September 28, 2020

Riffs: 05:13:09: Scot Mcknight on the Individualized “gospel”

From Scot Mcknight’s Kingdom Gospel series at Jesus Creed. I did a bit of creative editing.

I wonder what John would think of the gospel I sketched at the beginning of this chapter:

God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.
But you have a sin problem that separates you from God.
The good news is that Jesus came to die for your sins.
If you accept Jesus’ death, you can be reconnected to God.
Those who are reconnected to God will live in heaven with God.

Every line of that statement is more or less true. It is the sequencing of those lines, the “story” of that gospel if you will, that concerns me and that turns Jesus’ message of the kingdom into a blue parakeet. And it is not only the sequencing, it is the omitting of major themes in the Bible that concerns me. What most shocks the one who reads the Bible as Story, where the focus is overwhelmingly on God forming a covenant community, is that this outline of the gospel above does two things: it eliminates community and it turns the entire gospel into a “me and God” or “God and me” gospel. Who needs a church if this is the gospel? (Answer: no one.) What becomes of the church for this gospel? (Answer: an organization for those who want to do that sort of thing.) While every line in this gospel is more or less true, what concerns many of us today is that this gospel makes the church unimportant.

I believe this gospel can deconstruct, is deconstructing, and will deconstruct the church if we don’t change it now. Our churches are filled with Christians who don’t give a rip about church life and we have a young generation who, in some cases, care so much about the Church they can’t attend a local church because too many local churches are shaped too much by the gospel I outlined above.

Scot Mcknight has increasingly become a lightning rod in evangelicalism as he does his work as a New Testament scholar teaching the church to understand and apply the Bible. The “lightning” is the reaction of many conservatives to Mcknight’s views on Biblical interpretation, women in ministry and the Gospel of the Kingdom.

In the past few days, Mcknight has been asking some pointed questions and making powerfully honest applications regarding the “gospel” that has developed in recent evangelicalism. That Gospel, which he summarizes in the quote above, is the familiar Four Spiritual Laws/Billy Graham/Evangelism training version of bringing a person to have a relationship with God through affirming certain beliefs in a prayer or other. He points out that this “Gospel” is so individualistic that it not only makes the purpose of the church largely irrelevant, it also creates believers who have little or no concept of the entire Biblical story’s focus on the “people of God.”

It is a “gospel” that deconstructs the church and, in my opinion, largely deconstructs discipleship down to the components of individualism as interpreted through society, personality and personal experience.

It is a “gospel” that needs a minimum of “spiritual formation” or “Jesus shaped community” because its primary pattern is that God wants YOU to be YOU and YOU are the primary interpreter of Jesus for YOU.

At some time we are going to have to get around to talking about this, and Mcknight has opened the door.

Since I do a lot of evangelistic work and evangelistic counseling with new believers, I can give you a report from the lab.

Here’s what happens: right at the moment the student “gets it,” the whole movie needs to stop, and right there the student needs to look at me and say….

“OK. If that’s it, I want you to honestly know something. I can say I believe this because I do. I can pray the prayer. I can get baptized. I can call myself a Christian. But this little moment we are having here…this moment where I cross the line? It’s not going to change my life. It’s not going to change me. It’s going to take more than saying yes to a set of belief statements. I need some help. A lot of help from God and people. I’m only barely getting started and I know I can’t make it on my own.”

But I won’t hear that. What I’ll hear and what most of us will say is something along the line of how the “gospel” above is life-changing, and now that person has a life-changing relationship with God.

They should now, we’ll say, read their Bible on their own every day, pray on their own every day, witness on their own, find a good church on their own, and go there at least an hour a week.

And give their money.

And listen to Christian music. And buy Christian products.

And live up to the following 48 page, small print list of behavior rules, most of which wouldn’t make sense to the aliens ruling this galaxy, much less a new Christian.

Left with the “gospel” Scot has outlined, that new believer stands a better than average chance of getting nowhere permanent in a church. They will become convinced that their own views on things like sexuality and money are totally normal and can’t be changed. They will see their faith as highly individual, personal and private.

If they make it into some form of Christian community, it will likely be one that affirms them in this individual path by teaching them that Jesus is a life coach who wants them to experience lots of personal fulfillment and have a great dating experience.

Whatever steps they take in the Christian life will come down to “I got so much out of that.” The primary flaw with Christianity will be that it’s boring. The great quest will be relevance and good feelings. The church will either facilitate the authority and fulfillment of the individual and his/her version of the “gospel” or it will become optional.

Over time, expect most churches to fail the test. Chances are that this new Christian will be a church drop-out pursuing their own “walk with the Lord” outside of church before too long.

Welcome to the evangelical wilderness. Anyone else recognize that individualized gospel Scot is describing and what it has done to you, your church community and your family?

Anyone else sick of it?

Thank you, Scot. I love you for writing this because it inspires me to see how it has all worked its way into the heart and soul of lifelong evangelicals like me.

We need to talk about this some more. (Clue: Churches that surrender to this are destroying themselves. Your own message will deconstruct the purpose for which you exist. HA!)

Comments

  1. Boethius says

    Okay, I may be throwing a wrench into this.

    My RC upbringing showed me that church was all about sacrament. Only the priest could turn the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ and therefore, it was necessary, to go wherever the priest was, if I wanted to have Christ. Now, I went to Mass faithfully each and every week. I would be amongst many people. My family would file in, sit in the pew, participate in the repetitive-cooperate prayers, receive the sacrament and then file out without saying a word to anyone. Unless one got involved in some sort of ministry (i.e. music, altar boys, etc.) one never need speak to a fellow RC.

    When I converted, (a very personal, individual conversion) I began attending prayer meetings, theology classes, pot lucks, Sunday School, Harvest Parties, Christmas caroling, etc., etc. I began to read the Bible and could not get enough of it. I started asking questions of the Christians whom I knew were older and wiser than I. I sought them out. I wanted to know stuff. The fellowship, the “iron sharpening iron” occurs in the midst of the serving. We rub against each other. We realize there are many fellow believers we do not like. We then realize eternity with these people will happen and therefore, we better find a way to love them. We turn to Christ for that. We live; we grow.

    If a person claims to have “accepted” Christ and then does not have any interest in finding out more about Him, then ….

  2. Real Christian community is incredibly attractive. Seekers and unbelievers are often drawn to it because it has a quality they can’t quite define but that they want more of.

    But creating Christian community is a messy and organic process compared to most evangelical church schemes, programs and structures. It’s also not naturally subject to imposition or control by a hierarchy. And, unlike the individualized brand of faith and culture in evangelical churches, there are no brashly confident self-help 5-step books to guide you to community. It’s not a product in that sense (thank God).

    As a result of all this, current consumerist institutional evangelical Christiantiy by and large really doesn’t know how to develop community; it’s too far outside the current mold and would require fundamental change on on their part.

  3. PatrickW says

    Boethius:

    My family would file in, sit in the pew, participate in the repetitive-cooperate prayers, receive the sacrament and then file out without saying a word to anyone.

    Funny! Omit “receive the sacrament” and this pretty much describes my experience growing up in the SBC. Now I’m in the RCC and have found spiritual growth and discipleship I never thought possible.

    If a person claims to have “accepted” Christ and then does not have any interest in finding out more about Him, then ….

    Absolutely true, on both sides of the Tiber. We all need to do better.

  4. Update from McKnight, a summarizing quote from yesterday’s post on Jesus Creed…

    “Any kind of gospel living that is not first and foremost church-based is simply not the biblical gospel living.”

  5. “You may actually do this, I don’t know, but from what I have seen this is not reality (Christians not wanting to get involved in the “formal programs” of church, but still living in vibrant, real community with one another in their homes)”

    I haven’t figured out how to make Christian friends on an ongoing and individual basis. This is because I have this feeling that when you go to a church and make a friend, that friend is like a package deal that is contingent on your involvement with that particular church, and then I wonder to myself if we are really friends or are we just church acquaintances.

    I need to figure out how to make christian friends who I can remain friends with whether or not we attend the same church or any church at all. People change jobs, move on, etc.

  6. This post, like many others, I agree with wholeheartedly – the American Evangelical church is in a mess. The many commenters mostly agree, and often help expand on the many variations of the problems, and some of how we got here. The problem currently under discussion, lack of genuine, organic, Christ-centered community, almost sounds hopeless. Consumer driven American society sabatoges every step of the process, from understanding the problem to getting a vision for a biblically sound solution that doesn’t involve large success-driven institutions. It seems to doom us to failure. Like travel in some parts of the south – “you can’t get there from here”. I would say it IS hopeless but for my faith that Christ is building his church, and that he can bring the dead back to life.

    Not to turn around and try to do what only he can, but does anyone know of resources and examples of Christian communities that work in our current culture? Or is ‘finding a solution that works’ part of the American mindset that holds us back? Lord, have mercy and rescue us from ourselves.

  7. Austin,

    My alternatives have been posted here many times. How about the community of strugglers I posted about just the other day?

    peace

    ms

  8. Imonk,

    I’ll dig for those. Thanks,

    I was just thinking more in line on how you transistion a church to that mindset.

    Austin

  9. MAJ Tony says

    Boethius:

    That sounds more like how your parents treated their faith, which is not to say it’s rare. Far from it. But it’s not been my experience. Of course, my background was in a small country parish where everyone knew everyone, and most were related, at least distantly, as most of the parishioners families were up to sixth generation. I’m in a larger Traditional Latin Mass community, and while I don’t have a complete grasp for everyone in the parish, which has a Sat PM and two Sun AM Masses, I know quite a few, at least from the Latin Mass, and the local parishioners (it’s the Italian parish) are pretty friendly.

    I’m of the Catholic “both/and” persuasion. Based on the Bible, the Church is the “pillar and bulwark of the truth.” I don’t know how a non-physical “church” can be the “pillar and bulwark” of anything. From my perspective, it certainly hasn’t worked well. Not saying the institutional church is perfect. Far from it.

  10. It seems to me that Catholicism has plenty of ammo to turn Christianity into a highly individualistic pursuit.

    And whoever said that Protestants/Evangelicals do the routine minus the sacrament….I think we are just as sacramental about many things. Some good, some not so much.

    A community isn’t a group of people sitting together. It’s people living, walking, working, talking, failing, loving, forgiving together.

  11. ..”A community isn’t a group of people sitting together. It’s people living, walking, working, talking, failing, loving, forgiving together.” …Is this about to “get real” as they say….

  12. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    I wonder what John would think of the gospel I sketched at the beginning of this chapter… — Scot McKnight, at the start of all this

    Probably “You Lose a LOT in the condensation.”

    It seems to me that Catholicism has plenty of ammo to turn Christianity into a highly individualistic pursuit. — IMonk

    Just look at contemplatives and hermits (and those who attempt the same and go overboard). I think the reason St Benedict formulated his rule was to maintain community in the monasteries and prevent individualistic flakeouts. If somebody starting getting flaky, the others would provide a reality check.

  13. …are not monasteries the purest form of TRUE “christian community”…communal living..communal living..commune..There..I said it…

  14. mike:

    No. One option, but God never commanded anything like monasteries.

    I think Benedict’s Rule is a great piece of work on living together, but it doesn’t define community in the sense of the church as Jesus exemplified it.

    peace

    ms

  15. …..my expectations of “A new Heaven and a new Earth” are shattered then…….

  16. sue kephart says

    iMonk,

    Please explain what you mean by:”community as Jesus exemplified it”. Thanks

  17. Sue:

    Community as Jesus created it during his earthly ministry.

    Cross cultural, counter cultural, inclusive, Kingdom based, sacrificial, mission focused, spiritually confrontative, prayerful.

    The Jesus movement as described in the Gospels and as practiced- in a flawed way- by his followers.

    ms

  18. Great Post–and Scott McKnight’s too.
    In some respects this same argument has been played out in Theology too with Paul’s doctrine of Justification by Faith. N.T. Wright and the NPP have been advocating a covenant people of God approach, a narrative approach which subsumes the more traditional,reductionist How I get saved approach.

    Also Ed makes some excellent points about Church Life, that is why more and more Christians are joining iMonk, Scott McKnight, etc in the online Evangelical wilderness. We’re all just beggars looking for Bread and finding it here online and not in the Local Church. Our conline communities offer us the chance to discuss the Gospel and Our Faith in a liberating environment–or as Paul would put to work out our own Salvation in Public, in a loving Community of Saints.

  19. Not to be a smart-aleck, but if I have faith in Jesus Christ, what more do I need?

    Community is a work. Family is a work.

    Isn’t that the beauty of Christianity? You don’t really need to DO anything.

    [Mod edit]

    You can debate the impact of faith v. works on evangelicals until the world is flat, but at the end of the day, scripture (meaning Paul, the second son of God in all practicality) tells us faith is all we need.

    Or are we saying that aside from faith, we must have some kind of community before we are saved? How does that play with those poor folks who can’t find community?

  20. The church is a “work?”

    You’ve obviously been part of some of the same churches I’ve attended.

    Community for Jesus was the embodiment of the Gospel, not the law.

    God is saving a community. That’s Mcknight’s entire point about the Biblical narrative.

    People who can’t “find” community can’t be saved? No one said that.

    Paul is the “second son of God?” What?

  21. “Paul the second son of God”–this is obviously the Doctrine of the Quadrilateral!

    🙂

  22. Joseph,
    Try Ephesians 2.
    Peace.

  23. MAJ Tony says

    OK, Joseph, tell me this, if you have faith, but do not do works, do you really have faith? How does that correspond to Jesus’ saying “whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers…”?

    It’s not either/or, but both/and. Of course, no amount of works will get you into heaven. Kreeft says that Catholics and Protestants aren’t really saying anything different as far as what we mean, it’s just that what we mean by “faith” tends to differ. If we can get past that, we’re that much closer to unity in whatever sense.

  24. Also, people are lonely. Really lonely. If we offer genuine community, it is appealing. I heard a testimony of someone who walked into a store front church’s prayer meeting because he saw people holding hands. He missed human touch, and even though he had no idea what was going on, he walked in, joined hands, and just stood there with them while they prayed. That’s how he met Jesus.

    This.

    Treating others as brothers and sisters in Christ whether or not they are Christian or not, Jew or Gentile, male or female, rich or poor, black or white, etc… …giving ourselves, engaging in sacrificial love, doing the stuff Jesus (and what he instructed his followers) did…

  25. Austin, there is no “model” of Christian community, as if by some method we could create it. There are churches made up of people. The only way to “find” Christian community is to become part of a group of Christians. And every group is flawed, most badly. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t have a New Testament, because that’s the only kind of congregations you see there also, and the NT was written mostly to address problem after problem in them. Remember, even the brand-spanking new, Spirit-filled church right after Pentecost had Ananias and Sapphira!

    Read Bonhoeffer’s book, Life Together. There is no ideal community, only communities of sinners. Too many of us have “wish-dreams” of some utopian fellowship that meets all our requirements and desires. On the other hand, if I truly relate to my brother through Christ alone, I can thank God even for my brother’s sins against me, for they remind me that our relationship is built solely upon the Cross and God’s gracious forgiveness which made us brothers in the first place.

  26. Joesph,
    If community is a Work, and Family is a work, then why does Paul write his letters?
    I believe they are all views on working out the Gospel in everyday life for individuals who comprise Church communities and ultimately the Body of Christ.

    Peace.

  27. Dear Sir,

    http://two10five.blogspot.com/2009/04/who-is-church-pt4-or-what-place-does.html

    Sincerely, and with much gratitude for your work,
    Lee

  28. ..SORRY if i offended you imonk…i apologize..im not jerking anyones chain here..my view of God may not be what it should be but until HE shows me different i must press on in Faith. sincerely, mike logue

  29. I’m simply repeating the gospel as I’ve heard it over and over again down here in the Bible Belt: salvation by faith alone. We’re all sinners, etc. etc.

    (Except for gay people. Even faith ain’t enough to save them, seems like. They also must be celibate.)

    (Re: works: Scott is doing an excellent job exploring James over on his blog).

    Is it not universal practice to place the words of Paul on the same level as the words of Christ? Then we finesse that minor point by invoking the Holy Spirit.

    Paul even gets more space than Jesus — and who questions that? I have friends who attend a Bible-based mega-church who won’t even speak to my pastor because she’s a woman. They shun her, based on scripture. Where’s the Christian community there?

    Sure, church is a work. What else is it? Going to church is an action. Is attending the Bible church I mentioned above a work?

    Frankly, I felt like stirring things up a bit and injecting reality into the violent agreement that yes, community is good.

    Reality is that anyone can stand firmly on scripture with the belief that faith in Jesus is a get-out-of-jail-free card.

    Do I agree? Nope. But there is more scripture against me than for me.

  30. OK….we’re at another one of those impasses that makes me regret having comments.

    I do not provide the opportunity to comment here in order to make it impossible to discuss the topic at hand.

    The topic, as addressed by Scott and myself is clear. If someone wants to challenge the whole premise, wonderful. Scot’s blog is right around the corner 🙂

    We aren’t going to launder all the stupid things done by churches. We aren’t going to make Paul equal to Jesus. We aren’t going to decide that the community question is meaningless because without the scriptures- produced by the church- we don’t have a discussion.

    I’m shutting down comments for a while. It’s quite unfortunate that this kind of discussion has to be subject to blog comment anarchy.

  31. MAJ Tony says

    WRT the topic at hand, I submit humbly that the problem, though certainly not exclusive to Evangelicalism, is certainly going to remain a big problem in Evangelicalism, and to a degree in mainline Protestantism due to the very LACK of authoritative bodies in EV that exist in greater or lesser degrees in the RCC, Ortho, Lutheran, Anglican, etc.

  32. MAJ Tony says

    Some clarification is in order: I do not disagree that an authoritative body is a cure-all. iMonk is correct in stating that there is enough in Catholicism to let it become an individualistic pursuit.

    Prior to Vat II, it wasn’t uncommon for those assisting at Mass to pray other devotions such as the Rosary apart from the Liturgy, as the priest and ministers prayed the Mass. However, it was always expected that the faithful unite their prayers to those of the priest. What occurred in practice varied, ranging from those who followed along in hand missals to gentlemen who read the Sunday paper. But the problem, in orthodox Catholic thinking, wasn’t poor intent but poor catechesis, or at least lack of uniform good catechesis.

    That uniform and correct catechesis wasn’t accomplished–and has yet to, in this poster’s understanding–isn’t a defect of institutional structures, as when said structures are properly functioning, they should be capable of serving that function. (Example of it working (or at least at work): the uniform vocal opposition by 70+ US RC Bishops to Obama’s being awarded a PhD in Law by UND this Sunday) On the other hand, an objective assessment of unstructured religious bodies would, in my humble opinion, show a natural tendency toward doctrinal entropy, as everyone is his own authority regarding biblical interpretation.

    In light of this, I don’t believe the Lord intended for us to be left without an earthly head. We can argue until the cows come home about rocks, stones, and pebbles, Greek and Aramaic, feeding sheep and feeding lambs, but it’s all academic when there’s no unified, universal organization, however it’s organized and led or how strong or loose the ties, that can be the honest broker that calls BS when something goes rotten in Denmark.

    Yeah, I know, go ahead and say it: the “Catholic” is suggesting we all bow and kiss the Pope’s ring, and submit to his authority. That’s not what I’m saying to my fellow posters, although it would be a perfect world, IMHO, if that were to happen. Of course I’m not deluded to think that’s soon to happen. What I’m saying to all here is we need to on some level, speak with one voice (“Una Voce”) whenever and wherever we can. We’re surrounded by a veritable cacophony of bad teaching throughout the Christian milieu, independent of disagreements between denominations we already deal with, across the spectrum, from the EV to the RCC to even the Orthodox. I’m talking about stuff that all have always believed.

    The problem in doing this seems to be the fact that there is so much doctrinal diversity, that it compounds the problem in an almost logarithmic manner in dealing with any given issue.

  33. MAJ Tony says

    Last post Should read “an authoritative body is NOT a cure-all”

  34. It seems obvious the problem is NOT the Gospel but the culture people are bringing into the church.
    Is it so difficult to admit that there are many elements of American culture which are worth losing?

  35. MAJ Tony says

    David, you hit that nail square.

  36. I think this post connects with some earlier posts about discipline and discipleship. Roger Williams started the Rhode Island colony based upon the individual deciding for himself what type of church leadership one should be under. There was a sense of oppression. Luther felt the same oppression, as did Wycliff, Jon Hus, Athanasius, and so many others. The reason that sola scriptora is so important is because it is possible and likely that men who are not believers are able to get power in the church. I don’t have an answer other than to say it is war. Love your brother in the foxhole you are in, and know who the enemy is. Love and Truth side by side.
    Jesus did not say it would be easy, so stay in touch with headquarters as often as possible. (that means prayer by the way, not Rome or Constantinople).