Friday, November 04, 2011

McKnight 3: Gospel Culture/Salvation Culture

I’ve had sporadic internet these last couple days. Rome is not for the faint of heart.  May post my reflections on the trip when I’m back in Germany.

The previous summaries of McKnight’s King Jesus Gospel are:
Evangelism Explosion and
The Big Question: What is the Gospel?

Today, chapter 2: Gospel Culture vs Salvation Culture

Scot begins the chapter by showing his evangelical credentials: “Personal faith is both necessary and nonnegotiable” (28).  He adds, “The sacramental process isn’t enough; there must be a call to personal faith” (29).

I would reword these comments as these statements still have a very cultural feel to me.  Crucial for me as a Wesleyan is the point at which the Spirit makes personal faith possible.  At that point, personal faith is both necessary and nonnegotiable.  Nevertheless, I agree with Scot’s basic point, which is to address people who might think that their lives and attitudes are irrelevant to their status with God because they were baptized as a child or because they participate in Mass every once and a while.  The sacraments do not work in the heart of the Devil.

He then gives the thesis of the book: “We evangelicals (as a whole) are not really ‘evangelical’ in the sense of the apostolic gospel, but instead we are soterians” (29).  The distinction he is making between the two is that a gospel culture will move a person beyond entrance into the church (where the sacramentalists sometimes stop), beyond bringing people to a salvation decision (where the “soterians” stop) to discipleship and maturity (where a true “evangelical,” gospel culture would lead).

A “salvation culture” is thus one that “focuses on and measures people on the basis of whether they can witness to an experience of personal salvation” (30).  This sort of approach, he is saying, is “soterian” rather than truly evangelical.

I think most of us, especially Wesleyans, would agree with his basic point.  We have overemphasized a moment of decision and neglected discipleship.  I will be interested to see how he develops it.  It still seems to me to miss out on the fact that some people’s decision for Christ may not happen as consciously as he is still discussing it.  It must happen when the Spirit presents the light of Christ, but it may not be a dramatic decision point of which a person is fully conscious.  This orientation neglects the fact that most of who we are is a function of our subconscious mind.

His use of the word gospel and salvation still don’t seem changed radically enough.  We’ll have to wait to see what he does with gospel but in this chapter it still seems focused too much on us as individuals rather than on King Jesus—I suspect that will change as we move on.

My main critique would be that his understanding of salvation seems too narrow.  The word salvation is sometimes used for physical healing and rarely if ever used in relation to justification.  Paul’s use of the word is overwhelmingly focused on escaping God’s wrath in the coming judgment.

The question of who will be saved is a whole different can of worms and much bigger than the very narrow way Scot is talking about it in terms of getting a person into the church to the point of decision.  So I think I get his point, but so far I’m finding the way he’s presenting it a little strange to me.


Nathaniel said...

Your/Scott's sacramental comments are frankly specious. The sacraments do work in the heart of the Devil according to St Paul: they cause sickness and death. Do you realize that the ancient teaching of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches is that "being baptized as a child" or "participating in Mass every once and a while" but having no faith otherwise leads to a greater condemnation than if one had no such participation? For instance, for Catholics every Sunday (as well as many feast days) is a "Holy Day of Obligation." I respect you as a scholar, but frankly repeating such nonsense as "where the sacraments sometimes stop" based solely on the behavior of the worst members of the churches you disagree with and not upon their official teaching is the worst kind of bias. I know you would not wish me to judge the Wesleyans by their worst adherents. Can you not provide the ancient churches with the same consideration? The sacraments do not stop at the door of the church, people impede their working. You've merely set up a straw man in "sacramentalists" and act as if evangelicals have a unique corner on the market of personal faith. It is as if the 6th ecumenical council is not entirely about personal faith (hint: personal faith is entirely the reason that Christ must have two wills). The "overemphasis" on a "moment of decision" is not an overemphasis at all but the rejection of the sacramental life. The reason that this overemphasis came about is that existentialism came to be the normative metaphysic of American protestantism and as such "choice" or "decision" became the chief sacrament, replacing baptism.

Its time we had a real discussion about the distinctives of Wesleyanism/evangelicalism rather than puff cheerleader pieces that underhandedly malign their opponents. Please be the responsible scholar I know you are and represent your opponents fairly. Christian duty demands this.

FrGregACCA said...

Good points, Nathaniel. There is also the issue of Phariseeism. Roman Catholics, we Orthodox, and those of similar faith and practice are not immune, of course, but it seems that Evangelicals are particularly vulnerable to being tempted from that direction.

Besides, Fr. Wesley himself was quite the sacramentalist.

Ken Schenck said...

Nathaniel and FrGreg, I'm basically responding to McKnight here, not targeting sacramental traditions. If it makes you feel better, in his first chapter he considers the "depth rate" for both sacramental traditions and evangelicals about the same.

FrGregACCA said...

Thanks for reminding me of that, Ken, about attrition rates. However, my point about Phariseeism certainly stands.

Anonymous said...

Funny.. I took "where the sacramentalists sometimes stop" to mean those whose faith is a Sunday only affair. If they show up at the church building once or twice a week, they figure they are covered. While many fit this description, many others show up but return home hungering for more and never get it.

Is it fair to judge a tradition by the behavior of its adherents rather than its loftiest ideals? Beats me. But you can't just pretend that the fruit of a tradition includes the great unwashed walking away from mass with out the least wit of intention to follow Jesus in any meaningful way.

(We atheists have the same problem: do we accept Dawkins and Hitchens in the tent or treat them as outliers...?)

Anonymous said...


That should be:

But you can't just pretend that the fruit of a tradition DOES NOT INCLUDE the great unwashed

JohnM said...

Is soterian then being defined as that gospel culture which does not go "beyond bringing people to a salvation decision"?

Or is McKnight saying a gospel culture that emphasizes an experience of personal salvation is one that will not go beyond a salvation decision and bring people to discipleship and maturity? I'd find that claim outrageous absent any qualification.

Ken, why do you disassociate "escaping God’s wrath in the coming judgment" from justification?

FrGregACCA said...

"Is it fair to judge a tradition by the behavior of its adherents rather than its loftiest ideals? Beats me. But you can't just pretend that the fruit of a tradition includes the great unwashed walking away from mass with out the least wit of intention to follow Jesus in any meaningful way."

I think this makes a huge assumption that is unwarranted. Evangelicals are conditioned to talk about their faith any time, anywhere. This is not necessarily the case with RC and the Orthodox. That doesn't mean the faith is not there and that it is not lived out.

I am reminded of Jesus' parable concerning two sons, one whom told this father he would work in the fields, but then did not, while the other said 'no" but then did.

FrGregACCA said...

Also, I have learned from several bitter experiences that when an Evangelical starts talking about his or her faith in a business context, I must make sure I still have my wallet.

Scot McKnight said...

Ken, in this chp I'm doing my best to define terms the way typical evangelicalism does - and I have a book conversion that shows I see all kinds of progression and unconsciousness, etc, and my A Community called Atonement is an attempt to broaden "salvation." But I don't think most evangelicals operate with such a view ...