Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Book Review: The King Jesus Gospel (part 2)

Here are my summaries and comments on chapters 2 and 3 of Scot McKnight's very helpful book, The King Jesus Gospel.

Chapter 2 - Gospel Culture or Salvation Culture?

A precious conviction of evangelicalism is that each person must be born again or be saved. Personal faith is both necessary and nonnegotiable. Evangelicalism is known for at least two words: gospel and (personal) salvation. Scot thinks evangelicals are more soterians than evangelical (the root of the word gospel). Evangelicals mistakenly equate the word gospel with the word salvation. Our instinct when we think of gospel is to think (personal) salvation. Scot wants us to go back to the NT to discover all over again what the Jesus gospel is and that by embracing it we become true evangelicals. Instead we have created a salvation culture instead of a gospel culture.

A Salvation Culture

Our culture focuses on the experience of personal salvation as the decisive factor, “Are you in?” A salvation culture is not the same thing as a gospel culture. It betrays a lack of awareness of what gospel means and what it might mean for our world. We need to go back to the Bible to discover that culture and make it the center of the church.

Evangelicals have struggled with moving “The Decided” to become “The Discipled”. This is because we are obsessed in making the right decision so we can move from being unsaved to saved. In a gospel culture, it means moving the Members into the Discipled.

Scot points out another pastor and “his” gospel. “The gospel is the good news that God offers us salvation through his Son, Jesus Christ.” Christ saved us from our sins, by his death and resurrection. Scot looks at what Eric left out – The gospel is not a call to imitate Jesus. It is not a public announcement that Jesus is Lord and King. It is not (directly) and invitation into the church. It does not involve a promise of a second coming. For Eric, making a decision involves a decision of the mind, heart and will. Salvation is by faith alone, and that leads to discipleship. But if one presses too hard, then one might make the mistake that works are involved in our salvation and that may compromise justification by faith. Thus a salvation culture does not require The Members or The Decided to become The Discipled for salvation. Why not? Because its gospel is a gospel shaped entirely with the “in and out” issue of salvation. Because it’s about making a decision. In this book, Scot wants to show that the gospel of Jesus and that of the apostles, both of which created a gospel culture and not simply a salvation culture, was a gospel that carried within it the power, the capacity, and the requirement to summon people who wanted to be “in” to be the “Discipled”.

Chapter 3 - From Story to Salvation

Scot puts forth four categories that need to be defined and distinguished in order for us to proceed: The Story of Israel/the Bible, The Story of Jesus, The Plan of Salvation, The Method of Persuasion. Scot believes that these categories are connected to each other and ought to build on one another. For him, the Story of Israel is the foundation, upon which the Story of Jesus makes sense. The Plan of Salvation flows out of this Story of Israel/Story of Jesus and the Method of Persuasion flows out of the Plan of Salvation.

The Story of Israel – Adam and Eve were created as divine image-bearers to represent God, to govern for God, and to relate to God, self, others, and the world in a redemptive way. This task was distorted when Adam and Eve rebelled. Some of us skip right to the book of Romans in the stage to flesh out the plan of salvation, but Scot lets us know that the rest of the story is important as well. It is important for us to see how God chose one person, Abraham, and then through him one people, Israel, and then later the Church to be God’s representatives. But like Adam, Israel and all of its kings fail. So God sent his Son to do what Adam and Israel and the kings did not (and could not) do and to rescue everyone from their sins and systemic evil and Satan. What God does in sending the Son is to establish Jesus as the Messiah, which means King, and God established in Jesus Christ the kingdom of God, which means the King is ruling in his kingdom. And this is connected to the original creation. As his original representatives failed, so God sent his son to rule. As its king and messiah and Lord, the Son commissions the Church to bear witness to the world of the redemption in Jesus Christ, the true King, and to embody the kingdom as the people of God. The story has a climax, that is when God remakes everything at the end and sets up his once for all kingdom on earth. The gospel only makes sense in that story. Without that story there is no gospel. If we ignore that story, the gospel gets distorted, and that is just what has happened in salvation culture.

The Story of Jesus – The Story of Jesus as Messiah and Lord resolves what is yearning for completion in the Story of Israel. This Jesus is the one who saves Israel from its sins and the one who rescues humans from their imprisonments. The Story of Jesus is first and foremost a resolution of Israel’s Story and because the Jesus Story completes Israel’s Story, it saves.

The Plan of Salvation – flows out of the Story of Israel and the Story of Jesus. In our salvation culture, the gospel plan is what we mean by how an individual gets saved, what God has done for us, and how we are to respond if we want to be saved. The problem has been that sometimes we are so singularly focused on the personal-Plan of Salvation and how we get saved that we eliminate the Story of Israel and the Story of Jesus altogether. For some, the question arises, do you even need the OT for your understanding of the gospel? The plan of salvation, though extremely good is not the gospel. The Plan of Salvation includes God’s love and grace and holiness and righteousness. It includes our reaction as image bearers but our choice to sin leads to a condition of being under God’s judgment. The good news of the atoning death of Jesus Christ includes the news that he forgives us our sins and reconciles us to God. There is the need for every human being to respond simply by admitting one’s sinfulness, repenting from sin, and trusting in the atoning death of Jesus. Again, all of this is important and shouldn’t be dismissed. But it is not the gospel. The gospel is much fuller than the plan of salvation. It includes the plan of salvation, but it is much, much more. The plan of salvation does not lead to discipleship. It doesn’t lead to a life of justice or goodness or loving-kindness. But the gospel properly understood does lead to those things. We see that when we focus only on the plan of salvation, we have trouble moving the decided into the column of being disciples. (Again, Scot affirms that the kingdom vision of Jesus isn’t simply about the plan but without the plan of salvation, the kingdom doesn’t work).

The Method of Persuasion – this is how we have learned to “package” the Plan of Salvation in order to most powerfully and successfully to persuade people to respond. There have been several ways to “package” the message through church history. It seems that the Plan of Salvation and the Method of Persuasion have been given so much weight they are crushing and have crushed the Story of Israel and the Story of Jesus. Our Method of Persuasion is shaped by a salvation culture and is designed from first to last to get people to make decisions so they can come inside the boundary lines of the decided (but not necessarily disciples)

What Scot sets forth in the following chapters is that the word gospel belongs to one and only one of our four sets of terms, and he will contend that it belongs to the Story of Jesus as the resolution of Israel’s Story.


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