In the soterian gospel, the role of Jesus’ disciples is to be witnesses to the uniqueness of Jesus. Their testimony is passed on until recorded in the Gospels – traditionally viewing Matthew and John as eye-witness accounts, Mark as recording Peter’s account, and Luke as recording that of Mary and other witnesses – at which point their function is fulfilled. They are disconnected from those who came before and after them, who did not see Jesus. In contrast, the Story gospel views Jesus’ disciples as faithful community, in continuity with those faithful communities which came before and after them.
In the soterian gospel, the role of Scripture is the raw ingredient from which doctrine is to be distilled – a task Paul is viewed as having begun; a task taken-on by later theologians, with the Reformation being a significant return-to-form and systematic theology being the pinnacle. That is, Scripture is in itself inadequate. Having distilled doctrine from it, we then interpret Scripture according to doctrine – that is, we read back into the text what we have distilled from it, so reinforcing our doctrinal position (double-distillation). Soterian preachers regularly find Jesus’ parables difficult to understand, because they ‘know’ the doctrine (of hell, for example) the parable must support (if Jesus did, in fact, preach the gospel) and struggle because parables by their nature subvert distillation into doctrine (Jesus did not preach the gospel, if by gospel we mean soterian gospel). And ultimately, we discard of Scripture itself, in the same way that, having distilled wiskey, we discard the mash.
Therefore, in the soterian gospel paradigm, Jesus’ commission to make disciples who make disciples who do everything his first disciples did is re-cast as persuading others to give intellectual (or emotional) assent to the benefits Jesus has won for them, through the articulation of technical doctrinal argument (if taking the emotional route, vividly painted).
The fruit of the soterian gospel is Christians who do not know with any confidence the story we have been invited into – having been left with abstract and complex doctrine, they leave to the experts – and have no understanding of the challenge to live out that story in the world.
Indeed, so culture-defining has the soterian ‘gospel’ become, my starting-point position is that those within the church – let alone those without – do not know the gospel. Not that I do, and am here to impart it; but, that we have lost it, and together must recover it.We need to rediscover the Story, and enter-into it...