The Gospel: The Story of Cosmic Restoration or The Plan of Salvation?

cfrr map

Above is my graphical representation of the Gospel. It is the four-chapter story of God’s working in history for the restoration of the cosmos that He created.

When I first present this to many Christians, they automatically place themselves, as individuals, into this timeline. “I was created, I sinned, I accepted Jesus and was redeemed/saved, and one day I will be in heaven.”

It takes a lot of de-programming to help them see this timeline not individualistically, but cosmically: that each of us are certainly in the storyline, but that the storyline is bigger than each one of us.

What God has been doing, through Christ, is the cosmic renewal of all things. When we get into the storyline, we begin to understand the story as portrayed in the Bible, not as portrayed in evangelistic tracts that seek to simplify the gospel to individual need and individual sin and individual salvation. We get the story of how God has been working throughout history to bring about his purposes.

God creates a wonderful cosmos, and puts humanity in charge of it.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’…God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” (Genesis 1:26, 28)
Adam and Eve, however, failed in their role.

The world is cursed, in need of redemption, in need of restoration. And God begins using human beings for this very purpose. Why? Because humans are His image-bearers; We are the ones who have been called to rule God’s world in righteousness and Shalom.

Scot McKnight, in his new book, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited, writes, “What Adam was to do in the Garden—that is, to govern this world redemptively on God’s behalf—is the mission God gives to Israel. Like Adam, Israel failed, and so did its kings. God sent his Son to do what Adam and Israel and the kings did not (and evidently could not) do and to rescue everyone from their sins and systemic evil and Satan (the adversary). Hence, the Son is the one who rules as Messiah and Lord” (p. 35).

In other words, the story of Jesus is the fulfillment of the story of Israel (and hence, the story of all of humanity). The story is about how Jesus, the Hebrew Messiah (“Anointed One,” “King”) fulfills the calling to govern this world redemptively on God’s behalf. The gospel is not first about my personal salvation from my sins, but the story of how Jesus is the King, the One that we must follow as he brings all things back into reconciliation with God (Colossians 1:19-20).

Contrary to the popular notion of the gospel in much of American evangelicalism, the story of the gospel does not start with me and my sins. It starts with God’s creation and intention for his image-bearers to rule over his creation. The story of the gospel does not skip over what God was doing in the Old Testament with Israel as if it has no bearing on the story, but is rooted in that story of Israel: their calling, their failure. The story of the gospel is about Jesus fulfilling that calling as King. When Jesus is presented to people outside the framework of the story of Israel, all sorts of strange distortions happen to the gospel. Even with good intentions (trying to make the gospel more readily understood and accessible), when we disconnect the story of Jesus with the story of Israel, the story of humanity, and the story of cosmic restoration, we get a Jesus that is truncated, altered, and easily misunderstood.

The story is consummated when Jesus returns and God makes “all things new” (Revelation 21:5). Resurrected humans are then given authority to rule over the new earth, under the rulership of Jesus the King.

While Scot McKnight and I are of different theological stripes (he is an Anabaptist Arminian, I am a Neo-Calvinist),  we agree that the current crop of Calvinists in America have so focused on issues of “Salvation through Justification” that they miss the larger story of the Bible. What Neo-Calvinists focus in on is the gospel story of cosmic restoration; what the new crop of Calvinists (what I call the Neo-Puritans) focus in on is how God saves people.

The latter (God saving people) is the means for the former (God restoring his creation) because the failure of humanity from their creational mandate to rule the creation (The Fall) created the chaos that Jesus Christ came to rescue the world from.

Certainly it is good news that Jesus saves each one of us from our sins in the act of Justification. But the really BIG good news is this: Jesus is the King. This is why we find that when Jesus proclaimed "the gospel" (or "good news") it was "the gospel of the kingdom" (Matthew 4:23).


Marcus Goodyear said...

I was taught the first three stages of this story. When I learned about the fourth, a friend of mine in CCO corrected me when I referred to it as "Restoration."

He said, "It's not restoration. We aren't going back to the Garden of Eden. It is something better that is coming. It is Consummation."

We were probably arguing semantics, but I've never forgotten the conversation.

Bob Robinson said...

Consummation is a good term for it, especially in light of the fact that it is, in fact, not a return to Eden but the fulfillment of God's plan of progress.

I also like speaking in terms of "Creation and New Creation" (as NT Wright puts it): that "Redemption" is actually the beginning of the New Creation ("Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here." (2 Cor. 5:17) and the future is the completion of that: "Behold, I am making all things new!"

I also think "Reconciliation" is probably an even better term than "Redemption" in that it reflects Colossians 1:19-20 - that the blood of Christ on the cross is the event through which God is reconciling all things to himself.

So, maybe "Creation / De-Creation / New Creation / Completion" OR "Creation / Alienation / Reconciliation / Consummation".

What do you think?