Aug 20

A Fresh Look at the Gospel(s)

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We’re diving into Chapter 6 of The King Jesus Gospel: “The Gospel in the Gospels?” Two questions: 1) Where in the Bible do people look to make arguments about justification (right-standing with God)? A: Paul. 2) Where in the Bible do people look for the

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We’re diving into Chapter 6 of The King Jesus Gospel: “The Gospel in the Gospels?”

Two questions:

1) Where in the Bible do people look to make arguments about justification (right-standing with God)?

A: Paul.

2) Where in the Bible do people look for the gospel?

A: The Gospels, duh.

But, as we’ve seen, it’s not all as simple as that.

Paul’s gospel is the gospel, and that gospel is found in 1 Corinthians 15.

We’re pretty big on the kingdom of God around here, but we don’t look at Paul all that much to find kingdom language. Which might make you wonder, if the kingdom is the gospel, then did Paul preach the gospel? If you didn’t wonder already, then you are now.

Lots of people are big on justification (Get me right with God), but they don’t often look to Jesus to make their theological case.

So, if justification/salvation or kingdom is the gospel and Paul and Jesus only focused on one of those, who didn’t preach the gospel?

Paul?

Or Jesus?

McKnight clears the air with a firm ‘neither’:

“The gospel…is declaring the Story of Israel as resolved in the Story of Jesus” (79, The King Jesus Gospel).

So instead of focusing on the confusing questions I asked, here are some better options:

“Did Jesus claim Israel’s Story was fulfilled in himself?…Did Jesus preach himself?Did Jesus make his kingdom message center on his own role in the Story of Israel? If we answer ‘Yes’ to any of these questions, we are saying that Jesus preached the gospel” (79).

If you flip back to 1 Corinthians 15:1-5 (or these posts), you’ll see that this is exactly what Paul received when he received the gospel.

Why are the books we call Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John–first four books of the New Testament) called gospel, anyway? They tell the story of Israel being consummated in the story of Jesus. “To ‘gospel’ is to tell the Story of Jesus” (82).

This chapter further clarifies the difference between salvation and the gospel, even if it’s not obvious. Disconnecting justification from the gospel, doesn’t make justification unimportant, it just means it’s not gospel (by itself).

Gospel is about story–particularly the story of Jesus and the story of Israel. Sure, salvation comes into the picture and is connected with the bigger picture, but don’t mistake it for the picture.

So, the gospel is in the Gospels, because the Gospels are telling the story of Jesus, which is why they were called gospel in the first place. Got it?

Here’s maybe the most interesting part of the chapter for me: 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 could be thought of as a reduced version of the gospel Paul received and the four Gospels could be thought of as an extended commentary on that gospel (90).

The gospel (1 Cor. 15:3-5) portrays the Story of Jesus as culminating the Story of Israel, albeit in Cliff Notes form. The Gospels give you the full length director’s cut feature presentation.

In this case, it doesn’t matter which you prefer because it’s all about Jesus (and Israel).

What do you think about McKnight’s version of the gospel and the Gospels? Like it? Challenge it? I’d love to know.

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Aug 06

Gospel, Salvation, and Vampire Christians: You’re Not One, Are You?

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“God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” Bumper sticker theology on the blog today. But seriously. God said it–in other words, “it’s in the Bible.” When you hear those words some claim about the Bible being sufficient isn’t too far behind. If not

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“God said it. I believe it. That settles it.”

Bumper sticker theology on the blog today.

But seriously. God said it–in other words, “it’s in the Bible.”

When you hear those words some claim about the Bible being sufficient isn’t too far behind. If not audibly, it’s implied.

There’s an inherent claim being made: “I don’t need tradition or creeds or other stuff people made up, just the Bible for me, thanks.”

There’s a simple beauty in that phrase, even if it’s impossible to maintain.

In chapter 5 of The King Jesus Gospel, Scot McKnight argues people set up a false choice when they choose the Bible instead of the creeds.

For McKnight, there’s a direct line of development from 1 Corinthians 15 to the Nicene and Apostles’ creeds.

You’ll recall that the apostolic gospel of Paul is found in 1 Corinthians 15. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Check out the post.

Quick refresher: Paul received the Gospel and passed it along; he didn’t make it up.

Here’s a sketch of McKnight’s argument in the chapter:

First Corinthians 15 led to the development of the Rule of Faith,
and
the Rule of Faith led to the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed.
Thus, 1 Corinthians led to the Nicene Creed.
Thus, the Nicene Creed is preeminently a gospel statement!” (64)

Ok, I’m assuming a good bit of knowledge here, so let’s define some terms:

Rule of faith–don’t think of it as a disciplinary rule. It’s more like a rough outline of what it means to follow this God revealed in Jesus Christ.

Apostles’ Creed–developed over time, affirms belief in the Trinity–Father, Son, Holy Spirit–and the work of the those three persons in history.

Nicene Creed–product of the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. outlining belief in God. Also Trinitarian in nature, but focuses primarily on the Father and the Son.

Whew, good? Enough church history for one blog post.

To boil it all down: “Denial of the creeds is tantamount to denying the gospel itself because what the creeds seek to do is bring out what is already in the Bible’s gospel.” (65).

The creeds are an attempt to clarify the gospel conversation. (Not the salvation conversation).

For the early church and much of church history–it was all about the gospel. If you read the Apostles’ Creed or Nicene Creed you’ll Nicene Creed Icondiscover those common points about events in Jesus’ life:

Nicene Creed:
“For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.”

Apostles’ Creed:
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

If that’s all true, when did the focus shift from gospel to salvation?

McKnight contends: The Reformation.

In true Protestant spirit a couple confessions (Augsburg and Genevan) shifted the church focus. (You’ll have to read the chapter or Google for more on those confessions, or ask your Lutheran/Reformed friend, respectively)

What changed? An intense emphasis on personal salvation.

Personal salvation became the goal, and the gospel was the road you traveled to get there.

The whole conversation switched from telling the story about Jesus’ life (gospel) to narrating points about God and you (salvation): “God loves you, you are messed up, Jesus died for you, accept him and (no matter what you do) you can go to heaven” (73).

Heard that speech before? Me too.John Wesley

McKnight gets bonus points for referencing my boy, John Wesley. Wesley is a poster child for this evangelical salvation thing. He was unsure about his standing with God, until one night on Aldersgate street when, in his words:

I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” (74)

Salvation = J Dubs and God.

A beloved figure around the Apprentice Institute Dallas Willard put it this way,

“‘Gospels of sin management’ 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” (76).

“Nothin but the blood,” indeed.

To McKnight’s credit, he doesn’t put the early church on a pedestal as some perfect period of church history. Nor does he deny the positive impact of the Reformation. Instead he helpfully traces the arc–admittedly with broad strokes–of the change of culture in the universal church from one of “gospel” (telling about Jesus) to “salvation” (telling about how you get saved).

If you had any doubts about the importance of the creeds, hopefully those are fading fast. And hopefully you see the broad movement from a gospel centered church culture to our current salvation centered situation. And hopefully you’re beginning to realize the gospel is bigger than salvation.

If you’re not there yet, you can always hum this little ditty:

What do you think about the book so far? Or, if you’re not reading, what do you think about the content you’ve seen here? Curious enough to check the book out?

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Jul 09

Israel, Jesus, Salvation, Persuasion: Will the Real Gospel Please Stand Up?

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Here we are at the third installment of reading The King Jesus Gospel: “From Story to Salvation.” (Here’s Part 1 and Part 2) The chapter begins with a rather curious question: “To which of these four categories would you apply the term gospel?” (34):    

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Here we are at the third installment of reading The King Jesus Gospel: “From Story to Salvation.” (Here’s Part 1 and Part 2)

The chapter begins with a rather curious question:

“To which of these four categories would you apply the term gospel?” (34):

 

 

  • The Story of Israel/the Bible
  • The Story of Jesus
  • The Plan of Salvation
  • The Method of Persuasion

Anybody? Mcknight encourages the reader to stop and think through that question before continuing, so I’ll wait.

Ok, finished?

No? Ok, just a couple more moments.

If you’re like me, you came up with nothing after reading that question.

How could I know which category to describe as gospel? I don’t even know what you mean by the term yet!

And does anyone else find it odd that The Story of Israel is equated with the Bible, but the Story of Jesus somehow stands alone, or at least apart from the Bible? I’m jumping the gun here, but I do wonder about these categories.

Look at the bullet points above, they’re to be understood top to bottom. One (should) flow out of the previous.

Story of Israel → Story of Jesus → Plan of Salvation → Method of Persuasion

The Story of Israel is the story of the Old Testament, of Creation and Fall, of the call of Abraham and the birth of a people called Israel. Of the rise of ineffective kings and prophets to call the people to repentance (see Samuel, Kings, etc.).

I think some of McKnight’s best work sofar is this: “the idea of King and a kingdom are connected to the original creation” (36).

Read that sentence again.

Adam and Eve were to rule creation (under God). They were to care for creation and administer it, that’s what a king does. But, we all know how well that ended. Yep, a king (and queen) fell for a lowly apple.

(Much of the current conversation about the kingdom of God begins and ends with Jesus. In a sense, this is right. But it also limits our focus and gives most people even less reason to break into the Old Testament. McKnight’s emphasis that King and Kingdom go back to creation is a helpful corrective.)

But the Story doesn’t end with Malachi (last book in the Protestant canon [Old Testament Scripture]). The goal of human life (where we’re all headed) isn’t a return to Eden, as lovely as that sounds, it’s a new city (check out the end of Revelation).

Between these points, we discover the Story of Jesus. This story completes the story of Israel. It’s the resolution.

The story of Jesus doesn’t make sense without the story of Israel. Takeaway point? You have to read the Old Testament to understand Jesus.

Now we get to the plan of salvation, or how a person gets saved. This is what most Western Christians mistake for the gospel.

McKnight argues that many of the problems in American discipleship and formation stem from beginning with the Plan of Salvation and trying to make people understand why they need discipleship. It’s like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Never going to work.

Here’s a great quote why: “The Plan of Salvation, to put this crudely, isn’t discipleship or justice or obedience. The Plan of Salvation leads to one thing and to one thing only: salvation. Justification leads to a declaration by God that we are in the right, that we are in the people of God; it doesn’t lead inexorably to a life of justice or goodness or loving-kindness” (40).

John 3:16 ≠ Gospel

John 3:16 does not equal Gospel

So, salvation is about salvation and not gospel. Got it?

If you’ve been immersed in the salvation=gospel mindset for long enough, then you (like me) still struggle with differentiating between the two. Hang in there, it gets better (I’m almost positive).

Finally, the Method of Persuasion, take your pick: the four spiritual laws, the Roman road, judgment house. These are the scare tactics efforts we use to get people saved (Plan of Salvation).

The problem? These last two categories have gotten too much play in the church and evangelism. We focus so much on them that we don’t have any idea how to fit (most of) the Bible into our conception of faith.

McKnight again, The Plan of Salvation and Method of Persuasion have been given so much weight they are crushing and have crushed the Story of Israel and the Story of Jesus” (43).

We hammer the square peg of gospel down into the round hole of salvation and don’t know what to do once we’ve been saved.

Glimmer of answer: Gospel = “the Story of Jesus as the resolution of Israel’s story” (44).

In other words, it’s bigger (and maybe different) than you thought. It’s not primarily about your salvation.

I think McKnight has done great work in this chapter and I’m curious to see where he goes next. I’m not always on board when I first read each section, but by the end I’m more in line than not.

Here’s to finally figuring out what this whole gospel thing is about.

How has the content struck you so far? Have you seen the Story of Israel and Story of Jesus marginalized by the Plan of Salvation and Method of Persuasion in your own life? Church? Community?

 

**Photo Credit: Martin LaBar (going on hiatus) via photopin cc

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Dec 17

Authentic to Who We Are

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Making the adjustment from the ways of the world to the ways of the kingdom is hard. But guilt is a poor motivator. ….Being an apprentice of Jesus is not about rules and laws, it is about identity and place. The Christian life is not

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Making the adjustment from the ways of the world to the ways of the kingdom is hard. But guilt is a poor motivator. ….Being an apprentice of Jesus is not about rules and laws, it is about identity and place. The Christian life is not an if-then obligation (“If I do this, then God will do that”). It is a because-therefore opportunity (“Because I am one in whom Christ dwells, therefore I will . . .”). The better way to encourage change is to remind people who they are now in contrast to who they once were. That’s what Paul does in his letters to new Christians. Christ lives in us, and our life is in him. Instead of applying guilt, we should say to ourselves, I am a Christ-inhabited person. What does that look like in the world I live in?

There is no escaping the reality—thanks be to God—that I am one in whom Christ dwells and therefore I am called to live differently than the life I once lived. Not because my salvation is dependent on it. Not because God will be mad at me if I do not. Not even because people are watching what I do and when I sin it is a bad witness. Put simply, I am called to live differently because I am not the person I once was. Paul’s logic is consistent in all of his epistles (see, for example, Ephesians 2 and Romans 5–6). It is not a matter of salvation, it is a matter of being authentically who we are.


Soul Training – Taking it Deeper:

Read Ephesians Chapter 2 and Romans Chapter 5-6. Write down significant words or phrases from that emerge from the chapters. Take about 5 minutes to reflect on the significance of these words. Consider writing a paragraph (3-4 sentences) summary of what Paul has written. Personalize this summary by using your name or I in the summary.

Example Sentences: I, Jim, was once living in sin but now the Spirit is at work in my heart. God loves me and has been rich in his mercy towards me. God has raised me, Jim, up with Jesus. Jesus has brought Good-news of peace to me. I, Jim, can now live life as one whom is indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Taken from Hidden in Christ by James Bryan Smith. Copyright(c) 2013 by James Bryan Smith. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, PO Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515. www.ivpress.com

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