Scot McKnight's soteriology

(Raymond Isbell) #1

If you’re familiar with McKnight’s soteriology, it’s significant that he asserts that the gospel is identified in 1Cor 15:1ff. (I agree.) Where he errs is when he asserts that the mechanism(s) to appropriate the benefits (What do I personally have to do to be saved?) of the gospel are found in the 4 gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and Acts. He specifically rejects that it’s found in Romans.

Many agree and follow this approach, but I would submit that it’s fundamentally flawed in that if fails to distinguish between the fact that the Biblical message has two primary threads: 1) Message to the Unbeliever, and 2) Message to the Believer. If you mix the two, you end up contaminating both messages and incoherency/inconsistency results.

A good example is the book of James. Failure to recognize that it is addressed to believers and not unbelievers results in a legalistic gospel where the phrase “faith without works is dead” is seen to suggest that if one lacks works, their faith is insufficient (Arminian) or invalid (Calvinist). Both, of course, are wrong. Faith without works means just that, faith that isn’t put to use in the everyday life of the believer will result in an incredible testimony that discredits the Christian faith writ large, and worse, at the individual level, it can result in a bad outcome in the temporal life of the believer including a premature death. An example would be related to our domestic laws that prohibit drunk driving. If you believe the law is a good one and should be obeyed, but you drive drunk on a routine basis, you’ll be seen as a hypocrite by everyone, and worse, you’ll be putting yours and others lives at risk if you drive drunk. In this example, the issue is not whether or not you are a qualified and licensed driver, but how do you use your status as a driver? Likewise, believers are enjoined by James to behave responsibly and safely so they can fulfill God’s plan for the believer. A speeding ticket does not suggest that one is not a qualified and licensed driver. Instead, it makes a statement to the world about how good or bad a driver one is. Arminians will look at the ticket (especially a pattern of tickets) and conclude the drivers license should be revoked. The Calvinist will look at the ticket(s) and wonder if the driver even has a license to begin with. Both are wrong. The tickets says that the licensed driver has broken the law and is not paying attention bringing risk to all drivers and to oneself. Repeated infractions will bring discipline and perhaps jail.


Reaping the Whirlwind: protein function without stable structure
(Raymond Isbell) #2

One other thought: If McKnight is wrong on soteriology, what is the likelihood he’s also wrong on evolution?

(Christy Hemphill) #3

Is that even logical? To rephrase, if someone is wrong about something in their area of expertise what is the likelihood they are wrong about something that is not in their area of expertise. How are the two related? That would be like me saying, if I am wrong about how the comitative works in Me’phaa what is the likelhood that I am wrong about evolution. There is no relation in my knowledge of the two subjects. It just comes out sounding like an ad hominem argument.

(Phil) #4

I confess I do not know a lot about McKight’s soteriology, though I enjoy his writings in general, and agree with him on what I have read. However, let me address the last statement as McKnight himself stated in Adam and the Genome that he was not an expert in biology and so left that to others.
So often we think that if someone is outstanding in one field, that makes them an authority in other fields, when usually the opposite is true, as with greater depth of knowledge, we usually have a narrower focus and area of expertise. I confess my knowledge is fairly wide, but exceedingly shallow.
In any case, I trust McKnight to have insight into theology, and how theology impacts evolution, but not on evolution itself.

(Andrew M. Wolfe) #5

Do you have a reference for this? It’s been a long time since I read The King Jesus Gospel – not even 100% sure I finished it – but I don’t remember reading him framing it this way. I do remember him saying that the four gospels are the “gospel” (shocking, I know!) and that the “gospel” is not really about soteriology but about kingdom.

I don’t necessarily doubt you. Just wanting to do my due diligence.

(Christy Hemphill) #6

It would help if you could give us a quote of what you are referring to. I am fairly certain McKnight does not “reject” anything in Romans. He may argue that Paul has been misunderstood, as do plenty of Bible scholars who make reference to the New Perspective.

(Christy Hemphill) #7

Who was Jesus talking to? And how do you define “believer” before his Resurrection?

(Mitchell W McKain) #8

I agree that McKnight’s approach is flawed and while this mixing of messages is intriguing I doubt that it really nails down what it wrong with what McKnight is saying. My principle criticism is this treatment of the “the gospel” as something fixed and unchanging. I think that is the typical rhetoric of someone who is seeking to chop down a complex idea into something smaller – and I believe that is essence of heresy. To be sure the gospel as taught in Jesus’ ministry before he died is VERY VERY different from the gospel taught by Paul and others after Jesus died for some obvious reasons. And I think that alteration is something which McKnight is playing a bit fast and loose with. But more importantly I think McKnight is ignoring the fact that any teaching always adapts to the questions that people have. It is very well and good to teach that there is great news first as taught by Jesus teaching about the coming of kingdom of God and afterwards the teaching of Paul and the disciples that Jesus died for our sins and rose again, but what good does that do if you don’t answer the questions people have about why they should see such a thing as being good news – what could such events possibly have to do with them. That is what connects “the gospel” to Soteriology and the question of “what do I have to do in order to be saved?”

I think one of the biggest lessons to take away from 1 Cor 15 is that we must NEVER ignore the fact that some places in the Bible address questions head on – asking the question and giving the answer, and it is dishonest to ignore when this is done just in order to read the answers you prefer to these questions elsewhere. And while there isn’t any place which does this respect to what the gospel is (and so we simply have to look at all the 95 places the word is used in the NT in order to answer this) there is a place where the soteriological question is asked and answered by no less than Jesus Himself: Matthew 19 and Jesus answer was “with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” This is the soteriological gospel of salvation by grace alone.

This is not to say that faith and works are of no importance. Jesus certainly did not say anything of the kind. He said the exact opposite on numerous occasions. It doesn’t change his direct answer to the direct question, however. But it does give us good reason to turn to the unusually clear theological explanations of Paul, such the one in Romans 10 that we should seek a righteousness based on faith which doesn’t ask who goes to heaven and who goes to hell, and to the explanation of James that faith without works is dead.

(Christy Hemphill) #9

That would be a major point of contention. McKnight has written book-length works arguing the opposite. So, maybe not as obvious as you claim. With nothing to back it up. And no acknowledgement of scholarship to the contrary.

The whole point of Blue Parakeet is developing a hermeneutic for hearing the Bible’s message in “our day and our way.” How much McKnight have you actually read?

(Raymond Isbell) #10

There’s a concept in Biblical Theology called “judicial blindness.” Gal 1:6-9 is perhaps the strongest condemnation pronouncement in all of scripture and it’s about presenting a false gospel. Salvation is either a free gift or it’s by some form of works. My reading of McKnight is that his gospel is definitely by works. Of course, he’ll deny it, but for sure if the works are not there, there’s no salvation. Arminians and Catholics are more direct about it noting that works are essential for salvation. Calvinist are more subtle. They’ll note that no works means the faith is not genuine and therefore not saving. Either way, works are essential for salvation in their soteriology.

Does God judge the unelect with blindness (Rom 1:21) by darkening (Eph 4:18) their minds? The concept and theme of blindness is well developed in scripture, and it starts with rejection of the offer of a free salvation. McKnight stipulates that faith, repentance, confession, baptism and a life of obedience are necessary if one is to be saved. That’s close to the requirements specified by the Restoration Movement a group he seems to be sympathetic with. Distorting that message results in a spiritual judgement of blindness long before one dies. Can one judicially blinded be expected to understand the biblical message of origins? That’s my point. I don’t think so. God even uses the unbeliever to send false messages.

I grew up in a Restoration Church and finally rejected Christianity completely because it forced me to conclude I was destined for hell. Reading the Bible I knew I couldn’t meet the requirements, especially continued obedience. It wasn’t until college where I was first exposed to the concept that salvation was a gift (Eph 2:8-9) that I decided to accept it. I’ve spent the last 50 yrs studying to confirm it. All the seemingly legalistic passages that Arminians interpret to mean works/obedience are required for salvation make complete sense if viewed as written to believers. One must recognize that the relationship of the unbeliever to God is that of Judge to Criminal. The relationship of the believer to God is that of Parent to Child. One moves from Criminal to Child at the moment of faith. It’s not a long process of testing to see if the criminal can qualify as a child.

The parent is a stern and threatening disciplinarian to be sure, but even the worse child remains a child and does not become a criminal again. Believers cannot grow spiritually and love God if he holds hell over their heads as the motivation for obedience. That message drove me away from Christianity. An eternally secure salvation offered to me as a gift the moment I believed brought me back.

There’s much more to this discussion and support available for it, but maybe later.

(Raymond Isbell) #11

I will have to admit that I do not agree at all. The gospel presented to Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, et al. was the exact same good news presented to us in the New Testament. Assming God is speaking: “You have sinned against my righteousness. My perfect justice demands a penalty of death if I’m to maintain my integrity of character. But I also love, and do not want to see you die. I will take your judgment and pay the penalty my justice requires upon myself. I will then offer you the benefit of that payment and give you a gift of my perfect righteousness so that you can live with me eternity. Will you accept my gift?” Adam and every believer since the beginning hears that message and is offered the same gift. No amount of works can propitiate God with his perfect righteousness and justice. If can only be received as a gift.

(Mitchell W McKain) #12

Nothing actually. At this point I have only read what critics (such as Trevin Wax) have said about Him. Even with that much, I think it is probable that I would have more agreements with McKnight than I do with his critics. Though perhaps I would have bigger disagreements with both… I am not buying to this “plan of Salvation” language at all.

I will have to admit that I cannot agree with this shoving of your words into the mouth of Jesus and Paul at all. When I speak of the gospel taught by Jesus and Paul, I am talking about their actual words when they speak of the gospel and the good news and certainly not either your theology or mine.

(Christy Hemphill) #13

Then I’m pretty sure you’re reading him wrong and I’d like a citation that led you to that conclusion. Usually he is asserting that “the gospel” has been reduced in many Evangelical circles to only soteriology and he is arguing for a “robust gospel” that includes the entire story of God’s work in redemptive history in the Good News, not just salvation. He doesn’t ever deny the centrality of the cross and resurrection to the gospel, or ever deny that salvation is by grace through faith. But he argues that our calling is not just to “get saved,” it is to live our lives in allegiance to the one true King whose kingdom is coming. Demonstrating allegiance involves works.

Citation, so I can see the context? And how is this different in your mind from standard Protestantism that claims that saving faith results in works of righteousness?

Are you seriously contenting that Scot McKnight is “unelect” and therefore can’t understand biology? Oh my word. I don’t have much hope that this conversation is going to go anywhere productive, as much as l love discussing theology.

That is only one conceptual metaphor presented in Scripture. There are many others that need to inform one’s concept of salvation to avoid being reductionistic and skewed. The legal metaphor is not super effective for presenting the gospel in many cultural contexts. Jackson Wu has some good stuff on this. So does John Sanders.

Agreed. Where does Scot McKnight imply that God does this?

(Christy Hemphill) #14

What do you mean by this? What don’t you agree with and who do you think claims you should?

(Mitchell W McKain) #15

It is a reference to the quotes Trevin Wax makes of McKnight about distinguishing the gospel from “the plan of salvation” in the link I provided. I agree with Trevin’s criticism that sharp distinctions lead to distortions. But the words “plan of salvation” are not in the Bible at all and I don’t believe in any such thing. I don’t like any of the legalistic approaches which implies that there is anything like some kind of contract that you can hold over God’s head in order to justify any sort of entitlement to salvation in any way whatsoever! I am one who responds to criticisms of claims that there are “many paths to salvation” with a claim that there are NO PATHS to salvation. This is simply not something that we can do for ourselves or lead others in. We are all blind guides and salvation is a work of God alone. To be sure God may use people in the work of salvation, but more often than not, this is in spite of what these people are actually trying to do rather than because of it.

(Christy Hemphill) #16

Exactly. Which is why McKnight takes issue with equating the gospel with a “plan of salvation,” which happens to be pretty typical in Evangelical circles. When he is quoted talking about the “Plan of Salvation” he is referring to typical Evangelical formulations of the gospel, not something he is promoting. For them “the gospel” is what you need to believe/do to be saved. For McKnight “the gospel” is the Story of God acting in human history. What you need to believe/do to be saved is something that can be understood from God’s Story, but McKnight wants to separate the Story from the “saving effects” of believing the Story and giving your allegiance to the King of the story. He doesn’t think the gospel should be reduced to the saving effects of the gospel. Of course, the whole point of the Story is to inspire allegiance to God the King.

Wax seems to be offering a knee-jerk defense of systematic theology, probably because he is a Neo-Cal and they LOVE their systematic theology. The whole article smacks of the necessary posturing and boundary marking that is typical of TGC when they think anything threatens their team. Piper hated Wright’s book Justification and wrote a whole book in response to it, and TGC will always fall in line with Piper. I imagine McKnight is more sympathetic to Wright’s interpretation of Romans, so therefore he must be publicly disagreed with and the Piper fan-boys must be duly warned. It’s probably part of the contract if you are going to blog for TGC.

McKnight thinks systematic theology has become over-rated and unfortunately trumped the Story, which is what God actually gave us in the Bible. If he had wanted his special revelation to be a system, he certainly could have done that. But instead our special revelation is the story of Israel and the Church and the Person of Jesus Christ. So that’s what we need to engage with.

(Raymond Isbell) #17

It’s in the video link I provided. It’s in the first half of it is about as close as I can estimate.

Works for the believer is an important issue, but works have no part in our getting saved. My original observation was that McKnight was mixing up the message where one can easily infer that the allegiance is also required if one is to be saved. You really should listen to the whole video.

I think the standard protestant message is wrong. I also challenge specifically that saving faith results in works of righteousness. The entire Book of James exactly rebuts that idea. The believers James is exhorting are behaving like unbelievers, and the book is written to tell them that so they can change. Their changing (change or not), however, doesn’t affect their eternal destiny except perhaps as regards awards.

Faith is simple child-like trust. It’s looking away from yourself to another source for help. It has nothing to do with how you live later on. If it did, then your trust partially falls upon you to maintain allegiance, works, etc. Christ demands trust only in himself, not a partial trust in Christ’s work and a trust on your own faithfulness. Trust, even partial trust in yourself is a works salvation.

I don’t know if McKnight is a believer or not. Believers and unbelievers say things that are not true. God judges both, the former temporally, and the latter eternally. Men are judges by other men based on their words. McKnight is saying that faith alone is not sufficient, but must include repentance, confession, baptism, and a life of good works for salvation. Watch the video and tell me if I’m hearing it incorrectly.

(Christy Hemphill) #18

More like he says that the message of the Gospel is “pledge allegiance to the One true King, because his kingdom is coming” and that allegiance has saving effects. If you try to reduce McKnight’s view of the gospel to some sort of alternative “Plan of Salvation” you will get him wrong.

Of course you do.

This strikes me as demonstrably unbiblical and counter to the message of most of Paul’s letters, but I don’t have time at the moment to compile a list of passages. Maybe I’ll get back to it later. You are conflating being saved by faith + works with the idea that faith and obedience are inextricably tied together throughout the Bible. The way Jesus talked, there was no “hearing” without “obeying.” The Great Commission was to baptize (a sign of faith in the gospel that was preached) and teach to obey Jesus’ commands. We aren’t taking about the recipe for salvation, we are talking about the recipe for faith. Real faith includes obedience and produces a transformed life.

(Dennis Venema) #19

I’m not an expert on McKnight, but what he’s saying is that the greek pistis (often “faith” in English translations) is best translated as something like “embodied allegiance” not “intellectual assent to a proposition”. So for McKnight, he’s saying “faith” is what you need - you need to live a life of embodied allegiance to Jesus.

Your formulation contrasts acts of allegiance (repentance, baptism, etc) against “faith” - which must therefore be something like mere belief or intellectual assent. But the greek word pistis has a semantic range that includes loyalty, faithfulness, and allegiance. If Paul was going to contrast “belief” with those sorts of acts, he would not use the word pistis. You’re letting a modern (mis)understanding of an ancient greek work frame your theology.

(Mitchell W McKain) #20

I certainly don’t believe in anything like that. I tend to call that a gospel of salvation by works of the mind. And this last sentence of mine certainly points a typical use I make of the word “gospel” for various soteriological formulations, and that has more to do with the evangelical traditions and language I have been influenced by rather than any honest evaluation of what the word “gospel” means when used by Jesus and Paul. But for me it is enough to distinguish between a formulation of our understanding of salvation and a formula for salvation itself. For example, I would say that I believe in a gospel of salvation by the grace of God, where God asks us to seek a righteousness based on faith, which is only made real by such works as seeking justice, correcting oppression, and helping those in need, but this formula is only an understanding of salvation and there is no implication that this tells us how to be saved let alone that believing in such a formula provides any advantage for doing so.

That is clearly an abstraction McKnight has derived from the uses by Jesus and Paul rather than the use they actually made of the word. I would suggest that this is a word that we might used in more than one way as long as we explain the usage when it is asked of us. This of course goes back to our previous discussion of narrative theology, in which I expressed a variety of mixed feeling – approval of some trends and criticism of other aspects.

Perhaps it is a weakness of my theological education that I didn’t study such recent developments in evangelical theology, but rather something considerably broader with depth in unexpected areas such as Eastern Orthodoxy (background of my church history professor), Judaism (OT professor), and Catholicism (philosophy professor).

And I agree with him about that, but setting the distinction “systematic” aside as something to explore later, it is usually only to provide a caveat that my own interest in theology is a matter of hobby, personal obsession and idle interest rather than of anything of ultimate importance. I certainly observe that Eastern Orthodoxy doesn’t share this obsession with theology and that the real roots of the evangelicalism with George Finny was to refocus Christianity away from dogma to the power of Jesus in changing lives.