Last night was the last session of a nine week class on What is the Gospel? The church where I was pastor for 24 years asked me to teach this class. Since the late 80s and early 90s I have questioned, as a pastor, the wisdom of what Scot McKnight labels “the salvation (soterian) gospel” which is a marketable reduction of the New Testament robust King Jesus gospel. The soterian gospel unwittingly makes the starting line of the Christian faith the finish line in the hackneyed gospel question that asks “Do you want to go to heaven when you die?” Those who say “yes” to the question are offered not Jesus, but some boiled down Bible teachings (using verses out of context) to make the salvation sale.
With this skinny gospel we try to build a vibrant, robust church of dedicated Christ-followers. People want “the bottom line” gospel, the irreducible minimum good news. Don’t waste their time with the Story of Israel finding completion in the Story of Jesus with eternal ramifications in the Story of the Church—the new kingdom-of-God people. Americans want to start with “my story.” A reduced gospel will never create a robust congregation. It won’t (and doesn’t) happen. An anemic gospel creates a pallid church from the get-go. Can I get a witness?
The soterian gospel immediately makes crucial realities of the Christian faith optional.
- Knowing the Bible is nice, but unnecessary. Tell people about Jesus and his few hours on Good Friday and the empty tomb. Bam! Salvation in a tea cup.
- Individualism reigns in the soterian gospel so “the community of the committed” is an incentive-added, but not a necessary choice. “I’m saved.” Enough said.
- Assured of heaven on the heels of a flimsy, personal salvation prayer makes the the finish line the starting line. Persevere sounds like a disease in that context. So much damage has been done with this little twisted idea. Pastors, please read
Even if you disagree with Scot, you had better have very good reasons why. Perseverance of the saints does not override the human capacity to rebel.
- Holiness at the heart and life level is an alien concept. So much alleged “positional truth” paradoxically makes personal holiness sound monkish, if not obnoxious. I wonder if the emergence of the Christian Formation movement is not an indictment of the pathetic failure of the soterian gospel to produce authentic Christlike communities and individuals. It’s like the American evangelical church woke up saying, “Oh, you mean there’s more than just ‘going to heaven when I die’ to this Christian life of mine?”
It is my opinion that Scot’s two books: The King Jesus Gospel and Kingdom Conspiracy are a cause-and-effect set of books. In the one, Scot teaches the New Testament’s (the Bible’s) extraordinarily massive gospel. In the second book, Scot describes what kind of faith communities in local places the robust, King Jesus Gospel creates. In boxing lingo, it’s a one-two punch.
Take up and read.