Continuing in chapter two of Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel (see the full series here), our author tells us the story of a pastor named Eric. Now, it is more than a little uncomfortable when an author seems not only to be talking to you, but also talking about you. He gives an illustration of how Pastor Eric has presented the gospel to his congregation, and I have to admit, I’ve said some of the exact things, and had some of these exact problems. So yeah…McKnight really is talking about me.
His claims are all shaped as negatives and illustrate the heartbeat of a salvation culture’s nervousness:
- The gospel is a not a call to imitate Jesus.
- It is not a public announcement that Jesus is Lord and King.
- It is not (directly) an invitation into the church.
- It does not involve a promise of the second coming.
“No,” Pastor Eric continues, “these dimensions are Christian theology and true, but the gospel is the starting point. It is the good news that Jesus came to save us from our sins by dying on the cross and rising from the dead.” Pastor Eric moves on to ask, “How does one receive salvation?” His answer: by simple faith, because it is all grace. But here Pastor Eric begins to wonder about one of the most significant problems in the church: Does salvation really lead The Decided to become The Discipled? So he starts to work the words. He contends that true faith is a robust faith; it involves the mind, the heart, and the will. Frankly, he does his best to make sure salvation is by faith alone, but he wants that faith to lead (inevitably and surely) to discipleship. Yet he worries that if he presses discipleship too hard, salvation by grace and by faith alone will be compromised. And so back and forth he goes … and he goes back and forth because his gospel is a “salvation culture” gospel instead of a “gospel culture” gospel.
A salvation culture does not require (those confirmed in a sacramental church system) or (those converted in an Evangelical church) to become The Discipled for salvation. Why not? Because its gospel is a gospel shaped entirely with the “in and out” issue of salvation. Because it’s about making a decision.
The conundrum McKnight points to here is one I feel every time I teach or preach. Salvation is in fact by grace alone apart from works, but how then do we convince “the Decided” that they are to commit their whole being to Christ without it sounding like some sort of legalism? I’ve been trying for years to work this out, and one day I sound like a libertine, and the next I sound like a Pharisee.
Is it possible that the problem is how we frame the gospel from the beginning? Is it possible that by focusing our gospel message on salvation (the decision to be “in or out”; going to Heaven or Hell) we have created a discipleship problem that could have been avoided? If we focus the gospel message on the story and person of Jesus, and encourage people to become followers of Christ, while not over-focusing on salvation, could we create a gospel culture?
 pp. 32-33