I’m powering my way through The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight – trying to finish it before I start reading for my class next week – and as I reach the end, a lot of the points at which McKnight spends much of the book hinting finally become clearer.
One of the nagging questions as McKnight tries to sketch out a more apostolic gospel than our modern obsession with who’s-in, personal-salvation-based Christianity is: Well, where does “doing” fit in? At some point, you have to do something to be saved, right?
Which is probably part of the problem. When you – as I suspect most or all of us did – grow up with the specter of hell hanging over those who aren’t “saved,” it makes being saved the important thing. You need assurance of salvation, and if you’ve sad the magic words – the sinner’s prayer – then you’re OK. You’re saved. Even though we talk about how we can’t do anything to be saved, we all have to do something, even if it’s simply saying a few words. That way, no matter what else happens, you aren’t going to hell, and that’s what’s important.
Never mind that Jesus didn’t seem to think that’s what was the most important. Never mind that the apostles preaching the gospel after Jesus didn’t seem to think so either. As McKnight notes,
Neither Peter nor Paul focuses on God’s wrath when they evangelize in Acts, nor do they describe the saving story of Jesus as an escape from hell.
Which isn’t to deny a judgment. Just that it’s not emphasized, and it’s certainly not the central part of the gospel message the way it is today.
But recognizing this intellectually is a far cry from being able to recognize deep down, where it’s hard to shake the fear that if we’re wrong, we might just end up in the flaming depths for all eternity. So while McKnight details how Jesus and Peter and Paul described the gospel as the Story of Israel being completed in the story of the Messiah and Lord, Jesus, I still couldn’t help but think: Where does salvation come in?