The soterian gospel boils down the biblical Story of the King Jesus Gospel to mere destination: going to heaven when you die. All the potent minerals and healthy vitamins of God’s grace-driven renovation of the entire cosmos are cooked out.
As a pastor, I think this has had disastrous results for the evangelical church, especially in the U.S.A. In the previous two posts we considered the soterian gospel’s relationship to the church—it has none—and the inner, manipulative logic that gets a person “assured” of salvation. I want to return to the idea of the soterian gospel as destination. There is no claim in the reduced version of the gospel that it is a way of life in the realm where Jesus is Lord.
There was a popular tract in the Grand Rapids, MI area some years ago. It might still be around. The title of the tract was “How to Get to Heaven from Grand Rapids.” There you have it: the soterian gospel of destination. Or, recall the other evangelism question: “If you stand before a holy God and he asks, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ what would you say to God?” Again, it’s about the destination.
Let’s consider this destination gospel a little more. A person is led to pray the prayer that we will call Point P. After they have reached Point P, then they are assured of Point H, that is, they are assured of heaven when they die. To be at Point P is a guarantee of Point H if the idea of “the assurance of salvation” means what it proponents say it means. Let’s imagine Pat (from our last post) prays the prayer (Point P) and is then guaranteed Point H (heaven when he/she dies). Pat is one very happy person because the big eternal question is instantly and painlessly settled. In the phase called “follow-up,” Pat is informed that Jesus is to be Lord of his or her life.
You recall the question, “Who’s on the throne of your life?” In my opinion, that question is much nearer the beginning of the robust Gospel of the kingdom of God. Yet, in the soterian gospel, it’s called “follow-up.” Follow-up is optional. Everything in follow-up, as far as Pat is concerned, is optional. Why? Because the big eternal destiny question has been answered affirmatively and assuredly. If Jesus is in your heart, yet not on the throne, that’s sad and maybe even bad, but it is not eternally detrimental. Pat should read the Bible, but that has nothing to do with being eternally saved. Pat should be part of a church, but that has nothing to do with being eternally saved. Pat should be transformed more and more into the likeness of Jesus, but that has nothing to do with being eternally saved.
The packaged soterian gospel does not take into account sin’s deep bent toward self-centeredness. In our sinful state we are fiercely curved in toward ourselves. Pat actually thinks that he or she can have all the best that the fallen American culture can give, even pursue it, and have eternal heaven, too. Pat can have the best of the kingdoms of this world with eternal heaven thrown in. George Barna has repeatedly confirmed that millions of USAmerican evangelical Christians have chosen “the best of both worlds” option.
The soterian gospel has left Pat clueless that God’s salvation is a passport into a new country, into a new culture with values that are in many ways antithetical to the American way of life, a new way of being a human being where God is central, others are preferred before self, and Christ is the compelling focus. This Christ is forever calling Pat to deeper devotion and greater risks. The robust Gospel of King Jesus is a way of life that, yes, does have a glorious future. But between Point P and Point H there are countless other points, thousands of choices, relentless forks in the road that eventually lead to Point H. What if N. T. Wright and others are correct in claiming that justification is not a front end reality at initial faith, but an eschatological reality that acknowledges persevering faith? What if you actually had to persevere to the end to be saved? I think that from the get-go, Pat needs to be grounded in the King Jesus Gospel’s call to gutsy perseverance.