In this post from The King Jesus Gospel (full series), we will discuss a little history, and McKnight wants to answer the question, “How did our Gospel culture become a Salvation Culture?” We want to know how the original gospel message got lost.
The culprit, says McKnight, the Protestant Reformation. The author is clear that he feels the Reformation was an important, God led, movement, and I agree. He thinks it was needed to clarify salvation and making its personal application clear and necessary. The battleground of the Reformation was about justification by grace alone through faith alone apart from any works on our part. This was a good and necessary battle, but the unforeseen result was that it would hyper-focus Protestantism on soteriology (the study of Salvation), instead of Christology (the study of Christ). As we have already established, the gospel (the preached good news message) of the Jesus, John the Baptist, the apostles, and Paul was not about salvation, but is was the heralded good news of Jesus the King has arrived and brought his kingdom with him. So, the gospel is properly anchored in Christology because it is about Jesus. We Evangelicals have moved it over into the category of soteriology because we have been taught that the gospel (preached good news message) is about our salvation from Hell.
McKnight has a problem with how the teaching Reformation was used in early American Christianity, how it manifested itself in the revivalistic movement, and how it continues to affect us today.
“Rather, what happened is the apostolic gospel culture was reframed in such a way and so successfully, largely as a result of the powerful evangelistic culture of evangelicalism in American revivalism and then later in America’s culture war between fundamentalists and modernists, that today we are losing contact with the gospel culture.” (p. 76)
On this point, I think McKnight is hitting the bullseye. The facts are that once we come to America, with our free wheeling theology and church practice, populist disregard for authority and tradition, we end up with a whole lot of people running around in the frontier territories of the United States making up Christianity as they saw fit. (I posted at length about this here.) The vacuum of legitimate authority and the quest for a distilled gospel causes focus to shift away from Jesus as King, and toward Jesus as Savior. We stopped calling people to follow Christ is humble service and started calling them to walk the “sawdust trail” so they could be saved from the fires of Hell. This is part of the heritage of American Christianity, and we are still suffering from it today.
So what do you think? Does how we view the gospel and understand its content affect how we interact with the world around us?
Are we being pushed by historical forces and particular revivalistic notions that may not be true to the original message of Christianity?