Having our sins forgiven and being accounted righteous, all through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, are tremendous transformative realities. What is troubling is the cavalier manner which these weighty truths are culled out and presented in the soterian scheme. Has God used the soterian gospel to save some? Undeniably God has, yet this does not mean the soterian gospel should escape serious assessment. Years ago I read about numerous irreversible acts of God that take place at the point justification. Behind the soterian gospel are these unseen actions of God that make it possible for the evangelizer to tell the evangelizee that he or she is “assured of heaven forever.” In the previous posts we have considered some pastoral implications of the soterian gospel. We will now consider the great dilemma in the soterian gospel.
In the soterian way, people listen to the gospel pitch, pray the generic prayer, invite Jesus into and onto the throne of their hearts, and then…and then, demonstrate no to little Christian transformation whatsoever. What’s more, they do not seem to really care that much about discipleship and life change. They are content being assured of heaven when they die and knowing “nothing can snatch them out of their Father’s hand.” Life is good, church attendance may be routine, personal Bible reading scarce, and the mention of an habitual prayer life invokes guilt. They have become what many call “cultural Christians.”
After living for a while in soterian gospel country, I began to ask, Did salvation “take”? Were all those invisible actions of God validly in operation and irreversible? “He that hath the Son hath life.” Does the evangelizee in fact have eternal life? Maybe the person prayed the prayer, not to ask Jesus into their heart, but to get the evangelizer out of their life. What now? Where’s all that assurance of salvation? We are introduced to the postlude of the soterian gospel song and dance. “Well, maybe they didn’t mean it when they prayed?” Or, this is a good one, “…they went out from us because they were not of us.” The potential converts were phonies. I do not recall being phony as an option in the soterian gospel presentation. Also, any legitimate questions the evangelizee might have had about the gospel spiel were tabled until later, after the “plan of salvation” was completed: a tremendous sales technique. The supremely urgent ‘gospel’ presentation cannot be mucked up with an authentic conversation. The soterian point is to get through the plan…to the prayer…and on to the assurance of salvation. In the shadowy theology behind the presentation, being able to announce “assurance of salvation” seems to be the end goal (telios) of the Cross. It appears, sadly, that people who are not in fact regenerate, because over time “by their fruit you shall know them,” have been assured of heaven when they die.
I imagine someone asking, “John, aren’t you being too hard on the proponents of the soterian gospel? They’re not mind readers, you know.” No, they are not. So why in the world are they so confidently telling people who exhibit no life change whatsoever that they are authentically saved? I truly lament this error for the authentic gospel’s sake and the church’s sake. Why?
Bring these cultural Christians into the church and what do you get? The USAmerican attractional model of church! “Give us happy worship. Give us compelling sermons. Give us safe children’s ministry. Give us loads-of-fun teen ministry. Give us sensitive women’s ministry. Give us ‘real man’ men’s ministry. Give us adventuresome short-term missions trips. Give us free counseling. Give us. Give us.” Since from the very get-go the soterian gospel is all about them having their sins forgiven and their going to heaven when they die, then certainly the local church must be all about them, as well. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. For too many evangelicals missional is a nonsense word.
Say to these folks, “When Jesus calls you, he bids you come and die” and they will get blank, confused looks on their faces and wonder if you believe in “salvation by works.” Tell them that not one doctrinal question will be asked at the judgment seat of Christ, but only questions about how they lived their lives for God or not, they go catatonic. Just read them 1 John 2:6, where John the Apostle wrote, “…anyone who claims to live in him, must live as Jesus lived.” Tell them that Christ-like living (non-self-centered living) is the authentic confirmation of Christian profession and they respond, “Get real. Jesus was God. I’m just human.” Yet in the midst of all this, my pastoral hope index skyrockets. When New Testament scholars and diligent pastors declare blazing truth that “Jesus is Lord” in the context of the robust “good news” of the kingdom of God, the flimsy soterian gospel fades. Can I get a witness?