, Scot McKnight argues that Christians (particularly American Evangelicals, though this extends well beyond this segment) have been driven by a Salvation Culture instead of a Gospel Culture. We’ve assumed for too long that the Gospel is all about how an individual “gets saved” and have then read the Bible through that lens. This makes the Gospel this “basic message” that persuades people to become Christians, usually including a bare minimum of Biblical factoids.
All these things can be established using Scripture. That’s not the point. No one is calling into question justification by faith, or the importance of salvation. The question is: Are these things the Gospel?
Years ago I was one of the leaders of a student-led worship ministry at a local church, called “The Summit.” What was the Summit, you ask? Well basically a group of young people including myself decided we needed more church (since, you know, twice Sunday plus Wednesday wasn’t enough in a given week!). So we started something Saturday nights. Seriously though, we were hungry for more of God and wanted to engage him in extended periods of worship. We were all about exalting and knowing Jesus, week after week. I got to test the waters in leadership and in teaching with a group of young people that was regularly around 30-40 bodies strong (at peak times as many as 70), with individuals representing a variety of church flavors. I was just out of high school.
One week we were advised that there was a Mormon in attendance. A Mormon! Definitely not saved! So as a leadership team we knew what this meant. This week, we had to do something we didn’t normally do: Preach the Gospel (in addition to the planned talk). If we didn’t, this person’s blood was on our hands. Anyways, I drew the short straw, so it was up to me to give the Gospel-spiel. And let me tell you, it was not pretty. I had received training that outlined the bare minimum of info that had to be included in a Gospel telling (something like what was outlined above). I think I squeezed it all in, despite my awkwardness. It was sincere too.
But it was also flat and storyless. I began to question how much I really related to it. I’m sure the Mormon didn’t. And even though I (probably, mostly) got the facts right, I’m not sure the Gospel got through.
What if the Gospel is about a bigger story? Bigger than resolving my sin problem. Bigger than me being justified by faith or getting into heaven. Bigger than me getting to be God’s friend.
McKnight makes the case the Gospel is about the grand sweep of the Bible, the good news that the story of God and Israel (and by extension, the whole world) has found its fulfillment in Jesus as Lord and Messiah. It’s a proclamation about a person. Jesus preached and embodied this Gospel. The apostolic fathers preached this Gospel. Even the first Creeds tell this gospel.
And yes…of course…. this Gospel includes a call to respond. How could it not? A declaration that Jesus is “the King” has implications for my life and yours. And for our world. Indeed, the result is salvation.
The problem is that we’ve had the cart (salvation) in front of the horse (gospel). We have been focused primarily on “getting people in” and have crafted our message with that primary goal in mind. As McKnight argues, we’ve been preaching a weak Gospel and getting weak results.
Our need is to return to Scripture and allow the original “King Jesus Gospel” to capture our imagination. McKnight’s book is a great start, and deserves a wide and thoughtful reading.