Scot McKnight on the earliest Christian gospel (1)

Last Friday and Saturday we had a fantastic 2010 IBI Summer Institute with Scot McKnight. Two full days, 8 sessions, a full house. Scot worked hard and was brilliant.

I’ll do a few posts this week on what Scot had to say

Much of the content of the lectures will be the material for a new book The Earliest Christian Gospel – so we were treated to a special preview.

Scot’s big theme is how popular evangelicalism has a deeply embedded ‘salvation culture’ that actually marginalises the gospel.

Now this is a provocative thesis. Once you start messing with ‘the gospel’ people get nervous. Scot is arguing that the gospel in biblical terms needs to be distingushed from a traditional evangelical ‘plan of salvation’ which looks like this:

– You are separated from God due to sin

– God loves you, has a plan for your life and has sent his son to die for you

– repent, accept Jesus as Lord and saviour, and you will be forgiven and justified and go to heaven when you die.

While Scot isn’t suggesting that this is fundamentally mistaken he is proposing that it telescopes the story of Israel and the story of Jesus into an almost irrelevant part of the Christian message. This is actually what the good news is according to the preaching of the NT [I’ll come back to this in later posts].

But the traditional plan of salvation has little need for Israel [and the OT generally] and for Jesus’ message of the kingdom of God.

I agree with this – the kingdom of God is a very vague or unknown idea to most students when we start talking about it in class yet it is the central theme of Jesus’ life and teaching. As people who follow Jesus, this should strike us as more than a bit odd.

Scot argues that this narrowly focused ‘plan of salvation’ gospel then leads to a ‘method of persuasion’ in evangelism which tends to focus on making people feel a ‘crisis’ of guilt or sin, often with the use of hell and judgement.

In Scot’s words

‘We have collapsed the story of Israel and the story of Jesus under the weight of the plan of salvation and the method of persuasion’

So a question or two:

If you had to summarise the gospel in a paragraph for someone who was interested what would the key points be?

If you are a Christian, was there a sense of crisis in your coming to faith?

3 thoughts on “Scot McKnight on the earliest Christian gospel (1)

  1. Maybe the ‘plan of salvation’ over-simplification of the Gospel partly arises from the idea that the Gospel can be summarized in a paragraph?


  2. I am a Christian but there was no real crisis that persuaded me to give my life to the Lord. Rather, it was the appeal of the freedom that is gained in Christ that changed my life around.

    Furthermore, I began nodding along, even though I have never thought about it before, when you said that the narrow plan of salvation leaves out all of the OT and the Kingdom of God. There is something inside of me that feels relieved to hear that the gospel message might not be so confrontational! I have always been convinced that if we believe that the Bible story is so persuasive and powerful, then as we OFFER it to others, they will feel the power of it themselves. Now, sometimes we may have to dig a bit and try to persuade, but confronting people with the need to feel guilty for sins has never felt right to me.

    Thanks for the thoughts.

  3. Touche Mags!

    Thanks JG – I’ve been helped to see the gospel as a narrative in which there are different ‘entry points’ for different people at different times. Might be guilt, sin, shame or it might be the love of God, or it might be future hope, or it might be the sheer attractiveness of Jesus, or it might be faith seen in community ..

    So the traditional plan of salvation isn’t ‘wrong’, it can just be too narrow a way to see the scope of the good news

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