.

    Here’s the Hiebert link, by the way (though you’ve probably seen it already.)


    The Story Gospel might clear up a lot of questions on the front end better than the Soterian method, but does that negate the response of those who hear the Soterian version?

  • Chip

    I agree that this was a great interview, Scot. You made your points effectively and charitably. I know you’re more than well aware of the whole biblical theology trend particularly trendy in Reformed (academic, but also getting down to the popular level) circles. It seems to me that it addresses many of your concerns precisely because it focuses on Christ as the fulfillment of Israel’s story. Would you then see biblical theology as deficient in some aspect(s) of the king Jesus story, or that some Reformed leaders just overemphasize the soterian gospel at the expense of biblical theology?

    Also, just out of curiosity, are you knowledgeable of the Rev. Dr. Leslie Fairfield, retired Professor of Church History at Trinity School for Ministry (TSM, where I’ve taken classes) in Ambridge, PA, and now adjunct with Gordon-Conwell? He started emphasizing the Bible as story decades ago, and a few years ago created a short, introductory Bible-as-story video series available from TSM.

    Peace of Christ,

  • Scot McKnight

    Chip, it seems to me that some of the “biblical theologians” have what I call a “covenant soterian” biblical theology. In other words, the biblical theology is shaped through the lens of soteriology first instead of christology. I have a post sometime back on three kinds of soterians, and covenant soterians are the most concerns with story, but it is the story of salvation, and not a christological story.

  • T


    Good interview. I wonder what you think are some of the as yet unexplored or unfelt implications of your thesis. Obviously, one that I’m working through is that Jesus’ healings become a (larger) part of the gospel, if the gospels are the gospel. But, relatedly, as the Luther quote suggests, what we see or put at the core of our faith (what the Church and its mission rise and fall on) also shifts a significant bit, which can have a lot to do with how we come to rate the import or danger of various teachings. What do you see as some interesting implications?

    We could make a list: “If the gospels are the gospel, then . . .”

  • Adam

    Scot, it might also be beneficial to post some of your responses to comments from Ed’s blog. I read through many of them, and your answers were very helpful and extremely thoughtful in response to an expanded set of questions about your presentation of the Gospel from his readership (which seems to be of a slightly varied camp than this blog’s). Excellent post!

  • Dan

    #3 Chip, I looked for the video you mentioned and couldn’t find any information on the TSM web site. Do you have any other info? Thanks!

  • Albion
  • Luke Allison


    I like how you made the distinction between Luther and the New Testament. Interesting how often theological constructs or ideas are stated authoritatively and nobody identifies them as sub-Scriptural. I’ve been hearing that Luther quote constantly for about ten years, every time I hang out with young Calvinists. The logic seems to be:”Luther said it, but Luther was way smarter than I am, and anyway he started the Reformation, so we have him to thank for our freedom. So who am I to critique him?”
    Before you know it, the Bible is interpreting Luther, instead of the other way around (you can plug in any other person, too).

    Was Stetzer on board with KJG? I have a feeling he would be, and that he’s asking those questions more for the people who are reading or listening than for his own sake. What’s his general feeling toward the main message of the book?

  • Chris

    I love the work you did on KJG! Is there a single or two volume commentary that really and consistenty adopts the narrative/ historical/ contextual interpretations that you have in KJG? I reread Bock’s book Recovering the Real Lost Gospel based on your references in KJG and I had the same question after reviewing it! Understanding the context (broad and specific) seems so important and enlightening, but the commentaries I have are focused primarily on greek (which is important) but don’t have as much broader insight. I know you’ve done some great individual books but those are pricy…I hope to get there someday!

  • Neil


    When I read an article about the statistics of divorces, abortion, and infidelity among evangelicals – I wonder why there is so little difference in the lives we lead.

    Do you think there is any connection between the soterion Gospel with no story and the fact that, statistically speaking, evangelicals don’t live lives all that different than unbelievers?

  • As I reflect on the book, and these interviews, one observation comes to the forefront of my mind as a pastor: In telling people about Jesus, how to do so such that the idea of him as Christ/Messiah is understandable.

    In Scriptures, people connected with Jesus as healer, as feeder, as teacher before they connected with him and understood him as Christ/Messiah. Where in our work of missional evangelism does it become necessary to tell the story of Jesus as Christ?

    For people I work with who don’t really know the Bible at all, or the concept of Christ/Messiah, it seems like an ungainly place to start. They want healing, cared for – by Jesus; it’s after they meet Jesus that they learn about him as Lord, Christ, Messiah.

  • Chip

    Dan, sorry for the late response. You’ll have to contact Trinity’s bookstore for the info; you can find bookstore contact info at Trinity’s website.

  • Ron

    This interview has made me order your book and to dialog it with my reformed brothers and sisters . . . thanks!

  • scotmcknight

    Thanks for that Ron.