Hey! You’re Reading It Wrong!

Who doesn’t love a good story? Whether it’s a book, movie, song, or something else, stories capture our attention and imagination. We get lost in stories, projecting ourselves into them, anxious to find out what happens next.

Memorable characters stay with us, possibly even becoming real to us: Frodo, Darth Vader, Neo, Aslan. Stories are powerful, influencing and shaping our worldview, for good or bad.

Stories largely all follow the same basic formula, have the same basic arc. The most simplified arc can be divided into four chapters: the setup, the crisis/conflict, the climax, and resolution.

The Bible has been getting a lot of attention lately as a story: the Story of God. A metanarrative that can correctly inform our worldview. But what if we’re looking at the Story from an improper perspective?

What if we’re looking at the wrong setup, conflict, climax, and resolution?

This is the key point Scot McKnight makes in his latest book, The King Jesus Gospel. He contends what we call the gospel is not what Jesus and the apostles would have defined as the gospel. In other words, we are interacting with Scripture from a limited perspective. He contrasts what he calls the “soterian gospel” with the “story gospel,” and I will attempt to show that contrast by looking at how each sees the storyline of the Bible.

The story arc from a purely “soterian” perspective centers on us. The conflict is our sin and our separation from God that ensues. The climax is Jesus’ death on the cross. The resolution will be realized one day in heaven. The big idea is God loves us enough to save us.

The story arc from an “original gospel” perspective centers on God. The conflict is our rejection of God as King and the chaos and consequences that have since ensued. The climax is Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and exaltation. The resolution is the kingdom of God here on earth as it is in heaven, but not fully realized until the consummation and renewal of all things. The big idea is in Jesus God has become King again.

While the first story fits neatly and makes sense within the second, the second story is too big to be contained within the first. The second story requires the whole of Scripture in order to be told and understood. The first story doesn’t need the Old Testament, but can find ways to use certain parts of it. The first story can be told with just one verse: John 3:16, or Romans 6:23, for example.

The first story is what those of us who grew up in church are familiar with. It is the traditional, evangelical understanding of gospel. The second story is less familiar, possibly even foreign.

In the first story, we might think Jesus’ purpose centers around us. In the second story, it is clear that our purpose centers around Jesus.

In the first story, we can easily make ourselves the hero. Even if we correctly see Jesus as the hero, His role is limited to that of Savior. In the second story, Jesus is clearly the hero, and He is not just Savior but King to whom every knee will bow.

The second story in no way diminishes salvation: the unconditional grace (one-way love of God to us), everlasting faithfulness, and mercy of God. In fact, these things flow out of the second story.

But the first story does not naturally bring us to the point of living under the reign of Jesus as King. The first story is too narrow, too limiting, and gives us too low a view of Jesus.

It is quite possible many of the problems the American church is currently facing stem from our contentment with the first story and ignorance of the second story. Maybe it is time we get back into the Bible with fresh eyes and look at these familiar stories with a new perspective.

As you compare the soterian gospel and the story gospel, what other contrasts or implications do you see?


There are some things we need to hear everyday. Let’s face it, we’re kinda forgetful.

– What did I have for dinner last night?
– What is that guy’s name?
– What was I supposed to do on my way home from work today?
– Oh where is my hairbrush?

Not only do we forget these less important things, we also tend to forget crucial truths about ourselves, others, and God. We need daily reminders so we don’t forget. A list of forget-me-nots.

Do you have a list of statements you cling to­, that help you stay grounded?

I don’t have one I go to on a daily basis, but here are a few things I need at the top of my list:

– God’s grace has nothing to do with my good, my bad, or my ugly.
– Every man, woman, and child bears God’s image inside them. Therefore, they should be treated with dignity and respect.
– This might be my last day on earth. (Better eat bacon.)
– It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s about Jesus. King Jesus.

This last one is one we’ve all heard before but not often enough. If I was ever going to get a tattoo, it would be the phrase “it’s not about you” tattooed backwards on my big, shiny forehead. I can’t be reminded too often about this one.

As Scot McKnight puts it in The King Jesus Gospel, “too often we have…
reduced the life of Jesus to Good Friday, and therefore
reduced the gospel to the crucifixion, and then soterians have
reduced Jesus to transactions of a Savior.” (p.119)

To be blunt, I have the tendency to take the Story of God and turn it into the Story of Tim. To make myself the central character in life.

And reducing the gospel to my personal salvation only serves to ramp up my egocentric tendencies.

Yes, my salvation should not be forgotten. It is an important part of the gospel, and one I am unequivocally grateful for.

But the gospel is about Jesus. The story is about Jesus. This life is about Jesus. All glory belongs to Jesus.

And that’s something I need to be reminded of now and again.

How about you? What grounding truths would make your list?

What Is The Gospel?


Millions of people watched this commercial this weekend during a nationally televised NFL playoff game. It’s endearing, quality, and true. What an opportunity to share the gospel, and they did it well.

But what if it’s not the gospel?

That’s the premise of Scot McKnight’s latest book, The King Jesus Gospel. He is arguing that what we call the gospel is actually the Plan of Salvation, which “flows out of (and is founded upon) the Story of Israel and the Story of Jesus” (p.39). It is in the gospel, but it is not the gospel.

The gospel is larger than Jesus dying on the cross to save me from my sins. Resurrection, new creation, discipling, the kingdom of God, and Jesus being King of all are also central components in the gospel, but largely ignored when we evangelize. We have reduced the gospel to an individual’s forgiveness of sin and called it good.

Essentially what we’ve done is taken a verse like John 3:16 out of its context within the Story of God, a.k.a the Bible, and said here’s the truth, the whole truth, and we really don’t need any more truth. We have reduced the gospel to a bite-sized, Americanized, consumer-focused infomercial.

Which is great when you want to sell something quickly and to large masses of people. But it becomes dangerous when what you’re selling is an idea.

Communication is a tricky thing. Misunderstanding abounds in the minds of the hearers. I say ‘potatoe,’ and you say ‘McDonald’s french fries.’ I proclaim the unconditional grace of God and the free gift of salvation available to all in and through Jesus Christ, and someone hears, “I can go to heaven, and I don’t need to do anything!” And according to John 3:16, that’s true.

But is it true? Is it the gospel?

When we divorce discipleship from evangelism, is the gospel still the gospel? When we remove any idea of the people of God carrying on the mission of God in our salvation message, is the gospel still the gospel?

If the extent of a person’s relationship with God is that they once prayed ‘the prayer,’ will Jesus one day say to them, “Depart from me. I never knew you”?

To me, this is by far the scariest implication of the salvation culture we live in. The possibility that there may be millions of people in our churches (or loosely connected to them) with a false sense of security in their salvation.

To answer this question, we need to dive deeper into McKnight’s book and take a close look at the gospel Jesus preached, as well as the apostles.

What do you think? Have we strayed from Jesus’ gospel? Have we neglected some essential components of the original good news?

Can the Gospel Still Change the World?

believe → get forgiven → go to heaven

is that it?

that’s a neat, tidy little statement,
but to be honest, its impact on my life today is rather small.

the truth is, i’m still stressed.
truth is, i’m still messed up,
and i’m constantly getting dressed up
to hide it all.

is that all this gospel can do?

i’ve heard the good news is an “already-but-not-yet” kind of news.
but all i hear about is of the “not yet” variety.
can anyone address the “already” already?

is there more to the gospel?
if you can reduce it to three points,
share it under a minute,
or put it on a napkin,
might it have lost something?

in the land of infomercials
and ten-minute tutorials,
don’t give me information that lacks impact.
what my heart is longing for is (re)formation.

is there a gospel that can give me that?

i don’t want a self-help gospel,
and i don’t want a no-help gospel.
i’m looking for the real deal Jesus-save-me-now gospel.

i’m desperate for tangible, touchable hope for today.
answers to the complex issues of living in this world.

i need a bigger story.
the whole story from start to finish.
tell me who i am in this story, where i fit,
and that we will all live happily ever after.

most of all, i need a gospel for the here and now,
not just the hereafter.

Are We Losing A Generation?

A week ago, Relevant posted an interview with Kara Powell about her book, Sticky Faith, and the research that went into it. Having heard her talk about her book before, and having skimmed it myself, the problem and practical solutions they offer are spot on.

One of the biggest emphases in the book is strengthening the relational connection within a church between the young people and the adult community. Mentoring, cheerleading, and friending is what young people need from us oldies. The stronger the connections (as well as there being more connections) the more likely they will stick. I agree with this 100%, and our youth ministry is largely patterned around this idea.

But in the same way tying yourself to a pier doesn’t make you a tugboat, being highly connected to a church does not make you a follower of Christ. Let me share one of the scariest statements in the article:

Do you think there are any misunderstandings or misconceptions that contribute to young adults leaving the church?

The students involved in our research definitely tended to view the Gospel as a list of dos and do-nots, a list of behaviors. We asked our students when they were college juniors, “How would you define what it really means to be a Christian?” and one out of three—and these were all youth group students—didn’t mention Jesus Christ in their answer; they mentioned behaviors. So it seems like [young adults] have really picked up a behavioralist view of the Gospel. That’s problematic for a lot of reasons, but one of which is that when students fail to live up to those behaviors, then they end up running from God and the Church when they need both the most.

Unfortunately, this is not new information. Christian Smith found the same thing to be true in his research—and his book, Soul Searching, came out six years ago.

So we have bad theology, and that’s a bad thing. Our theology is more important than a vibrant community, sacrificial serving or dynamic devotion. A.W. Tozer thought so. He once wrote, “What we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

This is why I’ve been loving these two books: The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight, and Simply Jesus by N.T. Wright. Not only do their last names rhyme, but they are both tackling the issue of who Jesus is and what the gospel is from a historical/theological perspective. And both books are A-mazing. (I can’t believe I’ve mentioned five different books in this post. I’m such a nerd!)

In the midst of losing a generation of young people, we must make a concerted effort to prove we see them, we care about them, and we will walk with them. But we must also take a close look at our message.

This is why I think there’s no time like the present to take another look at what the gospel is. We might rediscover some things about our identity and calling along the way. And we might help save a generation.

Revisiting Conversations With My Daughter, Part Two

Last week I revisited conversations with my daughter, and how I realized the silliness of cramming the gospel into a single 10-minute conversation. But this is our evangelical mindset: the whole of the gospel is fully explained in John 3:16; or can be sketched onto a napkin, or explained in 4 simple to understand statements.

I’m as guilty as the next guy for not seeing anything wrong with this kind of über reduction, but I’m beginning to grasp the faultiness in this kind of thinking. But more on that later.

Since those initial conversations with my daughter, there have been a couple other conversations that have stayed with me. In these short conversations, she has drawn back the curtain to her heart and what’s going on inside. Her self-awareness and insight amazes me and also shows the need for ongoing conversations.

One time, she again expressed sorrow and regret over how she acts and treats her brothers at times. She does not understand why she continues to be mean or selfish.

She does not understand why she is this way. And she doesn’t like being this way. But what she is beginning to see in herself is her sin nature.

Another time, as we tucked her in one night, she expressed frustration and confusion as to why God was silent. Why hadn’t He ever talked to her? Why couldn’t she hear Him? She is becoming more and more aware of how life in this world is not what it was originally designed to be.

It is so humbling as a father to be involved in this process. To be able to have these conversations with her and to anticipate the conversations to come.

These are real issues, and my daughter is not the only one feeling this tension or confused with God and His world. Many in our pews and outside them are asking the same questions and similar ones.

As we wrestle through answering these questions, a bigger question arises: has a reduction and simplification of the gospel made it harder to effectively answer complex questions? Could this be part of the reason our nation has been labeled post-Christian and the church is seen as irrelevant?

Is our gospel too skinny? To put it another way, could there a hole in our gospel?

What do you think? What is the gospel?

Revisiting Conversations With My Daughter, Part One

Last fall, I shared about my first-grade daughter’s spiritual questions and desire to please God. I shared how I responded (twice) by trying to explain grace. I shared the gospel with her using 1 John 1:9. The initial conversation lasted ten minutes or less.

It is this last part I want to revisit. Since the fall, I’ve been working my way through two books and doing some heavy thinking (at least for me). Both books deal with our understanding of 1) Jesus and 2) the gospel. Over the next few months, my plan is to dig through the goldmine of these two books and pull up the heaviest nuggets I can, and share the ideas that have been sparked in me through them.

Here’s one of the ideas as it relates to my previous conversation with my daughter: I am foolish to think a ten minute conversation is enough to impart the gospel to her. That the story of God can be explained in one verse and subsequently grasped by a six year-old.

Imagine you’re having “the birds and bees” convo with one of your kids. Do you just bring up the subject one time because they’ve reached a certain age and from there on avoid those topics like the plague? You did your job, so now for sure your kid won’t take any missteps or need any ongoing support or advice from you?

Of course we don’t think that would be good enough! The conversation can’t start then end when a child has reached “a certain age.” We have to have mini-conversations along the way: appropriate, timely and relevant to where they are. Sexuality is a complex issue and affects us on many levels.

Isn’t the gospel even more complex? Affecting us on every level? How do you explain an issue like depravity? Or a concept like grace? I don’t have all the answers, but I know you can’t do it justice if you’re limited to one verse or only ten minutes.

And can these concepts (and the gospel itself) be explained or understood apart from the context of story? The context of The Story?

I believe we lose something when we explain the Plan of Salvation without going into The Story the Plan comes from. Salvation must always be tied to the Story of Jesus, and the Story of Jesus is best understood in its context within the whole story of the Bible.

I can’t cram that into a ten minute conversation. And I probably shouldn’t even try.

RE-POST: Conversations With My Daughter

(I’m taking this week off from blogging. The official name for this is Blogger’s Break, not to be confused with the more popular Blogger’s Blitz or the infamous Blogger’s BreakDOWN. Anyhoo, this last re-post is my favorite and is also the top post from the year. Originally posted August 24, 2011.)

I’d like to share a conversation I had with my daughter, our oldest who is now a first grader, that took place two weeks ago. I was putting all three kids to bed by myself and decided we would try something different to pray. I got us in a circle and said we were going to pray for the person on our right. (Then I showed the boys which way was right.)

The boys prayed silly prayers, imagine that, but when it was Addi’s turn she said she didn’t want to pray. Thinking she was just too nervous, I offered some encouraging, fatherly words that would surely convince her she could pray.

But she said, “I can’t pray… I did too many bad things today.” That got my attention, and I wasn’t sure how to respond. She looked at me and said, “I want to feel clean inside.”

That floored me. Instantly, my heart was both full and broken. I was a mess of excitement and nerves. This was the kind of conversation pastors live for, and here was my little girl opening that door.

I pulled her over to me, sat her on my lap, and gave her a big hug. I said a couple of things to her, then realized we needed to have a real conversation. So I put the boys to bed, grabbed my Bible, and we sat on Addi’s bed and talked.

I read 1 John 1:9 to her: “If we confess our sins, (God) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I explained that to confess simply meant to admit to God she had done bad things, which she had done. I told her because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, we are clean on the inside. I desperately wanted her to understand that this is what grace is all about, that she didn’t need to do anything, that because of Jesus she is forgiven and clean.

She said she understood. I prayed, and she repeated what I said. I asked her if she understood what she had prayed, and again she said she understood.

I wonder how much she did understand. I wonder how deeply a six-year-old can grasp amazing grace. I’m not sure how deeply I grasp it! I constantly find myself slipping back into old ruts of approaching God based on what I’ve done lately rather than because of what Jesus Christ did for me 2,000 years ago.

And I remember when I was about Addi’s age I prayed the sinner’s prayer to receive Jesus over and over and over again. I couldn’t tell you how many times I prayed it, but I know I had it memorized.

My constant fear was I had not prayed all the right words, I had left out a part, or I had not been 100% sincere. Ironically, in my prayer asking Jesus to save me from the eternal fires of hell, my focus was more on my own efforts to be saved. I did not get grace. My faith was pretty weak; I wasn’t able to trust in Christ alone.

From a developmental view, maybe I was unable to mentally and emotionally grasp the concept of grace at that young age. Maybe the same is true for my daughter. Less than a week ago, again at the end of the day, Addi said she did not want to pray. Then she said, “I think I need a new heart again.”

She felt bad for something that had happened earlier, and I love that she feels bad about being bad – I hope she never loses that! We had another conversation, and I explained how in a relationship it is important to say sorry when you recognize you’ve done something wrong. Then we prayed together.

I think her statement is indicative that she doesn’t get grace yet. As we go on from here and have more conversations, this is what I want to try to bring down to her level: that she is saved by grace and that her “job” is to believe that when Jesus said, “It is finished,” it really is.

As Paul Tillich wrote, “Faith is the courage to accept acceptance.” Faith is believing God’s grace is real and is for me. That’s what I want to be convinced of in the depths of my soul, and what I want for my kids as well.

I do believe God is hearing the heartfelt cries of my little girl, and it pleases Him to extend His Son’s righteousness to her. She might not fully get it, but in Christ she is forgiven and clean.

She is His.

RE-POST: He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

(I’m taking this week off from blogging. Call it a Christmas gift to myself. I’m re-posting some older stuff from this year, three of my favorites. This was originally posted February 17, 2011.)

I come to God on my terms and on my merits. I perceive my standing before God primarily on what I have or haven’t done. I decide whether or not I am worthy to approach God. I alone judge myself, and I do not take God or His Word into account in deciding my verdict.

I am one of two men. I am either full of pride or full of shame. I am prideful if in this moment I have a good track record of being good, disciplined and/or loving. On the other hand, I am ashamed if in this moment I am acutely aware of my inability to steer clear of sin and selfishness.

I come to God on my terms and on my merits… How foolish I am!

Contrast my modus operandi with the experience of the Prodigal Son and his older brother found in Luke 15. Both brothers learn a valuable lesson. The younger son discovers his poverty and inability to save himself. He comes to recognize his absolute need for his father, and he comes crawling back praying for mercy.

The older son is stunned by his father’s grace and mercy to the prodigal and cannot comprehend it. Why doesn’t his father lavish love and attention like this on him? Of all people, he deserves it! He is full of pride and grows angry at the lack of “fairness.”

The Father’s love: One brother felt sure he would never be able to earn it; the other brother felt sure he deserved it far more than anyone else. Neither realized it was unconditional and not contingent upon either of them.

Regarding you and I, God our Father has not moved. All this time, He has been standing at the edge of the driveway, looking up and down the street, waiting and calling. And when I finally turn around and begin walking and He sees me, He comes running to me. I did not earn His love. I did not suddenly prove my worth. He made up His mind about me long ago; He’s just been waiting for me to realize it and come home.

As the writer of Hebrews tells us so clearly,

Dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.

Hebrews 10:19-23

What’s keeping you from coming home?

Is Jesus Engaged?

I know this time of year everybody is picturing Jesus as the “dear 8 lb. 6 oz. newborn infant Jesus,” but the truth is Jesus isn’t a baby anymore. He grew up. He’s a man. He’s THE man.

When He ascended into heaven, His resurrected body had a physicality to it. Which means He is in heaven right now in a kind of physical body, the God-King-Man.

It’s hard to imagine what it would be like for God to become human. Did he ever get the flu? Did he ever not feel like going to school? Did he ever get annoyed by mosquitoes or humidity or that one guy who always wanted Him to read Scripture out of the King James Version?

One speculation many have had related to Jesus’ life on earth is whether or not He had a lady friend. Rumors have circulated for years that He did. It is time to address these rumors, so let me say it does seem like Jesus was is seeing someone. In fact, I have it from a very reliable witness that Jesus is actually engaged! Here’s what my source says:

Then one of the seven angels who held the seven bowls containing the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come with me! I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” So he took me in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and he showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.

So in John the Apostle’s vision of the last days (or the start of the good times, depending on how you look at it), he is introduced to the fiancée of Jesus, and she is the New Jerusalem. It gets better. Check out Revelation 19:7-9. Those of us who belong to Christ are invited to the wedding feast. And our righteous acts are the bride’s wedding dress.

Now I don’t know what all this stuff means. There is some kind of connection/relationship between this physical city and Jesus the King of Kings. And we are somehow connected to all this, too.

We do know the New Jerusalem is our someday home. It is where we will dwell with God. Living happily ever after.

As we get ready for Christmas in 5 days, as we miss those who won’t be celebrating with us this year, as we feel overwhelmed by the stress and demands of the season, maybe it would be good for us to remember why this baby was born in the first place. How this story ends/begins.

There is a party on the docket that should be penned into our planners. There is coming a day of ultimate and everlasting redemption, reconciliation, and reunion.

How are you preparing for the wedding feast of the Lamb?