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On a Soterian Gospel

“Some folks have reshaped the Bible and the gospel so that it is driven by the plan for personal salvation. The Greek word for salvation is soteria so it is accurate to refer to such thinkers as soterians and their gospel as the soterian gospel.” Thus Scot McKnight begins his discussion of salvation and judgment and the focus on personal salvation.

I agree with him on the nature of the salvation described in the Bible, and the way it has been twisted, especially in American Christianity. We have created a gospel that is well designed to  mesh with our self-centeredness. The gospel becomes so personal that we don’t really care what happens to others, as long as we can be sure we’re “saved.”

I suspect this is one of the reasons that we find so many American churches proclaiming a theology that would seem to imply missions, but at the same time not really being involved personally or financially with missions. In mainline denominations, such as my own, I think we’re much more susceptible to a complacency because we look at the judgment scenes and we decide that we’re not so bad. Both of these views fail because the concern is solely with ourselves. If we’re doing OK, even if we measure how ‘OK’ we are by our activities in service to those less fortunate, then we tend to neglect the Gospel Commission.

And that leads to one text McKnight cites in the post I linked that I think may be easily misconstrued, Matthew 25:31-46. We frequently take this as a parable intended to answer the question “What happens at the judgment?”. I think it is actually a parable against complacency. Notice that nobody is actually right about their standing with God in this parable. All are surprised. I’d tie it most closely with Matthew 7:21-23. Just because you proclaim, just because you think you have it nailed down, doesn’t mean that you’re right with God. That is something God gets to judge.

Now on first glance, one might think this points more to “social gospel” people, who think they’re doing what they should, when actually neglecting so much. A little bit of charity goes a long ways in salving one’s conscience, but God’s call is not to a little bit of charity. God’s call is to being a different type of person, the type of person who is focused on helping those in need, both spiritual and physical. And there’s no reason to neglect either. A church spending 5% of its budget on missions and outreach might be able to pat itself on its collective back and note that it’s doing better than other mainline denominations. But will that meet the standard?

And to those whose focus is on theological correctness as the standard for salvation, where’s the difference? There are works of the hands and works of the intellect. The way I hear salvation described by some, one would think that it’s based on one’s intellectual understanding of complex doctrines. If you don’t understand imputation, let’s say, you might not be saved.

But the sheep and the goats points against us finding ways to guarantee our own, separate salvation, and calls us to look to community. That says that the real question is whether God has worked and is working in us, and not whether we have correctly understood or carried out some program.


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One Comment

  1. Hazel Moon says:

    Enjoyed your article on Salvation. As a Charismatic attending a United Christian Church,that is pastored by a Lutheran minister, I can see many sides to salvation. The salvation Jesus provided for us is three part, Spirit first, soul or emotional health next and body or physical. Our church that I attend does reach out to our local rescue mission, our Hope Center and several feeding programs. We give finances, and do not participate in the actually handing out of food. I have delivered warm clothing that our church has collected for some that are homeless in our city. In our church the message of salvation is clearly preached, but honestly, I have not heard an invitation to come forward and receive Jesus. Perhaps we assume that everyone who attends church regularly is already born again. Thank you for visiting my blog and for your comments that were appreciated very much.

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