An Irish Presbyterian night out: sandwiches, tray-bakes, harps, mythical objectivism, spiritual transformation and the grace of God

On Sunday evening a group from our wee church, joined with a three other Presbyterian churches in the wider area for a bit of a shin-dig in Drogheda.

A very convivial evening it was, with a generous surplus of sandwiches and tray-bakes, plenty of chat, worship led by a dynamic team of MCC musicians (including a harp and Be Thou My Vision in Irish); the service led by Rev John Woodside of Drogheda interspersed with people telling their own story of faith (i. e. testimony).

Listening to the stories was fascinating. Maybe I’m wrong but it seems as if someone telling their ‘testimony’ of what God has done in their life does not seem to happen very often any more? I wonder why?

Two things stood out to me:

First, how beautifully a woman spoke of the church.  This was a story of a specific experience of a particular community. The image used was from Luke 13:34

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

Dominus Flevit
Mosaic from Dominus Flevit, a Franciscan church at the foot of the Mount of Olives

She used this as illustration of how she had been ‘gathered in’, almost against her will: gently, without coercion or pressure or force, but with love, kindness, pastoral care and friendship. Her experience of church was of soft feathered wings protectively enfolding her and bringing her into a safe place.

Now, ‘the church’ in general gets pretty bad press in Ireland. But this was a reminder what authentic Christianity in action looks like. Love. Nothing as powerful nor as moving.

Second, the stories illustrated something that was mentioned on this blog a while back when discussing conversion and finding / losing faith. Namely, the fallacy of ‘mythical objectivism’  (the myth that objective truth is knowable, neat, tidy and can be acquired in a neutrally detached way by the knower).

Rather, spiritual transformation tends to be personal, subjective, storied, and nearly always deeply relational.

For some people it was a line in a hymn that suddenly became real, for another a Leonard Cohen song, or a post on Facebook by a virtual stranger, or a chance visit to a church that sparked off a journey towards faith in God. No one story was remotely the same.

One thing they did have in common was that they did not focus on unpacking rational arguments for the existence of God, the reliability of the Bible, or how the atonement works. Nor did they tend to focus on sermons heard or teaching received.

Now, this is not to fall into some Kantian dualism where ‘faith’ belongs to the realm of the subjective. It was clear that the faith shared by the speakers had become / was increasingly becoming ‘faith seeking understanding’. In other words, faith based on historical fact, coherent biblical doctrine, gospel truth and so on. Each was on a journey of faith seeking increasing understanding; some just starting out and others a good bit along the road.

But (for me anyway) they highlighted how most of us humans are no mere ‘rational minds’ working out ‘truth’ in a detached, logical manner before making a carefully, calculated decision to follow Jesus. Rather we are a whole mix of emotions, experiences, relationships, questions, thoughts and beliefs – and somewhere in that pot-pourri God graciously breaks in surprising and unexpected ways.

I say graciously, because the other thing the stories had in common was the joy and conviction that this new life was a good one: not without struggle or doubt or questions, but full of thanksgiving and joy and hope.

All in all, a grand night altogether.

Christianity as life-lite and other defeater beliefs

In Northern Ireland there is a phrase that someone is ‘good livin‘. I don’t think it exists south of the border* (I’m not sure if it exists anywhere else actually).

There’s a lot of meaning and history in that wee saying.

It’s shorthand to describe someone who is ‘born again’ or ‘religious’. What that means in practice is rather vague, God doesn’t really come into it – he is only there in the background. The good living person is perceived not to be into certain behaviour as they try to live a good life.

Some guys I spend time with sometimes apologise to me when they swear more profusely than usual because I am perceived to be ‘good livin’. It’s sort of assumed ‘good livin’ people are different in that they don’t swear, tell dirty jokes, sleep around, drink too much etc and might get offended or shocked by such behaviour.

This is Christianity as vaguely moralistic, mildly negative and mostly inoffensive. A bit of a boring normal life. Life-lite if you like.

And at the same time the good livin person is trying to be better than others who are aren’t good livin.

The motive to be ‘good livin’ is left unexamined. Being Northern Ireland, with its embedded evangelical history, there is enough familiarity with born again salvation stories to know that some people, for whatever reason,  ‘get religion’ and are not the same again.

Seeing Christianity as merely an attempt at ‘good livin’ is a peculiar Northern Irish version of what Tim Keller would call a ‘Defeater Belief’. A belief, once held, that means those who hold it are innoculated against authentic New Testament Christianity. There is an inbuilt resistance to the gospel because it has already been dismissed as implausible before being seriously considered.

For Christianity as merely a mixture of being nice, bland, yet vaguely superior to those who aren’t good livin, isn’t exactly very compelling or attractive is it?

 What are some defeater beliefs that you encounter?

* I guess there is a parallel to Catholic culture and talk of ‘the Religious’ – which refers to nuns and priests; the religious professionals in it for life at the expense of all worldly distractions like sex and marriage and making money. Religion here is for the really serious types who are willing to sacrifice all to God. Normal people are only religious amateurs who need to (or at least should) turn up to Mass on a reasonably regular basis. The phrase ‘the Religious’ reveals the gulf between laity and clergy in Irish (Catholic) Christendom. In the past of course this calling was admired and venerated. There was nothing more to be proud of than a son going into the priesthood. Now a religious life is (for most?) an incomprehensible waste of a life.

Irish evangelicals and evangelism

Reading about an evangelical Christian being sacked from South Tipperary County Council for persistent evangelism and subsequently winning the court case, prompts some (wildly generalised) thoughts. Please do add your own to a conversation – these are just descripitve musings ‘out loud’ rather than value judgements. Perhaps you will disagree or want to add your thoughts. I’m no lawyer and could be off on a tangent here:

First, there is a strong cultural strand to this story; it just would not have happened in Belfast with long familiarity with evangelicalism. Now I don’t know Mr McAteer and how he does evangelism. There are winsome ways of sharing the gospel and there are ways that I imagine could get people’s backs up (monologuing etc). But however done, Mr McAteer’s behaviour was interpreted as culturally alien. Irish Catholic culture tends to have a deep-seated suspicion of personal talk of Jesus and the Bible, it is, for many, much too ‘in your face’. If Mr McAteer had been a passionate Tipp GAA man who always talked hurling, I somehow doubt he’d have lost his job.

Second, here’s equality legislation working in favour of minority religious views and associated behaviour (evangelism). The ruling took the view that John McAteer was dismissed not because of anything to do with his work, but that he refused to stop talking to colleagues and members of the public about Jesus during work hours.

Now this is an interesting interpretation of European legislation: someone’s practice of religion is covered within the Employment Equality Acts. In other words, evangelism (seeking to persuade, communicate and tell the gospel) is actually protected in the workplace. Do you see implications for this at your work? What, for example, are implications for those in health care or counselling, where (as I understand it) there are relatively strict guidelines about ‘talking about God’ with patients / clients? What about in a corporate setting – is ‘religion’ out of bounds at the lunch table in Google or Intel?

Third,  reading between the lines, it seems that the management of South Tipp Co Co took the view that insisting on talking about Christianity was seen as inappropriate, out-of-place and socially awkward.

In other words, their reaction pretty well mirrors that of most contemporary evangelicals towards evangelism.

In the past, public evangelism was a primary marker of evangelicals.  I’m talking about door-to-door, street work, tract distribution, mission campaigns etc.  While they haven’t disappeared altogether, like McAteer, those that continue to engage in evangelism with strangers in a public setting are in the small minority and tend to make most other evangelicals as uncomfortable as the management of South Tipperary County Council.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

The kindness of God (2) Mission, violence and suffering

Kindness of GodWhat can we make of the fact that Christian history is soaked in blood?

Christianity is a cross-shaped faith. Christians follow a Messiah who freely gives up his life on the cross for us. The death of Jesus, God’s son, is the critical event of the NT and forms the core of the missionary proclamation. The message of the gospel is one of reconciliation and peace with God and with one another.

Yet in events like the Crusades, the cross of Christ was paraded as a symbol of God’s blessing on military carnage. Where soldiers were promised forgiveness and absolution for participating in God’s work on the battlefield (a sort of Christian jihad when you think about it).

What do we make of the fact that spiritual giants like Bernard of Clairvaux could write hundreds of deeply devotional hymns and yet be a passionate supporter of the wars against Muslims?

These are some of the questions considered in chapter 3 of David Smith’s The Kindness of God, called ‘Mission, Violence and Suffering’.

David points to different voices and approaches to Islam such as Francis of Assisi, who ‘waged peace’ on Islam in Egypt (interesting story this). Smith gives other examples; his point is how to engage ‘on the frontier’ with other cultures, particularly Islam, is a critical challenge in global mission.

Conversion is at the heart of mission. But there is a difference between proselytism and conversion. The former seeks to make the other exactly like me.  Conversion sees the other come to Christ but does not necessitate the other losing his/her cultural identity. You see this cultural pluralism in Acts 15 and the inclusion of Gentiles into the budding church.

Smith offers three guidelines or principles for doing mission in our troubled and deeply divided world.

1. ‘Other worlds’ across cultural boundaries are going to be places of surprise.  Mission is ultimately God’s initiative and we are given the privilege of joining in what he is already doing. This means for example, suggests Smith, that God may already be at work within Islam, preparing the way  and he quotes an Islamic prayer as an example.

What do you think of this notion of (some) divine revelation within other religions? Smith points to how God was ahead of Peter, working in a pagan Gentile’s life (Cornelius).

I recently met an ex-student who comes from Iran. It was not only wonderful to see him again, but encouraging to hear of many stories of what God is doing among Iranians in Iran – very often through dreams and visions. God is present and active well beyond the ‘reach’ of formal mission contact.

2. The need for an informed and sensitive understanding of the social, political and religious factors that may have caused a negative reaction to evangelism. Smith mentions Muslim and non-Western reactions to Western imperialism. (Ireland is a good example here too with its long legacy of politicised Protestantism suppressing the Catholic threat to English rule.)

3.The task of disentangling the gospel from the cultural wrapping in which it has been contained. Along with an understanding, in our post-Christendom west, of the factors why Christianity has, and is, being rejected. Only then can the church begin to re-translate the gospel afresh to the world.

Comments, as ever, welcome

Claiming the G word (3) gospel replacing Jesus

A third reason that makes me question the overuse of the G word as an adjective to describe much of what we do is that it promotes a rationalistic and narrow view of the Christian faith.

For example, in the newsletter I mentioned in the first post, despite all the gospel language, the name of Jesus was hardly mentioned.

It seems to me that something weird is going on when overuse of the G word begins to replace the one about whom the gospel is actually all about.

Without hardly noticing, our assent and fidelity to ‘the gospel’ can become the defining core of our faith and the main measure of our ‘evangelical orthodoxy’. Our ‘soundness’ is measured through the prism of assenting to particular propositions – often entailing ‘the gospel’ being assumed to mean a summary of ‘how to get right with God’.

And if the gospel is understood as little more than evangelistic activity, the shape of the Christian life that is valued tends to be highly ‘activistic’. It is what we are doing to spread and share the gospel that is the ultimate measure of our gospel faithfulness.

There is little space in this gospel for the transforming impact of life within the kingdom of God, of Spirit empowered living marked by his fruit, and for seeing all of the Christian life as a call to live a life shaped by the redemptive mission of God to redeem all creation.

Being a Christian does not equal just rationally believing some propositions: it means repentance and a living faith in God, being united to Christ in baptism through the Spirit, following Jesus as Lord, forgiving others, loving God and loving your neighbour as yourself.

That’s what the gospel leads to. In other words, the gospel is not an end in itself, but a doorway to a transformed life: head, hands and heart.

Yes of course it involves evangelism, mission and believing the apostolic good news. But that good news should lead to the formation of ‘people of good news’ – people who ARE good news in their lives and relationships.

This is the ultimate test of ‘gospel faithfulness’ – and it’s a much more searching and broader one than just claiming that all we do is ‘gospel work’ (evangelistic activity).

See this great Pauline ‘gospel text’ in Colossians 1

3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— 5 the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel 6 that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. 7 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8 and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

Faith in Jesus Christ; love for God’s people; faith and love springing up from hope that itself is based on the gospel. A gospel that is about God’s grace. A gospel message that is shared and communicated (the evangelism of Epaphras) and issues in people marked by ‘love in the Spirit’.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

Claiming the G word

This is a 3 part post on Christian overuse and misuse of the word gospel that I’ve been mulling over for a while.

It is offered not in a snide critical way, but out of an increasing sense of sadness at the divisions within evangelicalism (‘gospel people’ to quote John Stott) over the very word that gives them their name.

Reading some literature from a Christian organisation a while ago I couldn’t help noticing the frequency of the word ‘gospel’. It was everywhere.  I counted over 50 appearances used in about 20 different ways. For example:

‘gospel message’, ‘gospel-centred churches’, ‘full-time ministry of the gospel’, ‘the work of the gospel’/’gospel work’/’gospel workers’, ‘gospel partnership’, ‘growth of the gospel’, ‘the gospel speaks to the heart’, ‘the blessings of the gospel’, ‘gospel commitment’, ‘bringing the gospel to x’, ‘y being passionate about the gospel’, ‘proclaiming the gospel’ , ‘everything we do has the gospel at the centre’ – and so on.

Now I’m all for the gospel. It’s the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes (Rom 1:16). It bears fruit and grows as it is taught and learnt (Col 1:5-6).  It is a message that, by the grace of God, has changed my life.

But I have a few problems with this sort of claiming of the ‘G word’ for just about every aspect of Christian activity. Here’s the first reason why:

  1. Indiscriminate use of the G-word devalues its meaning

As has been blogged about plenty of times here, the gospel has a specific meaning.  John Dickson has a wonderful chapter on ‘What is the Gospel’ in his equally wonderful book The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission. In it he offers this summary of the gospel.

“for Paul is the news of Jesus’ royal birth, authoritative teaching and miracles, sacrificial death and burial, glorious resurrection and appearances to witnesses. It is the whole story of the Messiah, establishing him as Lord, Judge and Saviour in God’s kingdom.”

Or you don’t have to take his word for it; try D A Carson,

” … from a comprehensive theological perspective the gospel is the good news of the coming of Jesus – who he is, his mission, above all his death and resurrection, the inauguration of the final eschatological kingdom even now, and all that this means for how we live as individuals and as the church, the eschatological people of God, in fulfilment of all the promises God made in the scriptures that led up to Jesus.”

Or Michael Bird

“God promised in the Scriptures that he would renew creation and restore Israel. The gospel is the good news that God has made these promises good in Jesus, the Messiah and Lord. Jesus died and rose for the purpose of atoning for sins and through faith in him and his work believers are reconciled to God. The new age has been launched and God has revealed his saving righteousness in the gospel so that he justifies and delivers from the penalty and power of sin and death.”

Or Scot McKnight in his recent book The King Jesus Gospel (not a quote)

1 Corinthians 15 is the early and prime example of ‘gospel’ in the NT. And this gospel is best summarised by Jesus the Messiah bringing completion to the story of Israel. The gospel is the good news about Jesus Christ; his life, death, resurrection, ascension and the consummation of the kingdom to come. This is, Scot argues, the message the 4 gospels tell; it is the gospel of Paul; it is the gospel Peter preaches in Acts, and it is what Jesus himself preaches – he repeatedly puts himself at the centre of God’s purposes for Israel.

Now you can come back at me and say I’m just plain wrong, but I suggest that this NT understanding of gospel above is not what is in mind behind the indiscriminate use of the G-word in the sort of literature I was reading.

It’s my strong suspicion that those who most vehemently claim the G word tend to have a pretty specific summary understanding of what gospel equals. And that is something close to an evangelistic summary presentation of how to be saved like this (actual example):

  1. [Bad News] We have a serious sin problem
  2. [Bad News] We cannot solve our sin problem by our own good works
  3. [Good News] God has a solution to our sin problem
  4. [Good News] We must accept God’s solution by faith

I’m not saying this isn’t true as far as it goes. But you don’t need to have Sherlock Holmes’ powers of observation to notice that ‘how to get saved’ formula [what Scot McKnight calls a ‘soterian gospel’] is rather a long way from the New Testament’s rich understanding of the Good News. It tends to reduce the gospel down to little more than shorthand for anything to do with evangelistic activity. It’s detached almost completely from the story of the Bible – a story which has the coming of Jesus the Messiah of Israel as its climax.

To equate this with ‘the gospel’ is like comparing a kids colour by numbers picture of the Mona Lisa with the finished masterpiece.

In other words, indiscriminate use of the word ‘gospel’, rather than demonstrating fidelity the good news, actually starts to devalue the G-word. Ironically, it does the opposite of what is intended.

Next post is on how the use of the G-word can become an exclusionary weapon.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

90 seconds on the parable of the two sons (5)

This is the text of a fifth 90 second slot on Spirit Radio that are being broadcast each week-day this week at 11.30am. Spirit won the first national licence in Ireland for a Christian radio station and began broadcasting earlier this year.

The remit was to draw out five easily accessible mini-conversational pieces based on Matthew 21:28-32 The Parable of the Two Sons.

Had fun doing them! Feedback welcome.


Guinness do great ads. My favourite is the anticipation one – the guy doing the mad dance to great music while desperately waiting for the pint to settle.

More recently they had the major BELIEVE campaign. Maybe you remember some of them. One had Tom Crean the great Irish Antarctic explorer stuck in a dark cave and getting inspired to make it home by imagining the snow at the entrance being like the swirling head of a pint of the black stuff.  And it is true he became a publican when he got home to Kerry.

The Guinness guys are smart. They know their advertising. And they were selling Guinness as something worth believing in.

But however brilliant their ads, when you think about it, it’s a pretty silly idea to believe in a drink or in a company brand.

But what does it mean to believe?

Lots of people say they believe in God. But the challenge Jesus puts before us is much more than just believing facts about him.

No, Jesus calls us to a much deeper belief than this. He calls each one of us to believe in something worth believing in. Far better than any drink, even if it is ‘good for you’.

Christianity isn’t just believing in facts, it calls us to believe in a person. To worship him and follow Jesus the risen Lord who has given his life for us and who alone is worth believing in.

Don’t believe in anything else, however good it tastes.

90 seconds on the parable of the two sons (4)

This is the text of a fourth 90 second slot on Spirit Radio that are being broadcast each week-day this week at 11.30am. Spirit won the first national licence in Ireland for a Christian radio station and began broadcasting earlier this year.

The remit was to draw out five easily accessible mini-conversational pieces based on Matthew 21:28-32 The Parable of the Two Sons.

Had fun doing them! Feedback welcome.


A couple of weeks ago a woman was jailed for driving, while drunk, 23 miles the wrong way down the busy M5 motorway in England. Now I’m not having a go at women drivers! All the statistics say men are much more likely to cause accidents.

No the point is that hundreds of drivers must have been screaming at her to turn around, you’re going the wrong way!

Well in this parable of Jesus, that’s also what John the Baptist was saying to Jesus’ opponents. Repent literally means ‘turn around’. Go the other way.

John had come to preach about the coming Messiah and the need to be ready to welcome and follow him. But when Jesus came they didn’t want to listen. They refused to repent.

Why? Because they didn’t think they needed to. Who was this Jesus to tell them they needed to turn their lives around, give up everything and follow him?

You see, each one of us is faced with the same question as the Jewish leaders – how do we respond to Jesus? And our answer to that question all depends on who we think Jesus is.

We’re back to the first four words of the parable – ‘What do you think?’

If you think Jesus was just a teacher from Galilee who stirred people up and then got crucified for his trouble, then he’s just another man with no claim over your life.

But if he truly has been shown to be the Son of God, the risen Lord of all, then the only response is to repent, admit our need of him, turn our lives around, and follow him with all of our hearts wherever he leads.

Which Jesus do you believe in?

90 seconds on the parable of the two sons (3)

This is the text of a third 90 second slot on Spirit Radio that are being broadcast each week-day this week at 11.30am. Spirit won the first national licence in Ireland for a Christian radio station and began broadcasting earlier this year.

The remit was to draw out five easily accessible mini-conversational pieces based on Matthew 21:28-32 The Parable of the Two Sons.

Had fun doing them! Feedback welcome.

Who is the kingdom of God for?

Let me ask you a question.

Who are the most despised and hated groups of people in Ireland today? The people who bankrupted the nation? The Bankers? The Property Developers? The politicians who failed to govern while greedily misusing their positions of power for personal profit? Drug dealers who exploit the weaknesses of the vulnerable? Paedophiles who use and abuse children?

Maybe as I mention these groups you can feel your blood boil or your stomach lurch. Maybe there are people you know personally who, if you are honest, you can’t stand the sight of – maybe even for good reason.

But here’s the sting in the tail of Jesus’ parable. He says that it’s exactly those sorts of people who are entering the kingdom of God. That shocked and angered his listeners and if we get this parable it should shock and anger us too.

It’s not that Jesus overlooks their wrong actions and says what they did doesn’t matter. He doesn’t. He calls tax collectors and prostitutes to a new life of following him.

But the point I want to leave with you is that entry to the kingdom of God does not depend on how good or successful we are or even how corrupt and greedy and exploitative we have been.

No, there is ONE entry point into the kingdom and it is the same for everyone, whoever they are and whatever they have done. What is it?

That new life begins with repentance and faith. And more of what those words mean tomorrow.

The King Jesus Gospel: a review (1)

Scot McKnight’s new book is The King Jesus Gospel: the original good news revisited

Scot kindly dedicates the book to the team at IBI and number of other places where he gave lectures that became the basis of the book.

If you are a (the) dedicated reader(s) of this blog you might remember that I did an 8 part series on Scot’s Lectures on ‘The Earliest Christian Gospel’. So a lot of the ground was covered there. But it’s interesting to see how he developed the final argument.

Basic premise: From the Reformation on, popular evangelicalism developed a ‘soterian’ gospel and an associated salvation culture, tending to reduce down the gospel to an individual existential plan of salvation, detached from the OT and the story of Israel. It also tends to disconnect salvation from discipleship. The gospel becomes abstract, propositional, logical and un-biblically ‘de-storified’

1 Corinthians 15, Scot argues, is the early and prime example of ‘gospel’ in the NT. And this gospel is best summarised by Jesus the Messiah bring completion to the story of Israel. The gospel is the good news about Jesus Christ; his life, death, resurrection, ascension and the consummation of the kingdom to come.

This is, Scot argues, the message the 4 gospels tell; it is the gospel of Paul; it is the gospel Peter preaches in Acts, and it is what Jesus himself preaches – he repeatedly puts himself at the centre of God’s purposes for Israel. And, Scot proposes, this is the gospel that you find in the Creeds – much more the story of 1 Corinthians 15:1-5 than a four point plan of individual salvation.

In other words, to gospel is to tell the story of Jesus. The aim of evangelism is to lead people to confess Jesus as Messiah and Lord. Discipleship follows, a life of loving obedience and service to the Lord.

The gospel is at heart therefore a christology that calls people to respond to Jesus. And that response is about salvation from sin and from God’s judgement, entered into by faith, repentance and baptism.

Scot’s big concern is that we need to develop a more Jesus focused, narrative ’gospel culture’ as opposed to a ‘salvation culture’ that can be little more than ‘sin management’ (quoting Dallas Willard).

 Some Comments:

1. On a personal note, I think seeing the gospel as primarily christology is right – the NT is a form of extended christological reflection on the Jesus and the saving significance of his life, death, resurrection and that he is reigning as living Lord. Scot is closely connecting gospel and salvation, but he wants to prevent them merging. This will make some people uneasy (Trevin Wax for example, see link below) in that too sharp a distinction is being made. Perhaps Scot’s ‘push back’ is strong, but maybe it needs to be given the overwhelming fusion of NT gospel with ‘plan of salvation.’

And, again personally, I have found that ‘preaching Jesus’ feels evangelistically ‘right’. In my wee 90 second talks on Mt 21:28-32 this week on Spirit Radio I’ve tried to do this – it all comes back to our response to Jesus. Preaching last Sunday I went with Matthew 21:1-17 and the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. This is a great example of Jesus’ own ‘preaching’ of the good news about himself. In one block of text, he proclaims himself king; cleanses the Temple, the dwelling place of God; demonstrates the healing power of the kingdom come; and assumes praise for himself only due to YHWH alone. And the implications flow naturally from this – the astonishing claims of Jesus call for response. It is this sort of proclamation of Jesus as Lord, Messiah and Saviour that McKnight urges the church to recover.

2. There are already plenty of conversations out there on this book, not least at Ben Witherington’s blog where he interviewed Scot at length, here on Daniel Kirk’s Storied Theology and here at Euangelion by Scot’s colleague at North Park University, Joel Willets. Daniel Kirk raises some questions about the continuity between a 1 Cor 15 gospel and the Creeds; Ben Witherington has some telling tweaks and critiques. Maybe others will weigh in with reviews, but I think it’s fair to say, so far, that neither is really contesting the case Scot is making about the biblical content of the gospel. There are strong echoes of what N T Wright, John Dickson, Darrell Bock and others have been unpacking in what Scot says. Trevin Wax has a good 2 part review where he unpacks his agreements and concerns.

I think evangelicals of all hues should be taking this book seriously. It begins with and works out from the great gospel texts of the NT. As part of the process of Semper Reformanda, we should continually be willing to reshape our beliefs and praxis in light of Scripture.

3. One thing I kept noticing was how Scot does keep integrating christology and pneumatology within the overall good news narrative. At first I thought he’d downplayed this, but on a re-reading he really doesn’t – it keeps cropping up. It’s the Spirit who repeatedly makes real the victory won at the cross and resurrection; there has to be a central place in any ‘gospelling’ for the presence and power of the Spirit.

4. I can see some responses dismiss this book as Scot raising up and then demolishing a straw man of the ‘soterian gospel’. ‘We don’t teach that’ people will say, ‘it’s a caricature’. Well I’ve been around long enough to know that it isn’t. A de-storified and, at times, individualistic ‘trust in Jesus and your sins will be forgiven’ gospel emphasis is endemic within popular evangelicalism. The emphasis is on what Jesus can do for you and the benefits of salvation. This sort of gospel presentation does not really need the OT at all. Its focus tends to be ‘transactional’ in terms of what happened at the cross.

Now don’t get me wrong – what happened at the cross is central to the message of the NT; it’s everywhere. I get students to write papers on this. And what happened there is all to do with atonement, the forgiveness of sins and salvation from death and judgement. But the cross is not only about good news for the individual; it is cosmic in scope – the redemption of all creation (Col 1.20). So where the benefits of the cross are detached from the story of Jesus, Israel’s Messiah, the Son of God, the risen Lord, what is left is Willard’s de-storified ‘sin management’ equation.

5. This is why I find Scot’s ideas at the end of the book about building a ‘gospel culture’ helpful. He means by this that in ‘gospelling’ and in our lives, we need to become people of the story. I’ll turn to his ideas on this in the next post.

Comments, as ever, welcome.