Monday, May 13, 2013

The "Plan of Salvation" Is Not, Biblically, the "Gospel"

Sunset on the River Raisin (May 11, 2013)

Before you panic, please read further...

This morning I'm reading Scot McKnight's The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. McKnight is stating that the idea I used to have of the "gospel" as the "plan of salvation" is not, in fact, the biblical gospel at all. Thinking that the plan of salvation is the gospel leads to misguided living as the people of God. Rather, salvation is situated within the gospel, which includes salvation but cannot be reduced to it.

What do I think of this? I believe McKnight is correct. I have been thinking along these lines for many years. Having preached through the four gospels over 6 1/2 years, and now preaching through the letters of Paul emphasizing Pauline Christology, the idea of salvation (sozo) is much broader than I originally thought, and itself fits within the greater context of the biblical narrative, without which we won't understand "gospel" at all.

Neither McKnight nor I deny there is a plan of salvation. The claim is that to understand salvation one must in the first place be familiar with and epistemically situated within the story of Israel and the story of Jesus.

McKnight writes:

"If we preach the Plan of Salvation as the gospel, we will find ourselves doing everything we can to get people motivated or, to use words from earlier, bucking up our efforts to get more people into *column three, The Discipled. But, if we learn to distinguish gospel from Plan of Salvation, we will discover an altogether different world. I am convinced that because we think the gospel is the Plan of Salvation, and because we preach the Plan of Salvation as the gospel, we are not actually preaching the gospel. To make this more serious, what we are in most need of today, especially with a generation for whom the Plan of Salvation doesn’t make instinctive sense, is more gospel preaching that sets the context for the Plan of Salvation." (40)

In other words, the "good news" is the context within which the "plan of salvation" makes sense; thus the gospel is way more encompassing than the plan of salvation. McKnight writes that "if we ignore that story, the gospel gets distorted, and that is just what has happened in salvation cultures." (36)

I am so glad to hear this! Because that's what we have been doing and are doing at Redeemer. I'm simply preaching the text within the broader religious-social-cultural context, and finding it bracing and compelling.

As McKnight writes: "We have to create a gospel culture if we want The Members to be The Discipled." (32)

*McKnight's four "columns" are:

  • The story of Israel/the Bible
  • The story of Jesus
  • The plan of salvation (McKnight's third column)
  • The method of persuasion