Many Evangelical Christians are missing the gospel says NT scholar Scot McKnight in his recent publication The King Jesus Gospel (Zondervan, 2011).  The problem he believes is that we have confused the gospel with “the plan of salvation.”

Many of us came to faith in response to a concise doctrinal summary like “The Four Spiritual Laws” or “The Romans Road.” Such summaries have their place but lead to problems if they become a substitute for the gospel itself.  If we ask how the Bible defines the gospel (McKnight begins with 1 Cor. 15:1-8), the answer is that gospel refers to the story of Jesus and how Jesus is the fulfillment and completion of the story of the Old Testament.  This results in an understanding of gospel that is broader and deeper than merely a plan of salvation.

This leads McKnight to contrast what he calls a “salvation culture” with a “gospel culture”:

  1.  The salvation culture tends toward an exclusively individualistic understanding of faith; the gospel culture includes the individual in the larger sweep of God’s purpose to redeem all things through the Messiah.
  2. The salvation culture emphasizes a “decision for Christ” which too often results in church membership without discipleship; the gospel culture calls people to respond to Jesus not merely with a “decision” but with a whole-life commitment to the kingdom of God.
  3. The salvation culture lacks the big story of the Bible and consequently Christians are more easily caught up in the stories of surrounding culture (narcissism, consumerism, naturalism, etc.); the gospel culture immerses itself in the powerful story of Jesus as the only antidote to cultural syncretism.

What do you think?  Does this ring true to your own experience in evangelical circles? Is it time to challenge the salvation culture in the name of a deeper understanding of the gospel?

Dave Dunbar is President and Professor of Theology at Biblical Seminary.  He is married to Sharon, has four adult children and six grandchildren.  See also


0 # Nathan Burke 2011-12-05 10:05
Sounds great!
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0 # R. Todd Mangum 2011-12-07 16:42
McKnight's book really is good -- with a thesis we really do need to engage. About 15 years ago I remember J. B. Phillips' book coming out, entitled "Your God is too small." John Armstrong's book last year was "Your church is too small." As significant and helpful as those books were, McKnight's is just as significant -- making the case compelling that "our gospel has been too small," reductionistically limited to what Dallas Willard has called "a gospel of sin management." It's a must read . . .
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