Craig Adams shares a guest post by William Birch about the gospel. Birch outlines nicely a genre of “gospel-ology” that has gained a significant following and has been popularized by writers such as Scot McKnight and NT Wright.
The short version is that traditional and contemporary evangelicals have misunderstood the gospel. They put too much stress on salvation and soteriology and neglect the bigger story of creation, Israel, Jesus, and the New Heaven and Earth.
Birch sums up the conclusion of the storied gospel critique of the plan-of-salvation gospel this way:
Whenever we deconstruct the gospel to a mere formula, ignoring the story of Israel and how Jesus “fulfills, completes, and resolves Israel’s story,” we then “permit the gospel to collapse into the abstract, de-storified points in the Plan of Salvation.” The blight of such a bankrupt gospel is reduced to what the late Dallas Willard called “sin management,” which presumes “a Christ with no serious work other than redeeming humankind . . .” and that which fosters “vampire Christians,” who “only want a little blood for their sins but nothing more to do with Jesus until heaven.” That is a scathing critique of modern evangelicalism, and it is true.
What interests me is the rhetorical move being made by McKnight, Wright, Birch, and others. It sounds very similar to the rhetoric of those who they critique. The form goes this way: “Those people are wrong or only partly right. Here is the full gospel and what it means.”
What such folks do not often give me — and what I long for — is advice on how to read or receive the wisdom of all those who have come before who they view as carrying around a deficient gospel. What do I do with the sadly lacking “soterian” gospel of John Wesley, for instance? We are long on critique and replacement, but short on appreciation and thankfulness for the gifts that these others bring.
It seems like we all do this. Wesley did it, too. I’m sure people will say I do it. Paul in Galatians certainly did it. We all proclaim the gospel as we understand it. Since it is the gospel, we want to make sure that people understand it for what it really is. But this leaves us discounting the gospel that others proclaim, often in terms that suggest those others are ignorant, self-interested, or worse.
How do we talk about the gospel while respecting the fact that we all see only darkly now?