Recap: McKnight @ George Fox Univ.

Recap: McKnight @ George Fox Univ. October 4, 2010

Ours is a church of routine, almost down to the very timing of the jokes embedded in the sermons. There comes this moment every Sunday when Pastor Terry pauses and asks if anyone has a story to share about leading someone to Christ.

If no one responds, he tells us to keep praying because — and here the whole congregation chimes in — “Someone you know needs Jesus.”

Then Pastor Terry asks if anyone has a story to share about impacts for Christ and you’d think he asked who caught the biggest fish on the Columbia over the weekend because nearly everybody and his brother has a story to tell. Sometimes Pastor has to cut folks off short, otherwise, he’d never get to preach and well, that’s what he gets paid to do.

I’ve never really given much thought to this routine until after I attended a seminar at George Fox University this past week where New Testament scholar Scot McKnight spoke on the subject of a Salvation culture versus a Gospel culture. McKnight is at work on a book about this matter.

Americans typically think the Gospel is all about getting our sins forgiven so that when we die we can go to heaven. McKnight says that sort of thinking has hijacked the Gospel message.

Perhaps we ought to just call ourselves The Saved Ones, McKnight suggested. That makes sense if all we care about is racking up the numbers of those we’ve lead in the sinner’s prayer.

As long as we’re on this topic, I’ve a confession to make — outside of my own four children — I think the number of people I’ve actually helped with the sinner’s prayer is two, and both of those were in high school. I suppose there are some who would say I should be ashamed of that. Mark up another area in my life where I’m a better loser.

I was an avid Campus Crusade for Christ member during my college years. I carried dozens of those four spiritual law pamphlets in my backpack. I memorized them and knew how to give my own testimony in 3 minutes. I would walk the halls of the Memorial Union at OSU and prey upon the unsuspecting, offering them an opportunity to pray the sinner’s prayer. If any of them actually did that, I can’t remember. I mostly remember being stared at like I had a unicorn horn coming out of my forehead, or cream of wheat drool running down my chin.

The problem with a Salvation culture is that it focuses on who is in and who is out, McKnight said.

Yes friends, Heaven, it seems, is the most exclusive gated community known to mankind.

As McKnight pointed out, the difference between a Gospel culture versus a Salvation Culture is that the latter focuses on the four spiritual laws instead of on the four spiritual events of Christ’s life. I hear you all muttering out there, wondering if there anything that matters more than the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Can I just point you to the headlines? It has to matter more. It better matter more. It better make a difference in how we should then live.

A salvation culture is generally focused on making sure people have all their paperwork in order before they’re let into the great gated community of the Heaven-bound. A Gospel culture is concerned with something other than paperwork. It’s concerned with transformation. A Gospel culture is focused on what that community will be on about.

The Salvation culture relies on the power of persuasion, McKnight said. Gospel culture is about the transformative power of story.

“We are tempted to turn the story of what God is doing in this world to a story about me and my personal salvation,” McKnight said.

Can I get an Amen on that?

McKnight didn’t say this but I will — the minute we turn the Gospel message into “us” and “them” rhetoric, the message is no longer about Christ.

Someone sent me a video this weekend. In it evangelist Joyce Meyer makes the claim that Jesus was himself the first born-again man.

Oh. Good. Grief.

McKnight, whose introduction alone contained enough thought-provoking material for five books, broke it down this way — if you want to evangelize, you don’t need the four spiritual laws or a degree in theology, all you need to do is tell somebody about Jesus.

Just tell your story. How faith has transformed your life. Talk about the life of Christ. Talk about his death. Talk about his resurrection. Talk about the hope you have because of all of that.

Some of us have the gift of evangelism — Billy Graham comes to mind. The Missionary in Double-Wide, as well. 

But it takes no special gifting to speak to who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Consider Andrew. He went to his brother Simon Peter and simply said, “Come with me. I’ve met this really cool dude and I want you to meet him, too.”

There was no brow-beating involved. No chest-bumping. No promise of bigger fish or a better job. Just a simple introduction, from one friend to another.

Why is it here in America we have this need to keep score about everything?

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  • I love this, Karen, although I don’t think one should discount the 4 Spiritual Laws. There’s nothing in that pamphlet which conflicts with the main point of your piece here. There is plenty wrong with, say, keeping score, or only focusing on winning new converts. But the 4SLs simply show us how we can move from a me-centered life to a God-centered one. It’s a vital message.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      I don’t think anyone was saying we should discount them. Big fan of CC myself and Scot certainly didn’t say that.

      • well, it was a small quibble anyway. The gist of this piece is excellent and says what needs to be said.

  • Scott Eaton

    Great thoughts, Karen. Scot McKnight has helped me think this through more than any other person out there and I am grateful to him for it.

    Just curious, what brand of church do you attend?

    By the way, as a first time commenter let me say I love your writing and blog. I’ve got my 15 year old daughter reading your books and loving them!

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Thanks for sharing with us Scott.
      Tim and I attend the local Nazarene church but we have a history that includes Baptist, Free Methodist, Foursquare, Episcopal, etc. We are at this church because I knew the former pastor from my days as a reporter and because many of the teachers Tim works with also attend there.

  • Nice report. And vintage Scot. As well as point well taken! Thanks, Karen.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Thanks, Ted.

  • Love this. I got into a lot of trouble on my blog trying to say what Scot says so well. I happened to read an older post of yours titled “Go to Hell” and loved the emphasis on relationship. I think the most life changing testimony comes through relationships in which we sincerely love people first, without some motive of getting them into heaven. It is in authentic relationships that people learn our real theology and our words become transformative.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Wendy: I may get in trouble myself. Tried to reflect what Scot was saying accurately but it was daunting, and I’ve interviewed him for the next book — that’s even more intimidating.

      • I followed a lot of this conversation on Jesus Creed. I think the more places people are challenged to think about how we tell the Christian story, the more people will be open to actually having the conversation. I think some people are so set in their ways, they see the conversation as a challenge to their theology. We might get beat up a bit in the process but I think the conversation is worth the risk. I work with a lot of people who have been injured by the “turn or burn” approach and it really needs to stop. It hurts the witness of the rest of us who are investing for the long run.

        • Karen Spears Zacharias

          I think turn and burn is a more common approach in the Southeast than the Northwest.

  • Radically good stuff. Not half as rad as Jesus’ parables of the kingdom of God, however.

  • Debbie W

    “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”
    — Anne Lamott

  • Karen…thanks. My husband and I recently spent 2-1/2 yrs in China. We were able to work there as conversational English teachers. Our main purpose was to quietly shine His light. Sidenote here: Michael has a Master’s Degree; I did not attend college so I went along as his dependent. Ha! They insisted i teach; I loudly declined..they won. I’m not a ‘sweating’ person but believe me, I poured sweat. Those univ sophs loved me…God Work!

    We could discuss God only if the students opened the door, which they innocently did. Each of us taught more than 300 students per week and they were wonderfully receptive…they love the elderly (that would be me and Michael)…age was definitely a plus.

    They asked, “Why are you always so happy, you’re always smiling.” Opened the door to tell them I had a friend…”Oh, who’s that?” God…! We talked about Christ and what He had done in our lives; at Christmas the ‘head honcho’ asked us to participate in the holiday program…the two of us told the story of His birth and sang Silent Night. Everything we did in those years was very simple…it was all about Him. Anywhere, everywhere…it was so natural and they sensed that. We were into promoting Christ and what He does in our lives…they loved it and it was very productive.

    The impact on our lives was and is extraordinary; so much so that every day God seems to give us an opportunity to shine His light in the most unusual manner…powerful? Oh yeah! That’s really what it’s about…at least that’s what I’m thinking.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Vasca: I’m still breathless at the thought of teaching more than 300 students a week. A week?
      Bless their hearts, they ought to love you for taking that on. Would have loved to hear those conversations you had with God when he called you to that job!

      Thanks for adding your voice to this conversation.

  • Steve Taylor

    It’s so simple, really, this call from Jesus, a passing comment, almost, as if it were just another day, just another moment of time not much different from the one before, or the one after; which, of course, is exactly that. Another moment in time.

    “What do you want?” he says. “Where do you stay?” they respond. So, he simply invites, “Come and see.”

    As if Jesus is just around the corner, down the street, next door, just a short walk between friends. Come and see, the response that solicits the whole of who we are, full body movement to meet the one who dwells not “up there” but out there, in our world. Come and see, here in the grittiest of places, here where lice bite and flys sting, here surrounded by the dung of the earth, here in the muck and the pain of the world. Come and see, in adobe huts and by cooking fires. Come and see in broken down houses and shattered lives. Come and see in a social position of the poor in the anonymoty of the nobodies.

    Thank you Lord, for inviting us on the road. Come and see.

    • Karen, thank you for what you wrote! I identified with Vasca, then with what Steve wrote here.
      I learned – but don’t remember well – the Four Spiritual Laws: they are words. Jesus Christ is LIFE! I walk with the reality of WHO He is, what He did and does still today. I want to keep my eyes focused on HIM! In times of joy, in times of trial, HE is the One Who leads me.
      Thank you, Lord, for inviting us to walk with you on this road of life!

  • The entire Gospel according to John is a “come and see” deal. It begins with timeless creation and light that was life and overcame the darkness. And it lever lets up through chapter 20 where Mary is given back her life (of given it for the very first time) as she sees and Thomas who begs to be able to see. (I more often than not see chapter 21 as a postscript added later and a bit outside the wonderful structure of the story unfolding in 20) Thomas, who states the eternal problem for all of us not in the room with Jesus the first time, pleads that unless he sees he’ll never be able to believe. So Jesus lets him see, and he proclaims, “My Lord and my God!” We have no other calling than to help people see Jesus, because in him we have passed “from death to life.” Can people “see” Jesus through us? Then we’ll have to live and love like Jesus, won’t we?

  • Steve Taylor

    Good stuff, Roger, good stuff indeed. Once we see Jesus, we finally can see the things that Jesus sees. And the things that breaks the heart of Christ, will break our hearts as well.

    • Love God, love neighbor as self.

      It never need become any more complicated than that BECAUSE we are so steadfastly loved. John’s gospel amazes me more each day, the symphonic quality of the writing based on a very simple Greek grammar and basic vocabulary is nothing short of awe-inspiring. And the two people John shows us in chapter 20, just take a look at the world through their eyes, especially Mary! Think about her status in life before she met Jesus, the brand new beginning she was given, the devastation she experienced at his death. Then to have even the BODY snatched away must have utterly crushed her soul. Why does she stay at the tomb weeping? Because she has absolutely NOTHING to go back to! And then, the gift she is given… Wow! The pages are so warm with that woman’s story you can practically bake cookies on them.

      If we end John with chapter 20, as I think we ought to, Thomas is the last person on this earth to speak to Jesus, and his last words are “my Lord and my God”. As Mary stayed because she had nothing to go back to, Thomas is my hero because he is the only one, the only one in the bunch with the guts to say out loud what we know dang well everyone else was thinking. Thomas had the guts to ask, “Is this for real? Are you for real?”

      Everything we can or should do in the name of Jesus begins at the answer to that question. Thomas is my hero. Mary is my soul mate. Jesus is my Lord. All there in that one little book… Amen.

      • Karen Spears Zacharias

        And Amen.

  • Karen, a great and thorough report from George Fox University. Thank you. You articulated all of this very well. Thanks for being eyes and ears there and then reporting this to all of your readers.