From Genesis 3 to Romans 3

I have come across, or been sent, a number of published (book or internet) items about the gospel, and nearly every one of them comes from the same sector of the church and each one presents the gospel in nearly identical form. In the last few years the gospel has become especially important to The Gospel Coalition and to those more or less connected to the resurgence of Calvinism. And, since I am convinced their gospel, regardless of how robust it is in matters pertaining to theology and soteriology, needs to be pressed against the light of Scripture. Here’s another one:

Scott Thomas, a “gospel coach,” sketches his understanding of the gospel, and it illustrates one more time how easy it is to frame the gospel in such a way that we need only three chapters in the Old Testament, we don’t need Israel’s Story, and that means we don’t need to understand the kind of Story that gives sense to the New Testament. Let me emphasize one more time — the big ideas below are true statements from the Bible.  The “story” he tells below is the story of personal salvation (soterian gospel).

The gospel is not merely a definition, but a story (Rom. 1:1–6, 16). J. I. Packer said it includes not just the cross, but also the cradle, the cross and a crown. I added to Packer (that sounds like a bad idea) by including “creation” and “coming” as complementary bookends.

  • Creation. In the beginning, God created all things for his glory, including mankind made in the image of God. It was complete harmony.
  • Cradle. The sin by Adam and Eve had a consequence of condemnation and a need existed for a Savior: an atoning sacrifice and a substitute who could take our place. God sent his Son Jesus, born of a virgin who lived a sinless, perfect life.
  • Cross. The promise of a Savior was fulfilled by the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. On the cross, he paid the price in full and took away our condemnation by placing it upon himself.
  • Crown. At the resurrection of Jesus, he established his kingdom on earth as the victorious conquering King over death, hell and condemnation. Upon his return to heaven, he sat down at the right hand of the Father, having completed the work he was sent to accomplish.
  • Coming. One day, Jesus will return and will fully establish his kingdom on earth and in heaven. He will completely obliterate sin and Satan. Every tear will be wiped away, every sorrow, every pain, every disappointment, and every stress. He will restore relationships and will reunite those believers we temporarily lost out of this life: our parents, siblings, babies, and friends. Most of all, his coming will completely and thoroughly unite us with the Lamb of God whose blood was shed for our eternal joy and the glory of our Father.


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  • The gospel is not mostly about how to set up a reservation for when you die. It is about how the kingdom of God can invade earth now.

    Josh Hunt

  • Robert

    Jesus’ work isn’t complete if he still has to come back and finish it.

  • CGC

    Hi Scot,
    Okay, here is a suggestion for a new required class for Bible colleges and/or seminaries – “Israelogy.”

  • Luke

    I’d like to hear what you think about more biblical-theologial approaches within Reformed evangelicalism. I’m thinking about writers like Goldsworthy, Gaffin, Beale, Carson, Dempster, and many others. It seems that in recent years there has been a revival of interest among Reformed evangelicals in doing whole-Bible biblical theology, especially understanding how the Old Testament points forward to Christ. I suspect that you still might label these approaches “soterian” or perhaps “covenant soterian,” but I don’t think it is fair to say that they skip over the story of Israel. They seem to take great pains to understand how God’s covenantal promises to Israel were fulfilled in the person and work of Christ. But perhaps this scholarly work doesn’t always come through in popular-level sketches of the gospel like the one you reference here.

  • T


    Your argument that the life of Jesus (let alone the story of Israel) gets short shrift because of soteriology (or confusion of soteriology with the gospel) is right on. I wish I could say that Wright’s argument that the creeds are also to blame is without merit. When I see summaries like this, it seems increasingly obvious to me that the this is a problem with many supports.

  • Amos Paul

    Israeology would be *great*.

    The question that long ago drove me away from orthodox (and practically the whole of the) faith was–what about the Jews? What about before Jesus died and rose again? What of God’s promises to Israel? What of their salvation? Am I really to believe that the world mattered less to God before Jesus showed up or that the traditions and Torah of Israel serve no purpose but to serve as an example of our need for Jesus?

  • scotmcknight

    Luke I totally agree with you in two regards: they do not neglect the Bible’s story and they are covenant soterians. In other words, the story is a robust soteriological one. The sketch above in the post lacks that covenant dimension.

  • The Gleddiesmith


    How would you respond to someone who says that the Story of Israel is the Story of the World and therefore you can, when operating in short version, airbrush out the Story of Israel? The problem is that the world needs a king who will restore it after the failure of Genesis 3 which is exactly the problem that Israel has. Adding the Story of Israel adds nuance and complexity to the picture of Jesus but the shortest way to explain Jesus is to remove Israel’s Story (hopefully just initally).

  • Scot:

    Agreed 100%. It’s exactly what R. Kendall Soulen said about the Standard Canonical Narrative in The God of Israel and Christian Theology. People read the Bible as Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation. Nothing in such a canonical narrative takes seriously that Israel and the Church on earth are called to repair the world before redemption moves to the next level. Not only are the Hebrew Bible and the gospels skipped over (Genesis 4 – Romans 2 unnecessary), but Jesus’ prayer, “Your kingdom come, on earth as in heaven” and Peter’s “we hasten the day” and similar teachings are omitted. I hear daily from people who represent a vast sea of Bible readers, who struggle to find a holistic reading of the Bible (and these often make missteps in the other direction, taking on a pseudo-Jewish identity though not Jews in fact). I am so glad many circles in the church are healing in their understanding of the gospel and that you, Scot, are helping me and many others see it clearly.

  • Jerry

    I find it ironic that so many of these “soterian” gospels talk in terms of story or narrative. I’m trying to think of a metaphor for the result of this approach. Cliff Notes? Reader’s Digest? Or it might be likened to notes taken in a class preparing for an exam. You may have captured some important items but missed the nuances–or more likely–the main point!

  • scotmcknight

    The Gleddiesmith … that’s a new wrinkle. The Story of Adam is taken up in the Story of Abraham is taken up in the Story of Israel is taken up in the Story of Moses and David and the kingdom is taken up in the Story of Jesus. Without those elements, the Story of Jesus doesn’t make sense. He becomes a means instead of the focal point of the Story.

  • I like “Consummation” rather than “Coming,” He already came and is “coming” even now. I also still think “to fully establish up His kingdom on the earth” strikes me as a bit to exclusively pre-millennial. The cross is the climax of the covenant, but it will reach its consummation (or culmination) at the resurrection/return. And though he is “coming” in a very real way, it’s not as though He’s absent now, so the force of “coming” I believe is not strong enough to communicate the point.

  • DRT

    I have been trying to figure out the difference in vectors between the soterian and king gospels. My latest thought is that it is one of thanks/gratitude vs. one of modeling/emulating.

    But I will be the first to admit that there is not perfect vector definition for what Jesus means to us other than the story. But saying that the story is the idea falls on deaf ears from what I can see. If your narrative is affirmed by the story you hear, and your MO is to look for affirmation in what you hear, then all you will do is affirm your preconceived notion. That’s why I am thinking that there needs to be another approach. Something that helps divert the dialog going on internally and enables one to step out to hear something different.

    So, one of the big questions given in the king version is the idea that the king is the idealized representative, the norm. Should the norm not be emulated?

    Yes we are grateful to the king, but that almost goes without saying. The king is much more than someone who does good things for us, the king is our model, our ideal.

    Just brainstorming.

  • ao

    What on earth is a “gospel coach”?

  • Alastair

    I am so thankful for observations like this. I was trying to follow new theological things i was learning though more “TGC” associated teachers, and the calvinism was breaking my heart. I was so bothered about God controlling personal salvation, and its interesting how, as Scot is pointing out, how much of the new reformed stuff can lack a story feel, and Israel.

  • I wish I understood why the life and teachings of Jesus are consistently left out of the gospel “story,” such as the one presented here. Thanks, Scot, for reminding us that Jesus is King.

  • DRT

    ao says:
    May 9, 2012 at 5:20 pm

    “What on earth is a “gospel coach”?”

    Obviously someone who Scot needs to hire!

  • I teach a course where I make students come up with a brief outline of the biblical story. Almost every time this pattern of a jump from Gen 3 to Romans appears. No one talks about the story of the OT, or the life of Jesus. Ironically, Paul himself (hero of many of these folks) thought that “all Scripture was inspired and profitable for teaching” (2 Tim 3:16), and Paul wasn’t talking about Pauline epistles, but the Old Testament. Thanks for bringing up this important problem.

  • Leo A

    Creation, Fall, Redemption, Church, Restoration is what I was taught in seminary.

    Would simply adding Israel to that model be sufficient? (Creation, Fall, Israel, Redemption, Church, Restoration)

  • Leo, “Israel” is a step in the right direction, but why do we have an obsession with static, -tion words. Why does the Bible itself never summarize itself in 5 or 6 words? It tells a story. I like stories better than 5-6 words theological summaries.

  • Leo A

    I have never questioned the so-called metanarrative of Scripture. I have recoiled against the “ask Jesus into my heart” mentality for years. It simply never dawned on me that the narrative approach I had learned was doing basically the same thing. I apparently have some work to do!

  • scotmcknight

    Leo A.,

    That four part summary is really the doctrine of salvation turned into its successive epochs in the Bible, and not at all the Bible’s story.

    There is a reason why those who subscribe to that four part summary — and I have been one who does this myself — don’t need Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges … Nehemiah … or know much about the prophets in context … they are peripheral to the salvation story. In my own work I call this four fold drama “covenant soterian.” They want story but they restrict the story to the salvation story.

    With David Lamb looking over our shoulder here, I wonder at times what kind of theology we would have if we were restricted to the page after page of historical books in the Old Testament.

  • DRT

    Scot, I hope that you quickly digest the Obama declaration on marriage and post something on this.

  • norman

    DRT, I hope he does too. Especially in light of his evolutionary change since his previous stands. Obama not scot.

  • Elizabeth

    I decided to explore Scott Thomas’ site a little (because I, too, had no idea what a Gospel Coach was) and I read some of the Resurgence articles under marriage, family, and discipline.

    I’ve concluded I am naive. Some of what I read made me gasp. I mean, I know a bit about The Gospel Coalition and the growing popularity of Calvinism and that complementarianism is part of what is taught and that some people have pretty old fashioned views on child-rearing. But this site made me wonder if this thinking is more prevalent, more organized, more in-your-face than I originally thought. I find it distressing.

    Can anybody help me with this question: How widespread is the influence of TGC and similar bodies? I don’t live in the US. I read websites like this one, not Scot Thomas’. I find it very difficult to get a handle on how big this ‘new Reformed’ movement is and whether average joe Christian in America is affected by this thinking? Anyway to quantify this or map it or anything?

    Thanks for any insights anyone may have…

  • Chip

    Elizabeth, it extends way beyond Calvinism and the “new Reformed” movement. Complementarianism is the standard belief in seemingly most nondenominational churches that call themselves “Bible” churches (they tend to be very well-attended these days), many charismatic churches (even with the roles that some give to women in leadership), and many evangelical denominations (e.g., southern Baptist). It is also what is normally preached on evangelical Christian radio stations. Complementarianism has been the standard for these groups for decades, long before the “new Reformed” movement existed.

    My perspective may be more reflective of the East Coast and even a southern bent (as I live in VA near DC), but I really don’t see a lot of preached (as opposed to functional) egalitarianism outside of evangelical academic circles.

  • Joey Elliott


    I’m not sure I understand how dismissing what you refer to as a “covenant soterian” approach to the gospel, still maintains the doctrine of salvation at all in your view. I mean, I know you still maintain it, but it is not easily heard every time you write on this. In other words, I’m on board with the “soterians” needing more story. In fact, your recent comments to me about showing people Jesus (as in the Story) so salvation can even be coherent, have affected and influenced my understanding and witness. But in your criticism of all of these TGC approaches, even the Biblical Theology approaches of the likes of Carson, as only a restriction of the story to the salvation story, seems to really reduce the place of salvation. What is it in the “Story”, not related in any way to salvation, that is not being included? Fulfillment? Consummation? Kingship? Is not all that ultimately salvation? Not just for the individual, but for Israel? And through Israel, for the whole world? And for the whole creation? The narrative of the Bible is one of redemption, is it not? What else is there? Maybe you’re just not understanding the full thrust of some of these arguments because the emphasis is too heavily on salvation? Maybe they just need more story, not less salvation, in their presentations? The end is King Jesus. Even in the “soterian gospels”.

    What good Biblical theology within TGC circles tries to do, I think, is to highlight the whole story of the Bible, of creation, of Israel, of the church, as fulfilled in Jesus Christ – redemption for the individual, for Israel, for the church (both of which are made up of individuals – I think you agree salvation still has to come person by person), and for the New Heavens and the New Earth. I don’t know that books such as Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Nehemiah, or the prophets are being neglected in these approaches. At least if you look at ministries as a whole, not individual books or articles. I mean, certain books just address a need, they don’t necessarily try to answer every question. So the need in this case was an overemphasis on “asking Jesus into your heart” as the application of the gospel. So TGC addressed this need in books about the robustness of the doctrine of salvation and how it is applied through the gospel, most clearly articulated in Romans. You approached this need emphasizing the story, using 1 Cor 15 as a key text, but then of course much in the Old Testament. Both good approaches! Why can’t we be having a Both / And conversation here?

    So yes, Story! But how do we avoid neglecting personal salvation, and conversion, and personal holiness in sanctification, and love of neighbor, if we are so critical to “soterian” gospels? Even ones that include the metanarrative of Scripture, and that you refer to as barely better but still short of what you prescribe? The good ones don’t abuse the personal salvation piece, as if it’s about a prayer only.

    I am fascinated by and interested in this topic, and have valued and appreciated your comments so far. I just would like to hear more encouragement to efforts like TGC that are working so hard to contend for the faith, and live it out. They likely need your sharpening, but I think they (we) will listen more if the tone is “Yes, But also!”.


    I don’t know how big TGC or New Calvinism is as far as numbers or influence, but it being big is not a bad thing or something to be worried about. I think you will find its not in-your-face if you really look closely (talk to the people not just read blogs).

    Everyone needs to understand that. Just help us – don’t marginalize us.

  • Aaron


    I picked up The King Jesus Gospel at the Apprentice Conference last year and been reading it over and over again trying to grasp what you are saying. A few days ago I started reading One. Life and the light came on when I came across this sentence; “Kingdom wasn’t just Jesus’ dream, but the dream of everyone in Israel.” After seeing this I was able to go back to The King Jesus Gospel and understand what you are talking about by seeing the Story of Israel as our story and making the Story of Jesus the completion of the Story of Israel. Seeing Israel’s story as my story for me was making their hopes and expectations of the coming King and what he would do… my hope and expectations. By making their dream my dream, Jesus has become my dream come true! Because of this I’m reading the gospel; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John with a new set of eyes! It’s truly all about Jesus. He is the One.

  • Ben Pun

    Scot, what do you think of Vaughan Roberts and Graham Goldsworthy’s framing of the gospel as the coming of God’s Kingdom as “God’s People in God’s Place under God’s Rule and Blessing” as fulfilled in Jesus? I think this is a good summary that appropriately places the Gospel within the narrative arc of Israel. I do think the next question you would ask is — well, how do I enter this glorious kingdom? And then you must talk about what you call the “Soterian Gospel.”

  • Grant


    I’m re-reading Michael Green’s book “Evangelism in the Early Church.” Green wonders if the disconnect from Israel’s story began as early as the 2nd century:

    “Again, we have seen how the preaching to the Gentiles, though it presupposed, and often enough referred to the Old Testament, began with the establishment of monotheism and the opposition to idols. Could this have meant that, despite the fact that the Old Testament was very much the Bible of the Church, it was never really understood? Once treat it as a quarry for proof texts or passages in which you see Christian meanings, and you are precluded from seeing it in its own right as the history of God’s dealings with Israel, of which Christ is indeed the goal and the climax, but not the destroyer. Under these circumstances there must have been a constant tendency to do one of two things, either to neglect the Old Testament altogether, or to misunderstand its relations with the New” (Evangelism in the Early Church, 166-167).