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?