Wednesday, November 09, 2011

McKnight 6: Salvation takes over Gospel

The next in our pilgrimage through Scot McKnight's King Jesus Gospel.

Intro: Evangelism Explosion
Chap. 1: The Big Question: What is the Gospel?
Chap. 2: Gospel Culture vs Salvation Culture
Chap. 3: From Salvation to Story
Chap. 4: The Gospel of Paul

Now Chap. 5: "How Did Salvation Take Over the Gospel?"

This was an interesting chapter.  It seems to me that we can sum it up in two claims: 1) the early Christian creeds were basically expansions of the gospel narrative found in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5 and 2) the Lutheran Augsburg Confession (1530) and Calvinist Genevan Confession (1536) started a trajectory that eventually led to the question of "how to get saved" taking over the matter of "the gospel of King Jesus."

This is very interesting and I was once again thankful for coming from the Wesleyan-Methodist tradition and thus through Anglicanism.  I did not grow up worried about the "five solas" of the Reformation or the hot button issues of neo-evangelicalism.  I grew up concerned about whether you'd had the experience of entire sanctification.  While that revivalist emphasis had it's extremes as well, I never felt like the things Scot clearly has to tippy-toe around were that big of a deal.  [warning Wesleyans--don't borrow unnecessary baggage from other evangelicals just because we are currently in bed with them]

So he grew up in circles that were squeamish about saying the creeds (his background is Anabaptist).  To be sure, not a lot of Wesleyan churches say the creeds either.  But I wouldn't say there's much opposition to them either.  Wesleyan Methodist churches certainly never had a problem with the creeds.  Scot sees the creeds as expansions of the basic narrative of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15.

He has a very good thought here to those who opposed the creeds--what would you object to in them?  There really isn't much to which a Christian could object.  Rather, most Christians would have real problems with someone who actually rejected the things in the Apostle's or Nicene creeds.

With the Augsburg and Geneva Confessions, the issue of how and why a person can be saved came to the foreground.  This is natural since the Reformation itself centered on such issues.  Protestantism became oriented around personal salvation and, eventually, individual experience of personal salvation (Scot quotes Wesley's famous "heart strangely warmed" journal entry).

Eventually, the salvation bits that were added to the Protestant "creeds" took over.  We no longer talk about God the creator or Jesus who became flesh and rose again.  Now we start with the sinfulness of humanity and end with our salvation.  Now our theology is focused around us rather than God and his story.

Scot ends with a quote from Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy: "'Gospels of Sin Management' presume a Christ with no serious work other than redeeming humankind... they foster 'vampire Christians,' who only want a little blood for their sins but nothing more to do with Jesus until heaven" (76 of McKnight).
An afterword seems in order for Wesleyans.  I believe that McKnight does indeed point to some potential blind spots in Wesleyan theology and gives us a concrete example of what I have meant at other times when I have pointed out that Wesley is more our grandfather than our father.

Wesley was both a child of the Enlightenment and lived near the birth of the Romantic era.  He tried to steer a center course between too much and too little an emphasis on personal experience.  My read of his personal introspection is that he never quite found the right mix, and I identify with his seeming roller coaster of personal uncertainty.  Been there.

Today, we probably do need to balance out his emphasis on the ordo salutis, the "order of salvation," in our thinking.  The priorities should be the more central features of the gospel (God, Christ).  The materials are there in Wesley and, more importantly, in the 2000 year old faith of Christendom.  The things Wesley emphasized had to do with the most pressing issues of his day. Probably, our more immediate heritage in the 1800's revivals only moved us further away from balance in these areas (two trips to the altar and you're done).  

My bigger take away is this.  We've had two hundred years to refine Wesley's trajectory.  There are parts of his theology that should be smoothed out, parts that should be elevated, probably parts that should be eliminated.  Those who are a slave to Wesley run the risk of being about two hundred years behind!


Anonymous said...

Thumbs up! Great review and awesome reflection and expansion on the themes presented in the book.

Thanks again

Ken Schenck said...

thanks for the encouragement...

Bill Heroman said...

Thanks for these posts, Ken. Really fantastic, and fascinating so far.

I'm no expert on the Augsburg or Geneva confessions, but it seems like the emphasis on individual salvation (practically speaking) began long before Luther. Coins in boxes and purgatory's locks, and what not.

It's always seemed to me that the Medieval Church, having assumed itself to be God's Kingdom de-facto, shifted their emphasis to personal salvation as a Governing tactic. 'Stay obedient, peasants, and the next life will be better. Or not!'

At any rate, saying "the Reformation itself centered on such issues" begs the natural question - why did it? So I must ask: Is McKnight simply going out of his way to avoid blaming those Catholics directly for all this, or am I missing some nuance in the conclusion here?

Ken Schenck said...

I had never really asked the question Bill, but it does seem to me that Scot has a point when he basically claims that the Reformation centered on salvation issues. Sola scriptura was really a side issue about how such things should be decided. But sola gratia, sola fide, and solus Christus are all about salvation. I suppose you might say that the excesses of fundraising for the Vatican brought up the issue and of course the empowerment of local states over centralized authorities drove it through. Scot doesn't think the shift completely took place for a couple hundred years.

Bill Heroman said...

Practically speaking, I'd say the shift was well underway at whatever point Eurpoe's xians were being conditioned to fixate on individualized eternal rewards after death.

But no, the shift wasn't complete until much later. That's clear.

Looking forward to more...