In this book, the author Dr. McKnight started with criticizing that American Evangelicals replaced the definition of “Gospel” with “Soterian” and are actively preaching the message of making a converting decision. This criticism is absolutely true. Dr. McKnight is definitely true. Evangelicalism emerged in the middle of last century from the previous generations of fundamentalism. It is said that the decision-based Christianity started from Charles Finney and D.L. Moody and later used by many evangelists and missionaries around the nation and later around the world. Majority of members in my home church back in Shanghai came to faith through this decision-based evangelism.
In this small book, Dr. McKnight suggested that the Gospel that Jesus preached does not include the salvation only. Instead, he suggests that the gospel is primarily framed by Israel’s Story and the saving story of Jesus as the completion of the Story of Israel. And secondly the gospel centers on the lordship of Jesus, not just the Jesus as the savior and many evangelical claimed. Third, Evangelism should involve summoning people to respond, to repentance, to faith in Jesus Christ, and to baptism. And finally, the gospel saves and redeems. The apostolic gospel promises forgiveness, the gift of God’s Holy Spirit, and justification. In order to validate the four points clear, he started with the historical creeds, then back in the Bible to find the Gospel preached by Paul, the Gospel described in the four Gospel books, the Gospel preached by Jesus, and the Gospel preached by Apostle Peter. Finally he revisits the problem of evangelism today and suggested to create and form the Gospel culture, instead of preaching a decision-based Christianity.
I appreciate Dr. McKnight’s faithfulness to the work being entrusted to him. His criticism on “Decision-Based Christianity” is valid and solid. We have seen how this kind of “evangelism” has made the Christianity and the Church to be more and shallower. It’s also very helpful to revisit the meaning of Gospel and Evangelism from a Biblical and historical argument. The meaning and substance of Gospel ought to be revisited and rethink again and again based on the Bible to ensure we are honest to the work entrusted by Lord.
However, I am also concerned that it’s unfair for Dr. McKnight to make “Decision-Based Christianity” with the “Soterians”. The Gospel is about the lordship and history of Israel, but it’s also about salvation. John Piper and Greg Gilbert do emphasize the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the cost of discipleship. I don’t see their message differ than the message suggested by Dr. McKnight. They do have a common enemy of shallow conversion and the “pray to receive Christ” myth. It seems that Dr. McKnight over emphasizes difference between salvation and gospel thus make the reader to assume that personal salvation is NOT part of the Gospel.
Another point I want to make about this book is that there’s few practical suggestions being made. In the last chapter, he is supposed to recommend a framework of “gospel culture” that should be formed in the church, but I failed to find such practical recommendations. He does raise some suggestions, but from my point of view these suggestions are too theoretical.