For a long time in my teaching career I have worked with these two terms (salvation vs. discipleship), especially when it came to the teachings of Jesus on ethics. It permits good discussion about both the gospel and “the bottom line.” I’ve given up these two terms as a template through which I process the NT message of the gospel and redemption, for a variety of reasons.
Here’s a question that really gets it going: “What do you have when you’ve got it?” That is, when it comes to the gospel and redemption and salvation, “what do you have when you’ve got it?”
The answer to this question (either one, actually) drives home the issue. Here are some things you’ve “got”.
Notice that these are the big time terms for the Protestant gospel. None of which, at least in emphasis, is a word of importance to Jesus’ own teachings. I do think he used “forgiveness” often enough to weaken my point some, but the simple fact is that sometimes forgiveness for Jesus means healing and sometimes it refers to the nation’s forgiveness. So, grant me the basic point. If you do, I’ll make this point:
If we define what we “get” in bigger terms, we suddenly land in a gospel that is big enough to encompass the whole Bible and the whole design of God for us and our world. It becomes the gospel of the kingdom.
What if we add these?
Reconciliation with others until it turns into justice
Reconciliation with others until it turns into love for others
Reconciliation with God until it turns into peace and love of God
Reconciliation with other believers until it turns into the Church
Reconciliation with others until it becomes community
Reconciliation with the world enough until it becomes governance
Reconciliation with others enough until it fights against systemic injustices.
I use “reconciliation” here because I think God’s work is primarily relational.
What if we defined the gospel then not so much by what we “get” but we are summoned to? That the summons of God is to join him in his restoring and redeeming work. That the reason for the gospel is transform us to be the Eikons he made us to be.
God embraces us with his embracing grace so we can learn to embrace ourselves as his Eikons and so we can embrace others and the world.
Then, but maybe only then, we’d not need to posit salvation over against discipleship.