August 13, 2022

Too often, our (mis)understanding of the Good News devalues a vital, life-shaping, world-changing relationship with God himself.

When I was a teenager, my church trained the youth on door-to-door evangelism. We would knock on a door and ask the person, “How confident are you that you are going to heaven when you die?” Most people were not 100 percent sure, and this opened an opportunity to share what Jesus had done for them. At the time, I would have summarized the main message of the Bible like this: You can avoid hell and go to heaven if you pray the sinner’s prayer, accept Jesus into your heart, and go to church. As far as I knew, that was the gospel.

Klyne Snodgrass, a theologian and New Testament scholar, probably had someone like me (or at least the 16-year-old me) in mind as he wrote You Need a Better Gospel: Reclaiming the Good News of Participation with Christ. Snodgrass’s basic argument is that too many Christians and churches—even pastors (who should know better)—have bought into a cheap and counterfeit gospel. The real message of salvation, he claims, is not about going to heaven or claiming a get-out-of-jail-free card but about knowing Christ himself, the Giver as well as the Gift.

Those who have studied Paul’s theology will quickly recognize that Snodgrass stakes his claim on a particular theory about Paul’s understanding of salvation. Some scholars favor a justification-by-faith emphasis, focusing on the language and imagery of imputation (the transfer of Christ’s righteousness to sinners) and the appeasement of God’s wrath. Others highlight the victory of Christ over evil or, in Pauline parlance, over “sin and death.”

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Snodgrass, for his part, identifies with those who center the idea of participation in Christ. (It’s unclear why Snodgrass’s subtitle references …

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