Mechanics and Me

For many the gospel has been reduced to Me. The operative question is “What’s in it for me?” Or, more intelligently, “What are the personal implications/benefits of the gospel for me?” When this is the operative question the gospel gets reshaped into therapeutics: how it can help, how it can save, how it can rescue, how it can restore — me — to God, to self, to others and to the world. It becomes an exercise in making people happier and better. But know this: When the gospel is reduced to this question, to Me, it distorts what the gospel is.

For others the gospel is about Mechanics. The operative question is “How does the gospel accomplish what it accomplishes?” Quickly this becomes an atonement theory gospel. For the penal substitution theorists, the gospel is about how God absorbs the wrath of God and resolves the sin-wrath problem. For the ransom theorists, the gospel is about liberation and how God rescues us from captivity and slavery and liberates us. For the satisfaction theorists, the gospel is about God’s honor and God’s justice, and how God’s honor has been besmirched and how Christ steps in to resolve God’s honor. Or, in a slightly different form, it is about how we have become guilty and how the gospel reveals a way of resolving our guilt and God’s utter righteousness. But know this: When the gospel is reduced to this question, to Mechanics, it distorts what the gospel is.

The only way for the gospel to be expressed today in a fully faithful way is to let the gospel be today what it was then, and this is the argument of The King Jesus Gospel. The gospel of Jesus and the apostles was a gospel that in the first instance was neither about Me nor about Mechanics. It was about the Master. The gospel of 1 Cor 15 is the Story about Jesus; the gospel of the gospeling sermons in Acts was about Jesus; and the Gospels are called the gospel because they tell us about Jesus — from incarnation to exaltation — and are therefore the gospel.

The gospel about the Master will do things for me and it happens through a variety of mechanics, but when Me and Mechanics become the show, when Me and Mechanics run the show, the Master steps aside. Any gospel in which Jesus is not the show distorts the gospel.

Incidentally, this is not an either-or or a false dichotomy. Except in this: I believe many soterian gospels have forced a false dichotomy by saying it is either about justification/salvation or about Jesus/kingdom. Not at all. The gospel is about Jesus, and if it is told right we get justification and kingdom and much else beside. But many soterian gospels use Jesus as a means, and when this happens, the gospel is distorted. The apostolic gospel is a full- Jesus-Story-shaped gospel that brings salvation. Nothing is left out.

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.mindfuljustice.com Jim

    Was it planned that opposite this posting there would appear a Joel Olstein ad? How ironic. I guess that’s the price one pays for blogging on a new Christian corporate portal :(

  • scotmcknight

    Jim, unplanned.

  • Nicholas

    Wonderful! Thank you!

  • Cameron M

    Scot,
    Thanks for the thoughts. How should our view of salvation (I mean forgiveness of sins, entering into the new covenant, etc.) be shaped through the King Jesus gospel? I wonder what “sharing the gospel” in the 21st century looks like from this perspective. How do we apply the “Acts sermon model” in our day to proclaim the Lordship of Jesus?

  • scotmcknight

    Cameron M, I’ve posted about this, but the essence of it is that we enter through presentation of Jesus and not through our problem. Jesus will lead us to our problem, so both are involved.

  • Tom F.

    Hmm, not much else to say but good thoughts. I wonder why “Me” and “Mechanics” are such tempting ways to get off track.

  • http://www.nateweatherly.com Nate W.

    Hi Scot,

    Do you think part of this comes from a shallow understanding/poor translation of what it means for Jesus to say “I am the Way…”?

    Seems like many read “Way” as “means” instead of “path”, and also limit the “I” as referring to belief in the letters J-E-S-U-S rather than as a reference to participation in/with the sum total of his incarnation, life, teachings, death, resurrection, and glorification.

  • scotmcknight

    Nate W., I honestly don’t know but I do think the soterian approaches — Mechanics or Me — are rhetorically more compelling at the personal level and much easier to use to precipitate response.

  • aaron

    I love the way you framed this up… well said.

    Especially this, “I believe many soterian gospels have forced a false dichotomy by saying it is either about justification/salvation or about Jesus/kingdom. Not at all. The gospel is about Jesus, and if it is told right we get justification and kingdom and much else beside.”

    It seems interesting to me that so many seem to read your statements and think, “what about justification?” when really what you propose fully encompasses that and more!

  • http://www.internetmonk.com chaplain mike

    Scot, you know you and I are on the same page on this one, but I have a question. There are so many examples in the Gospels of people coming to Jesus sick, discouraged, beaten up by religion, feeling guilt for their sins, outcast, and so on, who simply came as individuals with needs. They came to Jesus for a word of forgiveness, a touch of healing, restoration and wholeness.

    Were they being soterian?

  • scotmcknight

    Chaplain Mike,
    There’s a big bag of differences in your list — from sick to feeling guilt to outcasts — -and you bet they came to Jesus for redemption because of Who He Was/Is, not just for what he offered. Remember, the apostolic gospel offered a Messiah and Lord who saved, so salvation is right there in the middle of it. No, though, they weren’t soterians because for me that is a post-Reformation, revivalist development.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    chaplain mike, I want to throw out there my current view and see what you all think. I continue with the working hypothesis that those folks were seen as not worthy of being let into the club. Whether the club was the Jews, the Romans, whatever, they were less than the perfect and good or less than the productive and strong, therefore they were seen as somehow being less than worthy. Caesar, or Yahweh demanded the strong, the reliant, the well. Yes, in the Jewish context there was tolerance and support for those less fortunate (gleaning etc, but what is the etc?), but the best offering was a perfect offering.

    Forgiveness is the forgiveness of their sins. In my words, they were deemed to be unworthy because they obviously must have done something wrong (ala Job), or not been worthy because they would weaken the empire (Caesar). Regardless, the Master must give them dispensation (forgiveness, mercy) of some sort to be allowed into the club.

    Jesus told the folks that the only requirement for joining his club was that they follow him. In other words, he forgave their sins.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    ..then, the whole “I am the Way” becomes obvious, at least to me with my obsession to try and make things as simple as possible, but not simpler. The others are not offering what they seek, Jesus is the way. And guess what, all you have to do is follow and your sins are forgiven.

  • http://www.internetmonk.com chaplain mike

    Scot #14, thanks for the response. What I am thinking is that much of this debate about the Gospel comes from the standpoint of those of us who are PRESENTING it. From that perspective, it is imperative that we focus our message on King Jesus and his mission to make all things new.

    What I guess I fear is that we who proclaim the message will forget that there are many needy people out there who won’t get all that, at least at first. All they may know is that they are needy and that Jesus can take care of their needs. I think there is a challenge for us to learn to present the message as simply and as winsomely as possible so that even the poorest and weakest will see Jesus and come to him.

  • scotmcknight

    Mike, this is where the Jesus Creed comes into play, no? We embody the message in how we live and what we say; that embodied message carries some force for conviction and persuasion … the Spirit is at work … etc… all of this is at work, but the gospel message remains the same.

  • gingoro

    Well put Scot too many people focus on what is less than the essentials.
    DaveW

  • http://www.internetmonk.com chaplain mike

    So, for example, is a summary statement from Jesus’ own mouth: “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” a statement of the Gospel?


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