Scot McKnight ran a post earlier today called, “Justin Holcomb and the Soterian Gospel.” In it, he commented on a piece by one of the pastors at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, designed to answer the question, “What Is the Gospel?”
McKnight rightly commends Holcomb for an excellent presentation of a certain kind of “Gospel” teaching — “Justin Holcomb says many things here that I would agree with: a focus on Jesus, a telling of the whole life of Jesus (including his teachings, etc), substitutionary atonement; he affirms the focus of the gospel is not about us but about God; he states the gospel makes us right and transforms. I like that he says we never move ‘beyond’ the gospel.”
As fine a summary as Holcomb’s article is, it represents what Scot has called a “soterian” approach to the Gospel in his book, The King Jesus Gospel. A primary purpose of the book is to point out that this way of defining the good news is biblically and theologically inadequate.
Here is a sample of Holcomb’s Gospel:
Christian theology is about the gospel, which is focused on who Jesus is and what he said and did. Jesus is the hero of history and the centerpiece of the entire Bible.
God made us to worship him. He was our Father, living and walking among us, giving us everything we needed to live, and yet we chose to sin against him—a cosmic act of treason punishable by death. As a result, we were separated from God, and we try to be our own gods, declaring what is right and wrong, and living life by our own standards.
Despite our pride and ignorance, Jesus, who created the world and is God, lovingly came into human history as a man. He was born of a virgin, and he lived a life without sin, though he was tempted in every way as we are. Because of his great love for us, he went to the cross and took on the punishment of death that we justly deserved. Before his death and after his resurrection, he preached that the good news of God’s kingdom, love, promise, forgiveness, and acceptance was fulfilled in him, in both his life and death.
Our first parents in the garden substituted themselves for God, and, at the cross, Jesus reversed that substitution, substituting himself for sinners.
This soterian Gospel, in contrast to the “King Jesus” gospel, is good news presented as a personal plan of salvation. It ignores the narrative context of the Gospel, separating it out from the Story told in the Old Testament, and presenting it as a bare theological message about God, sin, Christ, and redemption. One of the consequences of this is that the message usually skips right from Genesis 3 (Fall) to the New Testament (Jesus). Did you see how Holcomb did that? Note his last sentence again: “Our first parents in the garden substituted themselves for God, and, at the cross, Jesus reversed that substitution, substituting himself for sinners.” Straight from Genesis to the Gospels, from the Garden to the Cross.
As Scot McKnight says,
This skipping of Israel’s Story is why there’s no concern in this gospel that Jesus is the Messiah/King, no concern for how God works in human history, no redemption of creation, and no new heavens and new earth. The Bible’s message is reduced to salvation, but there’s more to the Bible’s Story than that. There’s not enough Old Testament Story in this sketch … the “according to the Scriptures” theme of the gospel statement of 1 Cor 15 (and the sermons in Acts, and the Gospels) is not given adequate grounding.
I want to point out that this is the most significant difference between the soterian gospel and the Story gospel of Jesus and the apostles. I do not believe this is a matter of “We can’t cover everything” but an issue of how to tell the Story that the gospel resolves.
I agree wholeheartedly with Scot, and want to expand upon these thoughts over the course of this week.
So, in preparation for Christmas, we will share a few articles on Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). In this song of praise, Mary proclaims the Gospel. As we will see, it is no mere “personal plan of salvation,” no “steps” by which we find peace with God, no “bridge” to reconciliation with God, no set of “laws” or principles by which we must make a decision. Mary’s song proclaims the climactic moment in a Story, the resolution of issues larger than my personal sin, a hope that stretches beyond the bliss of heaven.
I encourage you to read and meditate on the Magnificat as we prepare to discuss it in days to come.