How Did Salvation Take over the Bible?
In this chapter, Scot makes the argument that the ancient creeds of the church were actually expositions on Paul’s gospel from 1 Corinthians 15. The creeds seek to bring out what is already in the Bible’s gospel. He walks through some of the writings of the apostolic fathers to show how this was the same in them as well. He shows many of the similarities in the language of the creeds and Paul’s gospel serves as an apt outline for them, most specifically the lines about Jesus.
So what happened? How did we transition from a gospel culture to a salvation culture? This began in the Reformation. The Reformation has brought us so much good, but the Reformers did not frame things through Paul’s gospel or even the creeds, they framed their great statements of faith around justification by faith. The gospel became about personal salvation and was cut off from the grand story of Israel and Jesus. The gospel became God loves you, you are messed up, Jesus died for you, accept him and (no matter what) you can go to heaven. We shifted from a Story to a system.
Again, Scot invokes the words of Dallas Willard. He feels our gospel as a system of personal salvation makes Jesus only a sin remover and not necessarily a King to submit to. Our salvation instead comes down to a right decision, not necessarily to becoming a disciple in its fullest sense. We inherit a Gospel of Sin Management and “presume a Christ with no serious work other than redeeming humankind…and they foster “vampire Christians,” who only want a little blood for their sins but nothing more to do with Jesus until heaven.”
The Gospel in the Gospels?
Scot lays out here that Paul’s gospel was not only the outline for the early church creeds but perhaps the gospels themselves.
There seems to be a dichotomy between the messages of Jesus and Paul. Jesus preached the Kingdom while Paul focused (at least in Romans) on justification. If we twist things a little, we can find Jesus preaching justification (a la Piper) or Paul preaching the Kingdom. McKnight wants us to look at the gospel as being bigger than both terms. As we have seen, the gospel is declaring that the story of Israel as resolved in the Story of Jesus. That was Paul’s gospel and the apostolic tradition. Was this Jesus’ gospel as well? He did if we see that Jesus made his kingdom message center on his own role in the Story of Israel.
And besides all of this, the books of the four gospel writers were called “gospels” for a reason. These books are called gospels because in story after story they show Jesus and the power of God at work through him. Paul’s gospel was the Story of Jesus completing Israel’s Story, and the reason the early Christians called Matthew, Mark, Luke and John “The Gospel according to…” was because those gospels told the very same story. The early church wasn’t saying there were four gospels, they were in effect saying that there was one Gospel, but it was written down in four versions. The Gospels are about Jesus, they tell the Story of Jesus and everything in them is about Jesus. Scot quotes Pope Benedict XVI: To call the four accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John “Gospels” is precisely to express that Jesus himself, the entirety of his acting, teaching, living, rising and remaining with us is the ‘gospel’. Since Easter, the method of evangelization has been to tell men what we now read in the Gospels. Again, the gospels narrate the Story of Jesus in a way that shows that Jesus completes Israel’s Story in a way that the story is a saving story. They are lopsided in that they focuse on the death and resurrection of the hero more than any story in ancient history. Which comports nicely with Paul’s gospel in 1 Corinthians 15.
Two NT scholars comment on this full gospel. Hengel: Mark calls hearers to belief in the person who is described in it, Jesus, the Messiah and Son of God, and thus to eternal life; in other words it seeks to be wholly and completely a message of salvation. Marshall: Luke’s purpose is not merely to narrate the deeds and words of Jesus but to show how these did in fact lead to the experience of salvation and to the formation of the community of the saved.
Dead, Burial and Resurrection
Mark’s gospel is almost 50 percent focused on Jesus’ last week. Which is very Paul like (from 1 Cor. 15). That Mark is narrating the saving, forgiving story of Jesus as the completion of Israel’s Story. Israel’s story is coming to its resolution in John and Jesus. See if this sounds familiar, the gospels declare the story of Jesus according to the apostolic script: the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus – all this according to the Scriptures.
According to the Scriptures
All of the gospels (especially Matthew, Luke and John) see the Story of Israel completing itself in the Story of Israel.
For Our Sins
Matt. 1.21 – he will save his people from their sins. Luke has Mary son rescuing Israel by saving them from the burden of their sin. Mark has John the Baptist coming in fulfillment of the OT (Mark 1.4-5). John portrays Jesus as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1.29). Jesus himself passes the cup at the Last Supper and proclaims “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26.28). Scot wants us to make sure that we remember that Christ’s death became effective over sins because of the resurrection of Jesus himself from among the dead. We need to remember that death and resurrection are bound together to unleash an entire new world order, the new creation.
So…in summing up, the apostolic gospel, which is embedded in 1 Corinthians 15, announces the Story of Jesus as the completion of Israel’s Story in the Scriptures in such a way that Jesus saves people from their sins. The gospels do this because they are all about Jesus. They are all about Jesus being the completion of Israel’s story. They are all about Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, exaltation, and future coming. They reveal that this Jesus saves people from their sin.I like how McKnight frames this: On the one hand, the gospel preaching of the apostles could be reduced to 1 Corinthians 15.3-5, and, at the same time, we could say that 1 Corinthians 15.3-5 was expanded and expounded into the first four gospels.