Rhetorical Leverage Removed

Rhetorical Leverage Removed March 17, 2012

One of the points I have made in my King Jesus Gospel book is that the soterian gospel is a rhetorical package that seeks to move folks from a state of liminality (the sense of being loved and under God’s wrath at the same time), almost always rooted in the threat of what could happen after death, to salvation. This recent graph from CT shows that the soterian gospel’s rhetorical leverage is being removed.


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  • Joe Canner

    “…the soterian gospel’s rhetorical leverage is being removed.”

    But is it being replaced with a more complete understanding of salvation, or is it being replaced with a complete disregard for spiritual matters? (or perhaps something else entirely)

  • scotmcknight


    Of course, that’s another set of issues. My experience with many is that the soterian gospel is less and less appealing, and that is why we have so many folks pounding away on “gospel-centered” stuff.

    What replaces the old? I suspect some of it is superficial nonsense while others are trying to make the soterian gospel better and others are saying, Hey, we need to look at the NT all over again. I prefer the latter, and what we find exposes the soterian gospel for what it is.

  • RJS

    I haven’t heard the “if you were to die tonight” question in a long time … even when in a context that emphasizes salvation over the full gospel. The approaches have changed – or so it seems to me.

  • Diane

    I am glad we are moving away from fear as a primary motivator to profess (if not possess) Christianity, the irony being that Christianity is a faith that, at its core, replaces fear with love. I have been immersed in Bonhoeffer lately, and I like his idea that we need to live a “this-worldly” Christianity in which we express Christ’s love–and hence our faith–through acting responsibly to help others–even if it means we –or *I* –personally go to hell. Bonhoeffer was willing to risk his very salvation in the plot against Hitler in order to save other humans–I think that is at least something to think about as we try to understand what it really means to be a Christian.

  • Diane

    We were talking about manipulation the other day, and the formula “accept Jesus as your personal savior or spend eternity in hell” has the ring of manipulation or coercion–people are reacting with a gun pointed to their heads.

  • Mike

    Using the same vernacular as “if you were to die tonight…”, the soterian gospel reduces eternal life to what we used to call a “fire insurance policy”, the ticket to heaven when we die. It’s reductionist in nature. Jesus came to bring so much more! I can’t wait to read your book Scott!

  • Joe

    Rhetorically speaking, the audiences’ values, psychological makeup, and worldview are all part and parcel of the rhetorical situation, impacting the “exigence” that the rhetor (i.e., evanegelist in this case) addresses. While the audience of the recent past may have responded to the former manner of gospel delivery, the data above suggests that a new form of argument is required. It seems to me that the evangelist has not lost leverage, per se. He simply needs to address a new exigence. In a sense, new “leverage” must be found.

  • Diane


    The salvation reductionism turned me off when I was younger. I figured I had my insurance policy, as you call it, but longed for a faith with substance. I was stunned when I read Gandhi’s statement that one of the seven deadly sins was “worship without sacrifice.” It up-ended my world. What I had been told all my life was that Christianity merely required me to “accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior.” When I started to recognize that there was a “there there,” that, indeed, Christianity could have some meaning in this world, I started to get interested.

  • EricW

    Nowhere that I can think of offhand does the Bible say that when a believer (or anyone) dies they “go to heaven.” The problem is as much with the question as it is with the ubiquity of the “I don’t even think about it” attitude.

    Jesus said to get one’s self ready for the Kingdom of Heaven/God – i.e., prepare for its arrival or prepare to enter it. Revelation, from which many people get their ideas of “heaven” (pearl gates, gold streets), has this heavenly city coming down to earth, possibly to or in the midst of some people who haven’t even died. I.e., it’s not where people go when or if they die.

  • JohnD

    I can’t say that I ever really like the “if you died tonight…” question, but you can’t deny that it got an entire generation of people seriously considering their spiritual condition, even if it was framed in the context of eternal life as something that was entirely not yet.

    I think it’s important to remember that, though Jesus never asked the question in that way, he certainly never sidestepped the issue of making sure one’s life was aligned with him, without which one would experience hell as a real place that was not much fun. I don’t think we should ever manipulate people into salvation, but neither should we fail to fully educate people about the serious negative consequences of ignoring Christ’s call to salvation.

    I don’t think the question about dying tonight was necessarily a bad one. It was one that led a lot of people to a relationship with Jesus. I do think it was another step in the evolutionary process of believers knowing how to present the gospel in a way people can understand. I’m grateful that Scot has taken the next step and given us more insight on how to present the gospel in a more comprehensive, and hopefully, a more thoroughly scriptural way. Thanks Scot. I really enjoyed King Jesus Gospel.

  • scotmcknight

    JohnD, a case can be made with relative simplicity that however “effective” that approach was, (1) it was not used by Jesus or the apostles (judgment, yes, but not as the point of entry in a rhetorical package), and (2) the “results” have created a generation of soterians who don’t think discipleship is necessary.

  • I think your observation from the statistics are correct. Fear of Hell is losing power. I’ve been reading your “King Jesus Gospel”, and finding it confirming for me the basic ideas about the gospel I’ve been coming to for the past few years. As I’ve started teaching and blogging on this topic, I’m realizing just how ingrained the soterian approach is. It is as if some Evangelicals simply have no way to hear what is being said.

  • Luke Allison

    I guess we’re going to have to start telling people about Jesus before asking them to trust him with their whole lives.

  • JohnM

    Scot, whatever the shortcomings of the “do you know for sure” approach, it is an overstatement to say the results have created a generation that doesn’t think discipleship is necessary. You may know some people who think that way, but there is not an entire generation (I assume you mean of evangelicals) that entirely dismissed discipleship.

    In case you didn’t mean entire and entirely, may I respectfully suggest qualifying your statement 🙂

  • Brian W

    Fear of death will never lose its power; Heb 2 explicitly says that Jesus has come to destroy the one who has the power of death, the devil, and deliver everyone from lifelong slavery that comes through fear of death. We only overcome the fear of death through Christ or through self-deception (Freud said no one really believes in their own mortality). Judgment awaits. “If you died tonight…” is not a bad question at all; its tapping into something that we are either confronting or evading. The problem only comes with how you answer it.

  • Kyle

    The problem is that the question is the kind that can be answered and then no longer addressed or simply not addressed in the first place, but I’m not convinced that statistics go any distance toward parsing which of those two subsets we’re looking at. Put a different way, one can never wonder while having once wondered, and this is evident in plain speech: I can truthfully tell my friends that I never eat lamb because I once had a bout of food-poisoning that turned me off to that meat. Or I can tell my friends that I never eat lamb because I have never eaten lamb and am resistant to sample the unknown. Perhaps I’m nitpicking, but I actually work in the test-prep field and this kind of distinction would be catastrophic for the validity of an item on an exam. And even if one were to argue that the intended meaning is obvious enough to most people, the sizable minority who play the language with more precision could more than account for the apparent trending that precipitated this post, rendering the discrepancy considerably less meaningful. Granted, I’m not in the trenches often enough (i.e., immersed in church culture or sparking metaphysical conversation with myriad samples of the population) to have a “feel” for how people are thinking about this, but the beauty of statistics is that they can, when used properly, provide a window that broadens the perspective of even those experts who trade in intuitively reading the pulse of a culture. I question whether these are those statistics.

  • Chris White

    @14 JohnM,
    I don’t read into Scot’s sentence the idea of entire. From what I have read of him here and in his books he does not think that. But what I have experienced in my 35 years plus of evangelical Christianity, discipleship was rarely intentional, planned, talked about, dealt with and active.

    When I finally realized how much my church was missing out on making disciples and made suggestion to correct–I was ignored. They were to busy doing good church work that was important to actually consider obeying Mt.28:20. Sad.

    It still is a struggle with the body of believers I am now with. The soterian gospel is well-entrenched in the evangelical sub-culture.

  • JohnM

    Chris White #17 – Thank you. I doubt he quite thinks that too, but the way it was said…

    In my 40 years experience of evangelical Christianity discipleship has in fact been much talked about and urged. Even where discipleship has been under-emphasized in comparison to evangelism, even where the planning, training, etc. has not been done very well, few professing Christians, and no pastors, I’ve known have ever suggested discipleship is not necessary.