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The Shepherd’s Nook: Inside the Soterian Gospel

The Shepherd’s Nook: Inside the Soterian Gospel April 19, 2013

This post is by John Frye.

Soterian Gospel = Proof-texts and Logic

We considered last week the reduced, soterian gospel and its relation to the church. “Jesus died on the cross so you can go to heaven when you die” has, we noted, no relation to the church. That “gospel” allegedly precedes and creates the church, but once it has done its thing: getting a person saved, it rests.

Let’s go inside that gospel as it is presented, aware of the dynamics at work. I am writing this as one who peddled this flimsy excuse for the robust and massive Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is not a parody. The soterian gospel works something like this:

First, affirm that the person, the potential convert is loved by God. “For God so loved the world…” The question is asked, “Pat, are you part of ‘the world’?” The response is usually, “Well, yeah, I guess I am.” The focus is narrowed. “So, we could read, ‘For God so loved Pat, that he gave…,’ isn’t that right? Pat if you were the only human being ever to live, Jesus would have died for you.” Pat smiles and agrees. Pat now believes the biblical Gospel is all about Pat.  Already immersed in an egocentric culture, Pat is pleased that the “gospel” fits so nicely into Pat’s worldview.

Second, establish guilt. “Would you say, Pat, that you have lived as well as Billy Graham?”

“Well, ah, no, not at all.”

“How do you compare to Mother Teresa?”

“O God, I’m nowhere near as good as she was. What a saint!”

“So, you admit you’re a sinner? That you have not lived up to God’s will.”

With images of Billy Graham and Mother Teresa swimming in the mind, Pat confesses that he (or she) is not good enough to meet God. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Third, introduce the great reveal. “Pat, you’ll never be good enough to meet God. To help you out, Jesus, God’s Son, died for your sins so you could meet God. Not because of things you do, no matter how good or how bad, but because of what Jesus did on the cross, dying for you.” Jesus comes riding in as the hero who lived and died so that Pat can know the big eternal question can be affirmatively answered. “Will I go to heaven when I die?”

Fourth, the pitch. “Pat, God loves you and you have not lived up to God’s will. You’re a sinner. Yet, Jesus died for you so that you can go to heaven when you die. This is important: it is not enough just to know these things. You must decide right now to receive the gift of salvation.” This is the genius part. Pat is asked: “Is there anything keeping you from receiving the gift of eternal life right here, right now?” Pat, looking for the exit and feeling uncomfortable, blunders out a few words, realizing that he or she has been hooked. A few people have had the moxie to tell me that they had had enough and shut down the “conversation” (aka blatant sales pitch). Many, however, just say, “Ah, no, not really.”

Fifth, signing the dotted line. Some misplaced use of Jesus’ knocking on the door of their heart is explained. This door-knocking is coupled with “whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son does not have life.” The logic in this maneuver is impeccable. Pat is led to ask Jesus to come into his or her heart. Pat signs the dotted line with the canned prayer. After the prayer Pat is asked, “Where is Jesus right now?”

“Aaaah, I don’t know. In heaven?”

“Did you ask Jesus to come into your heart?”

“Yes, I did.”
“Then, where is he?”

“I don’t know? Ah, in my heart?”

“How do you know?”
“I don’t know.”

“Did you ask Jesus in?”

“Yeah.”

“Then where is he?” (Now the clincher.) “Would Jesus lie to you, Pat?”

“O God, no!  Jesus wouldn’t lie to me.”
“Then, where is he?”
“Ah, he’s in my heart.”

“So, do you have eternal life?”
“I don’t know.”

“Whoever has the Son has life. Do you have the Son?”

“I don’t know.”

“You just asked Jesus to come into your heart. Did he come in? Would he lie?”
“Oh, no, oh, yeah, he did come in.”

(Pat is told that feelings do not matter and have no place in this conversation. All Pat’s eternity is allegedly at stake yet feelings don’t count. Hello, Spock.)
“So, Pat, do you have the Son?”

“Yeah, I do.”
“Whoever has the Son has life. Do you have eternal life, Pat?”

“Yeah, I do.’

Sold by text and logic, but not necessarily saved by grace. Yet, Pat is assured of heaven forever.

Proof-texts, salesmanship and logic: the American soterian gospel at its best. It does not need God’s sweeping, missional Story. No need to introduce “the Christ” or mention cosmic renewal. Community is irrelevant in this gospel; it’s an add-on if the convert so chooses. Pat is in.

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