A few years ago, we had an evangelistic team do a convocation at our local public junior high and high school. There was a lot of preparation and buildup, encouraging churches to work together, and equipping students to be missionaries to their campus. It was well-coordinated and seemed like a promising event that would have a lasting impact. This was a big event for a small town, and buzz and momentum were building.
One of the things we were told by this group ahead of time was 80% of students that came back the night of the convocation responded to the gospel. 80%. Conservatively, each church could expect to see thirty new students coming to our youth ministries after this event. I must confess I was a little skeptical of the promised impact, but also hopeful.
The gospel presented that night was an accurate depiction of what Scot McKnight has labeled the ‘soterian gospel.’ The presentation was short, not-so-sweet, but compelling. If you were to die tonight, do you know where you would be one minute later? Do you want to know for sure that you’ll be in heaven? I’ll tell you how you can be sure…
After listening to this, and seeing students respond by standing (several of my committed, core students stood too), I understood why 80% of any young crowd would respond. I mean, if you were about to go rappelling down the face of a 200-foot cliff, wouldn’t you check the connection one more time before going over the edge?
With the ‘soterian gospel,’ placing faith in Jesus means making a decision to be saved. The main issue here, IMHO, is realizing you need to be saved. If I become aware of a problem I cannot resolve, and someone comes along offering the solution I need (and it doesn’t cost me anything), why wouldn’t I take it? It’s a pretty easy decision to make, isn’t it?
It’s actually more of a non-decision. It’s like choosing between bacon and brussels sprouts. That’s not a real decision because the sprouts are out, and bacon is the winner every time. Duh.
So all we really need to do with the ‘soterian gospel’ is work on our methods of persuasion, helping others realize their need of a savior.
And once a person makes that decision, it’s a done deal. Although now our method of persuasion focuses on convincing that discipleship is the way to grow and go. The problem is discipleship in many regards is more like brussels sprouts than bacon. Taking up your cross daily does not have as much natural appeal as going to heaven. It’s a much tougher sell.
Which brings into focus the reason behind the issues the church in America is facing. Sorry for using this cliché, but who’s going to buy the cow when they can get the milk for free?
In 1998, Dallas Willard wrote The Divine Conspiracy. In this book, he expounds on this kind of limited gospel and names it ‘the gospel of sin management‘: the “reduction of gospel to salvation and the reduction of salvation to personal forgiveness.”
Later in his book he writes, “‘Gospels of Sin Management’ presume a Christ with no serious work other than redeeming humankind… (and) they foster ‘vampire Christians’ who only want a little blood for their sins but nothing more to do with Jesus until heaven.”
That sums it up. The message of the ‘soterian gospel’ allows for, and even provides for, the existence of ‘vampire Christians.’
Now we need to turn our attention to what McKnight calls the ‘story gospel,’ or the King Jesus Gospel.