The gospel and salvation: Two views

In the wider evangelical community there continues to be discussion about the meaning of “the gospel.” Folks such as Scot McKnight and N.T. Wright talk about the “king Jesus” gospel as the outworking of the history of Israel. The gospel is primarily about the restoration of all creation and individual salvation takes place within this larger outworking.

Tim Keller expressed a rival interpretation of salvation and the gospel in an interview on Trevin Wax’s blog. For what it is worth, John Wesley would agree with Keller’s emphasis over McKnight and Wright, although he, of course, disagrees with Keller on several other points.

Scot and I disagree on this. But yes, I do think individual salvation needs to be kept central.

In Romans 8 Paul speaks of the renewal of creation—its liberation from decay—something that shows that ultimately God’s salvation means the renewal of the whole world, not just the salvation of individual souls. Yet in verse 21 Paul says that the creation will be brought into our freedom and glory as children of God—the glory that we as individuals have received through faith in Jesus Christ.

So rather than saying—as many do—that the main point of the gospel is cosmic salvation, and our individual salvation(s) are just part of that, it might be more accurate to say it’s the other way around. It may be that cosmic renewal is a fruit of our individual, personal salvation.

Because I read Romans 8 the way I do—I see substitutionary atonement and justification as not something that comes along with the bigger story but as the point of the spear of the Big Story.

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What is the purpose of a sermon?

Some comments taken from a question Scot McKnight once asked: What is the purpose of the sermon?

First:

From this perspective (an admittedly limited one) I think that a good sermon will hold my interest, teach me something new or provide a different perspective or twist of insight into something I know, encourage or convict me to actually live out my faith.

Second:

My view of a “good sermon” is one that is really educational about Faith, scripture, and practical application to the real world. It’s nice to be feel good and lofty in idealism, but at the end of the day, The Word needs to be viewed with the real world in mind so it can convey a practical, meaningful message.

Third:

I’m most fed when I either learn something (about God, Jesus, or how I can better relate to Him), when I’m motivated to act out my faith, or when I’m encouraged. I guess I would say that the purpose is to preach the Gospel and to edify the church.

Fourth:

Sermons engage me when it’s clear that the preacher has some understanding (need not be exhaustive) of what is being conveyed. There needs to be a flow of ideas and not a lot of “uhms” and circular statements: please, take me somewhere! I personally need to know how what is being preached bears on the meaning of scripture, or the liturgy, or life in God- hopefully all three. And I believe this can be done in less than 15 minutes, preferably no more than ten. I’m also in a church with a Eucharist-centered service.
I’ve been churched all my life. Memorable sermons? About five. Details? Nah- what I remember is the Main Thing. But there’s a better chance that later Sunday or during the week I’ll think about the ideas in the sermon if I’m engaged as above.

Fifth:

I’m tired of sermons that are nothing more than a prepared speech. There needs to be more spontaneity, honesty, conversing and less shouting, fist-pounding, and clever plays on words or three-point alliterated outlines. It needs to have relatability. For me the sermon starts me thinking to such a degree that I don’t forget it immediately after the service but keep mulling over its contents during the week, maybe doing my own study or checking out some other’s comments, incorporating the challenges into my prayers and using it as a framework for my personal conversation with God during the week. … In essence, a sermon needs to be memorable and inspiring beyond the time it takes to shake the preacher’s hand and say ‘nice job.’
It’s been a long time since I heard such a sermon at my church.

This is just a selection. I tried to pick comments that were written by listeners rather than preachers. I hear two things. Teach me something I did not know. Tell me what I can do next.

Decisions and Discipleship

Craig Adams has been tweeting bits and pieces of books he has been reading on his Kindle. One of his recent tweets from Scot McKnight‘s book The King Jesus Gospel reminded me of something William J. Abraham writes about in his works on evangelism:

Most of evangelism today is obsessed with getting someone to make a decision; the apostles, however, were obsessed with making disciples. Those two words — decision and disciples — are behind this entire book. Evangelism that focuses on decisions short circuits and — yes, the word is appropriate — aborts the design of the gospel, while evangelism that aims at disciples slows down to offer the full gospel of Jesus and the apostles.

Enough people I respect have written this — and it rings true with my reading of the Bible — that I try to keep such thoughts in mind any time the idea of evangelism comes up in my own thoughts or conversations.

And yet, I want to be cautious here. We should not fall into the trap of setting decisions and discipleship against each other. (I am not arguing McKnight does that. I have not read his book.) Discipleship — at some point — requires a decision to follow Jesus. Throughout the Bible, God puts people to a decision.

What is true, though, is decision is not the end of discipleship. As Taylor Burton-Edwards wrote a while back, taking decision as the end-point leaves a lot of new born Christians trapped in infancy or leaves them abandoned to the elements of the world where they die of exposure.

Discipleship is much more than a decision, but each of us must decide whether we will receive the grace and follow the lead of the one who calls us.