You might have a soterian gospel if you…

You might have a soterian gospel if you… April 24, 2013

The soterian gospel is a rhetorical bundle of lines about the doctrine of salvation that came to the fore in the 20th Century. I had lunch recently with a missionary who told me he’s been struggling with the “soterian” gospel for years and is so glad I wrote The King Jesus Gospel because it put into words what he’s been thinking for more than three decades. He’s not the first to tell me this.

Critique of that rhetorical bundle can be found from a number of quarters, including the new Calvinists, theologians, pastors and leaders, and also from some evangelists I’ve met.

Perhaps the secret to the success of the soterian gospel is its teachability and its programmability. Whatever the reasons for its successes, we are not alone in being convinced it is not a fair representation of the NT gospel. I got a chuckle from this reflection by  Lee Wyatt:

What would you add? What do you think is the fundamental Question the soterian gospel asks? What do you think is the fundamental Question the gospel of Jesus and the apostles asks?

You might have a Soterian Gospel if:

-you think of humans primarily as sinners in need of redemption (which we, of course, are) rather than divine image-bearers in primarily in need of restoration to their primal dignity and vocation of God’s royal representatives in the world and creation’s wise overseers;

-you think Christ became human only because humans sinned and needed redemption;

-you think that the forgiveness of sins is the end/goal of God’s redemptive work;

-you think human destiny will be in a not-earth place (heaven) and in a not-earth kind of existence (immaterial, so-called “spiritual”)

-you think the earth is not a part of God’s eternal plan.

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  • Adam

    -you think human destiny will be in a not-earth place (heaven) and in a not-earth kind of existence (immaterial, so-called “spiritual”)

    What if I think the human destiny is Mars? That’s a not-earth place.


  • Kenton

    -you think when you read “the wages of sin is death”, that death means “separation from God.”

  • –you think *everything* in the Christian life is ‘follow-up’ to a canned prayer.”

  • Uhhhh . . . wow!

    — you think those churches that do not offer an “altar call” are unbiblical.

  • Jon Altman

    The Wesleyan “Way of Salvation” and the “King Jesus Gospel” sound remarkably similar.

  • @Kenton

    Isaiah 59:2: “. . . but your iniquities have made a *separation* between you and your God” (ESV); Ephesians 2:12: “. . . remember that you were at that time *separated* from Christ” (ESV).


    Thanks, William. I was wondering too about what Kenton was saying there. Perhaps he can explain it a bit better.

  • Kenton

    William (#6)- (and DJ|AMDG)

    The separation in Ephesians 2 is not a separation of man and God caused by sin. It’s a separation of Jew and Gentile caused by ethnic and religious identity marked out in the act of circumcision.

    Isaiah 59 is a bit more complex to deconstruct. In short, Jesus’ interaction with the prophet is complicated. On the one hand, Jesus fulfills the role of Redeemer (“Messiah” ?) in v.20. But on the other hand it’s in a way that was very unexpected. (Like what happened to all that stuff where God or the Redeemer was supposed to get revenge on their enemies in v.18? There should have been some “Djesus Uncrossed” stuff if Isaiah 59 had been fulfilled.)

    Jesus is Incarnation. He is Emmanuel – “God is with Us.” Separation and incarnation are mutually exclusive.

    v. 21 “As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “MY SPIRIT, who is on you, WILL NOT DEPART FROM YOU, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,” says the Lord. (Emphasis added.)

  • Kenton

    One more thing: seeing that the “wages of sin is death” comes from in Romans 6, I should point out that Paul is saying there that Jesus’ resurrection is an answer to… some sort of spiritual separation??? No, it’s an answer to physical death. Physical death that came about from Adam is now understood in light of the physical resurrection of Jesus.

  • Kenton

    Here’s some more:

    -you read Paul through the old perspective.

    -your gospel says “You don’t have to do anything” because that would be “works-based righteousness.”

    and consequently…

    -you DON’T do anything.

  • Without knowing exactly what Kenton was saying, I do believe that if Kenton is referring *strictly* to Romans 6:23 “the wages of sin,” then it is a viable interpretation that “death” in that verse is physical death (see James D. G. Dunn, Romans 1-8 WBC, 356-357).

  • Without knowing exactly what Kenton was saying, I do believe that if Kenton is referring *strictly* to Romans 6:23 “the wages of sin,” then it is a viable interpretation that “death” in that verse is physical death (see James D. G. Dunn, Romans 1-8 WBC 38A, 356-357).

  • Rick


    An “Old Perspective” view does not necessarily equal a soterian gospel. There is a little bit of apples and oranges there. One can hold to an “Old Perspective” and still proclaim a Christocentric gospel.

  • Here’s a fundamental ecclesial question that the soterian gospel asks:

    “Did you have an altar call at the end of the service?”

  • Michael

    Well put Kenton

  • Luke Allison

    William W. Birch # 6

    If our sin has created an unbreachable separation from God, then why is God seen as the one who does the pursuing all throughout the Scripture? God comes to Abraham, God comes to Isaac, God comes to Jacob, God gives dreams to Joseph, God appears to Moses, etc. If we’re separated to the point where God can’t even stand the sight of us, why does he keep sneaking glances?

    Take a look at Habakkuk 1:13-14, often cited as another example of God’s “disgust” at humanity’s sin.
    “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;
    you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.
    Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?
    Why are you silent while the wicked
    swallow up those more righteous than themselves?”

    So….your eyes are too pure to look on evil…..then WHY do you keep doing it????

    The separation with God so beloved by soterian thinkers is a man-made plight.
    Enmity with God is certainly a condition that many people have before coming to know him (and that I have frequently to this day). But separation? I don’t think so.

  • –you think Revelation 3:20 is the best verse for evangelism in the whole Bible (spoiler: don’t pay attention to the context).

  • Kenton

    Rick (#13)-

    OK, I’ll take your word for it. My experience has been that soterian and old perspective are interchangeable, but that may not be universal.

  • John W Frye (16): LOL! the best indeed!

  • Cowpoke

    -You hear the word “theosis” and think it’s a disease.

  • LexCro

    My additions:

    * …If you spend more time focusing on what we’re saved from as opposed to who/what we’re saved to.

    * …If you tend to think of Christ-followers as “saved sinners” as opposed to saints (who, of course, used to be sinners).

    * …If discipleship, for you, is something played primarily in classroom or classroom-esque contexts.

    * …If you tend to downplay or are embarrassed by the incredibly crucial role that Spirit-empowered works have in Christ being formed in believers (esp. if you sneeze out the word “Pelagian” any time someone talks about believers’ works).

    * …If you have little to no conception of the connection between Christ’s bodily resurrection and your salvation, the Christian’s hope, and the Church’s mission.

  • Dana Ames

    “…if you are tone-deaf to the Incarnation and its ramifications.”


  • Luke A

    – If you see the gospel as something God deigned to accomplish rather than something indicative of God’s character…
    – If you view the Cross as a mechanistic event towards a utilitarian goal rather than the primary revelation of God’s wisdom, power, and person….
    – If you view the Resurrection as primarily proving the efficacy of the Cross, rather than proof that Jesus’ character was indeed God-like and therefore worthy of worship (Philippians 2:5-11)

    You might be a Soterian….

  • You might have a soterian gospel if you…
    – very often don’t agree with Scot McKnight (but because he calls you a name he invented, you lose).

  • Randy Gabrielse

    Kenton says:
    -your gospel says “You don’t have to do anything” because that would be “works-based righteousness.”
    and consequently…
    -you DON’T do anything.”

    I received a new understanding of this when I read 1 John with some neighbors the other day. This profound concern with “works righteousness” that keeps us from doing any works because they could be taken as WR has always bothered me. But in this letter, John spells out how our love for our neighbors flows from our being in Christ rather than in any way moving us toward or into being in Christ. John tells his audience, “…those who claim to love Christ but do not love their neighbors are liars.” It so happened that prior to the study we had discussed the fruits of the Spirit. All together, we were able to see how these works of love of neighbors are demonstrations that we are in Christ.

    I believe that a few of my Christian neighbors there realized for the first time that they need not worry about works righteousness but are free to show love to their neighbors.

  • Luke Allison,

    I just needed some clarification on Kent’s comment, that’s all. Did I actually write that our “separation” was unbreachable? If it were, no one could be “saved” from the cause of that separation — sin. Isaiah admitted that our sins have made a “separation” between us and God, but God took the initiative to breach that separation — there had to be some concept of separation, however one chooses to define it, right?

    At Ephesians 2:12, we Gentiles we referred to as being “without Christ,” and “without God in the world,” as well as “strangers” from Israel and her covenants. Again, there had to be some concept of separation, however one chooses to define it, right?

  • Steve Sherwood

    #16 Luke Allison speaks my mind when it comes to separation. We are absolutely in need of reconciliation and forgiveness, but “God cannot look upon you in your sin” is our invention.

  • bob

    You react to “sin” in a believer’s life by calling into question their Justification, instead of by encouraging them in their Sanctification.

    “The cross” always refers to calvary, and never to something that a believer might have to bear themselves (with help, perhaps).

    Receiving the love/grace of God, is avoiding God’s hate/wrath.

  • jpete79

    The Old Testament is considered a series of non-essential stories and rules having no bearing on the character and identity of Jesus.

    Your understanding of the Gospel comes solely from Paul’s epistles (usually Romans and/or Galatians) rather than from the entirety of Scripture.

  • Casey Taylor

    I really confused some Jehovah’s Witnesses recently when they asked whether we would spend life after death in heaven or on earth. I answered, “Both,” and politely told them to study Revelation 21 and 22.


  • Bev Mitchell

    Randy (25),

    Fascinating observation. Many soterians who work faithfully and sacrificially in Church never seem to worry that this might be construed as some form of works righteousness. Yet, equally sacrificial efforts of other Christians in the “world” sometimes leads to this sort of thinking on the part of soterians. Then there is the added complication of worrying that too much contact with the “world” will somehow be contaminating. So, for the soterian, there could be the double whammy of falling for works righteousness and the ways of the world. Better to keep it simple. Or so it sometimes seems.

  • What do you think is the fundamental Question the soterian gospel asks?

    are you saved?

    What do you think is the fundamental Question the gospel of Jesus and the apostles asks?

    are you following?

  • BenT

    … You went to the altar to “receive” Christ MANY times, because the revivalist guilted you into thinking you weren’t saved (“With every head bowed, and every eye closed. Yes, I see that hand.”)
    … You think of salvation as a kind of fire insurance that kicks in at death.

  • Andy

    Scot (and any others),
    I was wondering what discipleship resources you would recommend for a King Jesus Gospel, particularly for youth. Whilst I understand that discipleship is primarily about living the journey together and praying and learning together, I believe sometimes resources can help support in this process. I believe that a soterain perspective is still a focus in most discipleship resources. Can anyone recommend a discipleship resource?

  • mattDavis!


    I’m a Seminary student nearing the end and it has become clear to me that one of the most important lessons I’ve learned on reading Scripture is learning how to understand the honor/shame culture of the Bible.

    Is this in part what the King Jesus Gospel is trying to reclaim? It seems pretty clear to me that the soterian gospel is explicitly formed in a legal framework that is designed to alleviate my guilt before God.
    Does the King Jesus Gospel look so different because it is implicitly operating under Honor/Shame cultural categories? I don’t recall you ever referring to this in your book but it seems to fit. Especially since you insist that an authentic Gospel invitation involves the summons to be baptized. The gospel summons is a summons to be identified as a subject of King Jesus and endure the Earthly shame that such an identification brings in the hope of being honored as his friend when he comes.

    I know I’m being technical but I am curious, and seeing this as not just a theological debate but a clash of cultures makes more sense of some of the animosity I’ve seen towards how you describe the gospel.

  • Andy # 34
    Scot’s One.Life and Jesus Creed student packages might be helpful here.

  • Dave

    I don’t understand the problem with separation language. Reconciliation assumes some sort of separation and alienation. Exile is from the garden for Adam and Eve, from God’s presence with Cain, the inability to enter the land because of disobedience, later exile from the land for Israel and later Judah…all, and many more, point to sin as separating people from the presence of God.

    Is there no separation between God and humanity? I haven’t read Scot’s book, so I’m wondering what’s the alternative vision that is being assumed here?

  • Dale Critchley

    Scot, I recently read The King Jesus Gospel and had trouble putting it down. I’m another who finds that it communicates what I’ve always struggled with but couldn’t put into words.

    That said, I’m wondering whether it’s not just Gospel that we’ve mis-defined, but salvation. We have a consumeristic view of salvation, like the cruise ship in Wall-E, but the mind of Christ reflects joyful service. Salvation frees us from fear to serve in joy instead of a sense of compulsion.