Still clarifying our gospel problem here in chapter 3, McKnight identified four themes that are generally associated with the gospel. The most basic is the gospel as the story of Israel, the story of the Bible. From that comes the story of Jesus himself. A small part of the Jesus story, then, is what McKnight calls the plan of salvation (by this he basically means atonement theories). Finally, flowing from the plan of salvation comes any particular method of persuasion.
The story of Israel was much discussed in our review of Wright’s How God Became King. There is little to add here. Suffice it to say that in McKnight’s estimation the true gospel doesn’t make sense outside the story of Israel. Yet the question should be asked of ourselves: Do we know why?
The story of Jesus, the whole story of Jesus, brings that story of Israel, the story of the scriptures, to it’s culmination. This is the climax.
But McKnight spends the majority of his time in these last two portions, the plan of salvation and a method of persuasion. The trouble is, many Christians today have reduced the gospel to these last two. Either the gospel is (1) how we get saved and into heaven (plan of salvation) or (2) how we package that message (method of persuasion). Thing is, the gospel is actually neither of those things.
When we equate the gospel, first, with the plan of salvation, we end up with little more than magic words of ascent that get people “in.” What we leave behind is any sense that (1) the Old Testament has anything to do with the story of Jesus, (2) any hope that, once saved, a believer might be positively compelled to grow, and (3) any sense of kingdom, which happened to consume so much of Jesus’ own teaching.
When we equate the gospel with a method of persuasion, well, we’ve come even further off the rails. Let’s just say this. Read once again Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 and compare that to, say, the four spiritual laws. Sound similar? No? Oh, well. Ahem. Never mind.
Now comes Professor McKnight’s severe warning: we are allowing the plan of salvation and the method of persuasion to crush the story of Jesus and, especially, the story of Israel. And sadly, we’re reaping the results – a church thin on disciples.