What Does It Mean To Place Faith in Jesus, Part Two

In the last post, we looked at the gospel message as it is typically put forth today, what Scot McKnight has labeled the ‘soterian gospel’ and identified as not being the original gospel but rather the plan of salvation.

Before that, we looked at the elements of story and how each version of the gospel sees God’s Story. I do not know that McKnight would totally agree with how I’m comparing the two, but this framing is what is most helpful to me. The picture below shows how I see these two storylines differing.

The Soterian Gospel vs. The Story Gospel

Again, the gospel we are used to (the Four Spiritual Laws, the bridge illustration…) is really just the Plan of Salvation. Sharing it is not wrong or invalid, but as we saw in the last post, it easily leads to a one-dimensional, one-way, me-centered relationship with Christ.

That is not to say that the Billy Graham crusades (for example) were pointless, or that God cannot use this skinny version of the gospel to bring us into right relationship with Him, expand His kingdom, and bring glory to His name. But for those of us who take the Great Commission in Matthew 28 seriously, we must always be seeking to make the message we bring be as close to Jesus’ original gospel as we can.

So asking ‘What is the gospel?’ and ‘Who is Jesus?’ are essential questions for each generation to freshly wrestle with as we stand on the shoulders of the generations before us. We cannot be afraid of the search, but it must be a search done humbly and with open minds in Christian community, led by the Spirit, immersed in the Scriptures, contextualized in history, and tested theologically.

In the next post, we will examine what faith in Jesus looks like based off of ‘the King Jesus gospel.’

What Does It Mean to Place Faith in Jesus? Part One

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.

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?

Return to the Kingdom, Chapter Seven

(This is the conclusion to Return to the Kingdom, an imaginative retelling of the Story of God. Click here for Chapter One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six.)

The condemned exiles were tied together and their hands tied behind their backs.

The journey back to the kingdom, something they had desired for years, was dreadful. More than once, the eldest among them stumbled and fell hard, unable to catch themselves with their arms. The littlest grew weary but could not be picked up and carried. Lucius and his knights were merciless.

“Don’t give up,” encouraged one of the old men. “We may face a terrible death, but we are finally doing right by the King. We will be true to who he was and what he stood for.”

The others found strength in his words. They were scared, but their resolve was steadfast. They would die for their King.

As the sun set behind them, the army stopped and set up camp. The condemned exiles were given no food and no bed. The knights forced them to stand through the night, and they huddled together for warmth.

The eldest took turns telling stories and singing songs about the King and the kingdom. They all knew, from the oldest to the youngest, this was their last night on earth.

The sun did not rise the next morning. It was hidden behind a foreboding wall of dark grey clouds. No warm, golden rays would be breaking through today.

An unusual silence pervaded the land. The condemned exiles realized there was no birdsong this morning. “How fitting,” they whispered to each other.

A bitter wind came in from the southwest, chilling the air and creating unease even among the rebel knights. The grey clouds let down a dreary mist of cold rain. It was as if creation knew what evil this day held and clearly spoke its’ disapproval.

The army advanced, spurred on by cold and wet and darkness, intent on gaining victory. Soon they stood at the threshold of the King’s land.

The kingdom was unchanged. It was as lush and green as it had ever been, just as perfect in every way. The King’s palace towered over the land, almost the embodiment of the King himself, offering protection and provision to all within her walls.

But the King was no longer there to protect his land or his people.

“At last,” Lucius growled lustfully, stepping forth into the kingdom and turning back to his army and shouting, “Our kingdom awaits! Use the miscreants as shields, and take no prisoners!”

The knights picked up the condemned exiles, held them as makeshift shields, and started forward together. And then the earth quaked violently.

The knights stumbled backwards and threw the exiles down. The earth convulsed. A large crack appeared, separating the condemned exiles from Lucius and his army. The gap widened and quickly became impassable.

But no one noticed. They were all looking up, towards the palace.

The sun was rising from the east and appeared to be moving towards them. It chased away the wind, the rain, and the clouds. The light was blinding and all shielded their eyes.

The condemned exiles were the first to realize the blinding light was not the sun but rather the likeness of a man upon a horse. Their eyes adjusted to the light, and they found they couldn’t look away. But they didn’t want to look away. There was something familiar and welcoming about the advancing man of light.

The army was having a more adverse reaction to the oncoming light. To them, the light was unbearable, the emanating heat suffocating, and they were overwhelmed with fear and dread. They buried their heads in their chests, and trembled.

“It’s the King! It’s the King!” a little girl shouted. And it was. The man of light was none other than the King riding to their rescue.

He’s alive! the little girl thought. There is an aliveness about him that wasn’t there before, as if he is now life itself, and life and light and warmth are flowing out of him to us.

The King stopped and dismounted with a hearty laugh. “My children! I knew you would come back. You are no longer exiles. You are redeemed. You are again my people.”

The condemned exiles’ ropes fell off, and they ran to the King. As tears of joy flowed freely, he embraced them one by one, spoke a word to them, and welcomed them home.

Finally, he came to the little girl.

“Sir, why didn’t you stop Lucius before? Why did you let him kill you?” she asked innocently.

“That is a good question. I came to you to help you wake up. To remember me and want to come live with me again. But you would have gotten here only to find out you could not get in. As an exile, the barrier would have kept you out.

“There was only one way to remove the barrier. You see, the kingdom and the barrier and myself are all connected to each other. So I left the kingdom to die. In my death, the barrier was removed, opening the way back for you.

“But death could not contain me. I overcame death and have burst through as a new creation. I am the same King, but now more. This is the same kingdom, but now more. There is no longer need for a barrier, for now all things will be made new. In time, you will find yourself changing. You will be more you than you were before. I will make you new as well.”

“Oh, how wonderful!” the little girl squealed. “But what about them?” she asked pointing to Lucius and his army.

“The barrier was not only to keep my enemies out; it was to protect my enemies from my judgment. It was to give them time to come to their senses, as you did, and come back to me. That time has now ended. With no barrier holding her back, my kingdom is expanding and soon will take over all the earth. My presence and my kingdom, while life-giving to you, are death to my enemies. They can no longer live here.”

Sure enough, as the King spoke, the little girl noticed the crack in the earth that separated them from the defiant ones had encircled the King’s enemies. The ground under their feet continued to shake, and then the earth swallowed them up. Their cries grew faint.

The little girl looked beyond where they had been and discovered her vision had increased. She looked out for miles and miles in all directions. She could see pockets of people, some running towards the kingdom and some away. She watched as those running away were swallowed up by the earth. It hurt her heart to see their destruction.

As the others ran towards the kingdom, it was as if the kingdom was also running to meet them. The ground smoothed before them, and the vibrant greens of the kingdom spread towards them. The kingdom was expanding right before the little girl’s eyes. She realized there were people from all over who belonged to the King.

The King picked her up in a warm embrace. “My child, you are home. You need never fear again. We are now entering a new age, where we will never be separated again, where all my people will live with me in the kingdom.

“Go now, run and play where you will. Explore and discover all this land has to offer. I must go and welcome the others who are finally coming home.”

And she did. And they all lived happily ever after.

Better Than Saturday Morning Cartoons

It’s time for another rousing edition of Better Than Saturday Morning Cartoons. Today’s clips fall under the sports motif. Hope you enjoy!

1. We’ll start with some exercise: work it.

2. Boys and their bets.

3. Here is some rare footage of Adolf Hitler reacting to some surprising news. Brace yourself.

4. I had to include this because it could so easily be a home video of me and my brothers.

5. Today’s program brought to you by Doritos and the sheer brilliance of Tripp and Tyler.


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?

Another Random Thought on Running

Do you ever feel like you’re not making any progress in life? That life should be easier by now, but it’s not?

I was wondering about this yesterday when I was out running. I’ve been running for a month and a half, which I recognize is a shorter amount of time than a Kardashian marriage, but I kinda thought it would be easier by now. But it’s not.

My legs still scream obscenities at me. My lungs threaten to make like a tree and get out of here. I still haven’t stumbled on that mythical creature named “Runner’s Bliss.”

What I did realize however was even though running is not yet easier, choosing to run is easier.

It’s not as hard to convince myself to run. I even look forward to it a little. (I must be a sucker for punishment.)

Most likely, my running reality is it will always hurt to run. In fact, I’m assuming that’s how it’s going to be. But seeing the benefits of running, improving, and even enjoying it despite the pain are all making it easier and easier to choose to run.

This mirrors life. I had this idea in my head that as I got older and closer to God, life would start being easier. That loving people who are hard to love, being less selfish, being more disciplined, and saying no to temptation would become easier.

What I’ve realized is living God’s way is not easier, but choosing to live God’s way has become easier.

There is a misconception today that if we can just get to this place, or grasp this concept, or read this book, or discover this secret key, then life will finally be easy. This is not an idea that finds its root in Scripture, but rather in the American dream.

A few years ago I had the privilege of hearing John Piper speak at a conference. He shared how as a seventy-year-old man he still failed countless times each day at keeping God’s two greatest commandments. Isn’t that amazing? I mean, John Piper is the modern day equivalent of Moses!

Be encouraged. Life is hard, and living God’s way will always be hard. Even if you’re John Piper. But choosing to live God’s way today will make it easier to choose God’s way tomorrow.

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.