A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Is the Soterian Gospel the Gospel?

My friend, Scot McKnight has just published his latest book, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. In the book he asks the question, "What is gospel?" His answer is different from the traditional soterian model. In a post on his blog yesterday he writes:
There's a big discussion about "what is the gospel?" And a lot of people who talk about this, think their gospel is the real gospel. The reason I wrote my new book is because I think many people who think they understand the gospel really don't understand the gospel. I’m calling their gospel the "soterian" gospel (see below).

In fact, some who are reading The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited are convinced they can "tweak" their soterian gospel by adding "story" to their gospel. I’m not entirely sure how they think they are going to do this, but it appears to me they want the "story" to be the creation-fall-redemption story, and just like that they've escaped the "soterian" net.

Not so. The creation-fall-redemption story, even if it adds "consummation" to it, remains a soterian and individual-shaped gospel. This won't do.

As Tom Wright made clear in the preface to my book when he said the proposals here are "massive," what King Jesus Gospel is proposing is not about tweaking our already-existing (soterian) gospel or just tweaking our already existing (soterian) evangelism or adding story to the soterian gospel. Folks, everything's affected when the gospel shifts from the soterian approach to the Story approach. Again, here's the chart I posted the other day.

What I’m suggesting then is not making the soterian gospel better. We’ve tried that and it doesn’t help.

The soterian gospel is not the gospel of Jesus, of Peter or Paul.

The issue here is do you want to live with the original gospel or do you want to make the gospel according to your salvation theology?

What I'm suggesting is that the soterian gospel is not the gospel. It is a way of ordering various bits of what the Bible says about salvation into the plan of salvation. I want to make this clear: the soterian gospel is not what the NT is declaring when it is gospeling. (Look at 1Cor 15, the sermons in Acts or the Gospels.)

I hear lots today about the gospel-centered preaching, and gospel-centered theology, and gospel-centered worship, and gospel-centered missions, and then I look to see what they mean by gospel … and, frankly, it is nothing but a soterian gospel amped up by a robust Calvinist theology. Some in fact think they are being "gospel-centered" if they are being Calvinist. That is, some find a deeper gospel in the so-called doctrines of grace, but those doctrines are only a deepening of soteriology; in other words, yet more of the soterian gospel.

But gospel is not about the so-called "doctrines of grace," or about Calvinism or about double imputation. The gospel is the announcement that Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Mary, is in fact the long-awaited King (Messiah), the Lord of all, the one who alone brings the kingdom and those who order their lives under him are the true kingdom people. Anyone connected to that Jesus by faith, by repentance, by baptism, etc, will find the forgiveness of sins and will be summoned into a new creation life.

Now I want to press this harder: the fundamental orientation of the soterian gospel is about the benefits "I" get if I respond. The fundamental orientation of the Story gospel is not about "my" benefits but about Jesus. Embracing the Story gospel brings benefits, to be sure, but we embrace this Story because we embrace Jesus, not because we get something. The entire soterian approach is shaped by benefits.

I press harder: the God of the soterian gospel is formed around two features about God: God is judge, and God is wrathful (and will send folks to hell). Or, in some forms, the soterian gospel is framed about this: God is judge, but God loves us and wants a better life for us but God will judge if we don’t respond aright. The operating idea then is "How can I escape God's wrath or God's judgment against me?"

The God of the Story gospel is formed around these: God is creator, God is director of history, God is incarnate in Jesus, and God calls humans to live in God's ordered kingdom world by living under Jesus. The operating idea here is "Who rules the world and do I live under that rule?" The Gods of these two "gospels" are framed differently.
For years I have referred to the soterian gospel as the "icing on the cake gospel" because it focuses on what I can get as opposed to the substance of what God in Jesus Christ wants and expects of me.

What do you think?


Anonymous said...

What do I think? I think I've learned more about the Gospel and the New Testament Church by reading you and Dave Black than from any "preacher" we've ever had. But, my heart is breaking - who will teach the local church?

Jim said...

Who will teach the local church? I will. I'm not going to get to every local church, but I'll keep working in the one I'm serving. I've been inviting persons into the grand salvation story of our God for years, talking about the adventure. But every so often in Sunday school class someone shakes their head because this or that person hasn't had a come to Jesus moment and that person is somehow excluded from the story.

Allan, thanks for putting a theological framework on some of the stuff I've been saying in the local church for some time. I always appreciate your posts.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Thanks for your kind words. And you are right... Dave is a first-rate scholar and a faithful disciple of Jesus.


Thanks for your commitment to the gospel.

Anonymous said...

It is great that Scot is your friend. Hopefully this friendship will not be determinative in whether or not you find his arguments valid. I am friends with Scot too but I find some of his arguments a bit strained. Michael Horton has engaged the text and offers some interesting and compelling observations.

Sometimes it is difficult to analyze a work written by a colleague with whom we regularly share love for coffee.

But, at the end of the day, the proverb that iron sharpens iron comes into play. It is with the 'push-back' and the wrestling over exegetical and applicational issues that we both become better scholars.


Anonymous said...

Now,are u saying that Soterian Gospel is not Preaching Salvation Message?