This week we continue our sermon series through Paul’s Letter to the Romans. It’s a tricky letter to expound because many assume that Paul’s primary message is justification by faith alone- how we’re made right in God’s eyes not by anything we do but only by faith.
As NT Wright says, thinking Paul’s main message is justification by faith alone is to confuse key for melody, for Paul’s main message isn’t how we’re justified but how God has raised Jesus from the dead and made him Lord of all creation.
The trouble is many Christians not only think justification by faith is Paul’s primary message; they think justification by faith is the Gospel.
Scot McKnight cleverly calls these Christians ‘soterians’ after the theological jargon that emphasizes Jesus’ saving work.
Scot had this post recently, outlining how you know whether or not you have a soterian Gospel- vs Paul’s actual Gospel.
The soterian gospel is a rhetorical bundle of lines about the doctrine of salvation that came to the fore in the 20th Century. I had lunch recently with a missionary who told me he’s been struggling with the “soterian” gospel for years and is so glad I wrote The King Jesus Gospel because it put into words what he’s been thinking for more than three decades. He’s not the first to tell me this.
Critique of that rhetorical bundle can be found from a number of quarters, including the new Calvinists, theologians, pastors and leaders, and also from some evangelists I’ve met.
Perhaps the secret to the success of the soterian gospel is its teachability and its programmability. Whatever the reasons for its successes, we are not alone in being convinced it is not a fair representation of the NT gospel. I got a chuckle from this reflection by Lee Wyatt:
What would you add? What do you think is the fundamental Question the soterian gospel asks? What do you think is the fundamental Question the gospel of Jesus and the apostles asks?
You might have a Soterian Gospel if:
-you think of humans primarily as sinners in need of redemption (which we, of course, are) rather than divine image-bearers in primarily in need of restoration to their primal dignity and vocation of God’s royal representatives in the world and creation’s wise overseers;
-you think Christ became human only because humans sinned and needed redemption;
-you think that the forgiveness of sins is the end/goal of God’s redemptive work;
-you think human destiny will be in a not-earth place (heaven) and in a not-earth kind of existence (immaterial, so-called “spiritual”)
-you think the earth is not a part of God’s eternal plan.