In chapter 3 of The King Jesus Gospel, Scot McKnight begins to make the case for his perspective on the original gospel (good news) message preached by Jesus and the disciples. The early posts in this series covered the argument that the gospel of salvation as it is often preached in evangelical circles is not consistent with the original gospel message, and that it is not useful for making committed followers of Jesus.
Here McKnight wants to create a definition for the gospel, and he does so by differentiating between four categories through which we can understand the gospel and evangelism. In this post we discuss the story of Jesus, and the Plan of Salvation.
- The Story of Israel/the Bible
- The Story of Jesus
- The Plan of Salvation
- The Method of Persuasion
The Story of Jesus
The story of Jesus brings the story of Israel to resolution. In Jesus, the story of Israel is brought to completion. This isn’t to say that God is done with Israel. God still has a plan for them, but the story of Israel as the primary way through which God is working in the world has been concluded.
The Story of Jesus is about his kingdom vision, and this kingdom vision emerges out of the creation story, out of Israel’s Story of trying to live out God’s design for Israel, and out of the vision of the city in the book of Revelation.
At the center of the Jesus story are the stories of his birth, his ministry while on earth, his ascension into Heaven after his resurrection, and his exaltation at the right hand of God. Within this story, Jesus defines and identifies himself with several labels: Messiah, Lord, Son of God, Savior, and Son of Man. Jesus clearly puts himself in the center of the story and identifies himself as the one who saves Israel and rescues humans from their imprisonments (Zech. 9). With this focus, Jesus becomes more than the solution to an individual, private sin problem, but also the fulfillment of Israel’s story.
The Plan of Salvation
What is the personal Plan of Salvation and how does it fit into the King Jesus Gospel?
The Plan of Salvation flows out of the Story of Israel/Bible and the Story of Jesus. The Bible’s Story from Israel to Jesus is the saving Story. Just as we dare not diminish the importance of this Story if we wish to grasp the gospel, so also with the saving effects of the story.
McKnight is clear on this principle: salvation is part of the gospel, but it is not the entirety of the gospel. In his view, the plan of salvation (getting people “saved” into Heaven) is not God’s mission for the world. His mission for the world is to establish his sovereign rule over creation.
With all due respect to my friends, I want to use the Plan of Salvation in a specific sense and only in that sense, and use it to refer to the saving message in particular and how we get saved. Here’s the big picture: sometimes we are so singularly focused on the personal-Plan-of-Salvation and how-we-get-saved that we eliminate the Story of Israel and the Story of Jesus altogether.
So, when McKnight uses the phrase “Plan of Salvation” what does he mean?
What then is this (personal) Plan of Salvation? By this I mean the elements or ideas that we find in the Story of the Bible that many of us, but not just evangelicals, bring together to explain how a person gets saved, gets forgiven, and gets reconciled with God, and what that person must do in order to get saved.
The author then goes on to list what he sees as the most common elements of the Plan of Salvation:
- God’s love and grace and holiness and righteousness
- Our creation as Eikons (image bearers of God), but our choice to sin—and disobedience and original sin are involved here
- Our condition of being under God’s judgment
- The good news of the atoning death of Jesus Christ that forgives us our sins and reconciles us to God
- The need for every human being to respond simply by admitting one’s sinfulness, repenting from sin, and trusting in the atoning death of Jesus.
It is here that McKnight really makes his most controversial claim. He believes that the Plan of Salvation (the theological mechanics of how salvation works) is not the gospel.
The Plan of Salvation emerges from the Story of Israel/Bible and from the Story of Jesus, but the plan and the gospel are not the same big idea. I understand this is controversial. I am denying neither salvation — or justification by faith — nor the importance of salvation in the Bible, and I believe much more could be said than what has been listed above. Still, apart from salvation we stand unreconciled before God. But what I hope to show is that the “gospel” of the New Testament cannot be reduced to the Plan of Salvation. Instead, the Plan of Salvation, as Figure 2 above illustrates, flows out of (and is founded upon) the Story of Israel and the Story of Jesus. The good news is that the more we submerge “salvation” into the larger idea “gospel,” the more robust will become our understanding of salvation.
McKnight’s problem is that he is convinced that the we have a misunderstanding of the gospel, and this doesn’t lend itself to making disciples. He feels we have reduced a truly robust salvation into the four or five point Plan of Salvation, and we have harmed the gospel in doing so.
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.
As I read this book, one of the questions that rattles around in my head is the one I’ve been asking for a while, and post about. I want to know how to introduce people to King Jesus, and the Kingdom of God. I want to know how to preach the real gospel of Jesus in a convincing way to win some into the Kingdom. McKnight answers this in the last big category of this chapter. I’ll post on The Method of Persuasion next time.
For now, a couple questions:
- Do you think it is possible that we have confused the Plan of Salvation with the Gospel?
- Have we been trying to win people for Christ using the Plan of Salvation while ignoring the Story of Jesus?