Gospel Culture or Salvation Culture

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Scot McKnight in his book  King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited argues that Evangelicals have created a Salvation Culture of personal salvation and sin management (cf. Dallas Willard’s Divine Conspiracy). While personal salvation is important it is, according to McKnight, only a part of the story and not the Gospel Story. The true Gospel Story is something that cannot be brought to someone in 4 Spiritual Laws or a 3 minute presentation, instead it is a full and robust telling of God’s entire story. A robust recalling that is about Creation and our place in that creation as co-governors with God, the fall and its cosmic results, the work of God in Abraham, Israel, and the kings of Israel all of which finally comes to the arrival of Jesus, the only one who has fully lived as God’s icon in the world. The story continues with Jesus’ resurrection, ascension, the sending of the Spirit who empowers a new community to be God’s co-governors of the world and his icons. This community, the church, continues this work until the return of Christ when he will be all in all, and finally we will fully live as those who govern with God over the universe. In this Gospel story Jesus’ most important titles are Lord and Messiah. Savior is important as well, but since that is where Evangelicals have put so much emphasis over the years, there is a need to recapture these two central titles. 

McKnight helps us understand the depth of this gospel story by doing a number of things:

  • telling a story of Robert Webber, a professor at Wheaton. Someone once asked Webber if he would present the gospel to him. Webber responded by asking, “Do you have an hour?” Most Evangelicals would assume you can tell the gospel story in 5 minutes or less, because they assume the gospel is only personal salvation.
  • asking if we can present “the gospel” without any need to reference the Old Testament as an essential part of the story.
  • asking if we can present the gospel disconnected from the story so it becomes disembodied from the story of Israel, the life of Jesus, and the life of the church.
  • pointing out that our personal salvation is not first of all about sin management, but about our sins being forgiven so that we can be part of God’s new Spirit empowered people who carry out God’s mission in the world.

McKnight holds that in a Salvation Culture that is interested in helping people manage their sin, you can tell the gospel in 2 minutes, you can ignore the Old Testament, you can tell a disembodies story, and you can be “saved” without need to be part of God’s new people. This, however,can’t be done in Gospel Culture that tells the whole story of God, people, creation, fall, and recreation. McNight himself takes us on a telling of the gospel story in his final chapters that would take a good 30 minute message on a Sunday morning or an hour coffee shop conversation. 

As I’ve reflected on McKnight’s Gospel Culture vs. Salvation Culture concept I’ve thought about a several things.  First, in a Gospel Culture there is no such thing as the “simple gospel”. Instead the gospel is robust, cosmic in scope, rich, communal (to engage this gospel and live it out you need to be part of the church), and demanding, since we are called in this gospel not to simply have our sin managed, but to be those who live as God’s icons or image bearers in the world. The only way to live as icons of God is to become like the one true icon, Jesus (Colossians 1.15-20). A simple gospel does not exist, although a simple personal salvation call does exist. Such a simple salvation story finally truncates the gospel and robs a person of who God is calling them to be in the world and robs them of the community they are called to be a part of. Second, the CRC’s Contemporary Testimony, “Our World Belongs to God” seems to be a great place to learn how to tell the Gospel Story rather than only a Salvation Story. The flow of Creation, Fall, Redemption, Recreation takes us into the the full story of what God is doing in the world. Third, a Gospel Culture calls on followers of Christ to build relationships rather than have encounters with people. The Gospel Story takes time to unfold and time to tell. It is not something you can drop on someone in a couple of minutes and ask for a decision. I wonder if we pursued this Gospel Culture and told the Gospel Story over time with people if the deeper relationship would lead to stronger and more connected disciples. Finally, a Gospel Culture makes us rethink how we understand church. If we frame the work of the church in light of the Gospel Culture it will look significantly different than if we frame the church in the light of a Salvation Culture.

As you work to plant a new church or renew an existing church what kind of church are you working toward: Salvation Culture or Gospel Culture? And is Scot McKnight right? Have we shrunk the gospel as Evangelicals from Gospel to personal salvation—or is, in fact, personal salvation really the gospel?

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The gospel message is the good news of salvation, Christ coming in our place to die for our sins thru faith in Him.  The story of that gospel takes many forms, and can be very extensive, and it never quite ends as it lives in our lives.   The entire scripture is the story of that gospel, how it came to be, how it was necessary, how it was fulfilled.  But without the central theme (salvation) of the gospel, the story loses focus and perspective.   That's why every "complete" sermon ought to include a statement of the gospel message, as it tells an aspect of the gospel story.

I just finished reading Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard in which he uses the term "Gospel of sin management" repeatedly in describing how Christians on both the right and the left have gone wrong. In a footnote to a sentence on p.42 he credits “Demythologization— Crisis in Continental Theology,” by Peter Berger, in European Intellectual History Since Darwin and Marx, edited by W. W. Wagar [New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1966], p. 255; where Berger uses this term. Hard to tell who got it from whom, but interesting concept.

"A simple gospel does not exist"

A simple gospel exists if matters of command and control are eliminated e.g. the "and all you gots to do is . . ." addendum.

 

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