Evangelical christianity has historically had a strong emphasis on personal salvation, which it sees as coming from repentance and faith in Jesus’ atoning work on the cross. This is generally seen as the main purpose of Jesus’ life and death.
This basic evangelical teaching can be drawn from the letters of Paul (although some theologians question this), but it isn’t so easily seen in the life and teachings of Jesus. Perhaps we need to re-think?
Scot McKnight is an Anabaptist theologian and university professor in the US. His area of study centres around the historical Jesus, the New Testament and applying the insights gained to modern christianity.
Gospel vs salvation
Many would see this as no contest – salvation is the gospel. But in a recent interview, Scot questioned this. Here are a couple of quotes:
“The Gospel of salvation has produced what I call a ‘salvation culture’ – a culture marked by who’s in and who’s out. … A ‘Gospel culture’ is a culture shaped by following Jesus, by living under Jesus as King. A ‘Gospel culture’ includes personal salvation, but it includes so much more,”
“The central question of the Bible is not, ‘how can I be saved?’ This is the ‘me’ question. The central question of the New Testament is, ‘who is Jesus?’ This is the ‘God’ question. The ‘me’ question follows the Jesus question.”
How this affects our message
McKnight argues that getting a right understanding on this matter changes how we do evangelism and discipleship. He points out how many people “make decisions” for Jesus but don’t continue in their faith.
“What I’m arguing is that we need to have less emphasis on a message that precipitates a decision and more emphasis on a message that guides people into following Jesus.”
He refers to the ‘great commission’ in Matthew 28:19-20, and says:
“It didn’t say, ‘go and get people to make decisions.’ It said ‘make disciples.’ How? Teaching them to observe everything I have commanded. So the goal is to get people to become disciples of Jesus by obeying all that Jesus taught.”
Scot concludes that if we had a more gospel emphasis rather than a personal salvation emphasis “we would become people who are for other people, not just conscious that we are unique saved ones. We would become people who are here to serve others, to show them the love of God.”