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Weekend Reading: The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight

December 16, 2011

There is a bit of a disagreement among Christians, or at least leading Christian thinkers, regarding the gospel. Is it Jesus’ gospel (kingdom) or Paul’s gospel (justification by faith)? Scot McKnight wrote the cover story for the December 2010 issue of Christianity Today titled “Jesus vs. Paul”, in which he lays out a new proposal. So which is it? Jesus’ gospel or Paul’s gospel? Yes.

In McKnight’s newest book, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (2011, Zondervan), he more fully answers the gospel question by trying to rise above the tired arguments that seem to be never-ending. And he does it well.

There is no argument that the church is suffering a bit of a crisis. We are seeing people make a decision to accept Christ, but overall, churches are not growing. I have read a number of interesting theories, but I think I like Scot’s hypothesis the best. He thinks we are focusing on the wrong thing, and we need to return to a robust teaching and preaching of the gospel. The gospel? We are evangelicals; we live and breathe the gospel! Or do we?

McKnight observes we have reduced the gospel to the plan of salvation. We are not truly evangelicals; we are soterians, or salvationists. When evangelicals talk about the gospel, we typically thing immediately of the plan of salvation. I have talked to a number of my friends about this and they agree; the gospel is equivalent with the plan of salvation. McKnight appears to argue the plan of salvation is part of the gospel and come out of the gospel. Salvation is a result of the gospel.

McKnight believes that if we want to be more effective at building the kingdom and changing live, we need to quit just teaching the plan of salvation and start teaching the gospel. The whole gospel. We need to return to the gospel the apostles preached and taught. “Most of evangelism today is obsessed with getting someone to make a decision; the apostles, however, were obsessed with making disciples.” (page 18, emphasis his)

When defining the gospel, he appeals not to the Gospels but to Paul. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul defines the gospel. In the first part of the chapter, he give the short version; it is the story of Jesus. Jesus died for our sins, was buried, raised to life, and appeared publicly. On a side note, one of the key things we often leave out of the story—or at least minimize—is the resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection is key and is the hope of our resurrection.

Later in the same chapter, Paul does something else that evangelicals rarely do. He roots the story of Jesus in the story of Israel. McKnight argues that for the plan of salvation to really make sense it must come out of the story of Jesus and for the story of Jesus to really make sense it must be seen as the completion of the story of Israel. While I had never previously never really thought about it from that perspective, I don’t disagree.

McKnight has received some criticism for focusing on the corporate nature of the kingdom and minimizing the role of personal salvation. As I read the book, I did not see that at all. In fact, just the opposite is true. His understanding of the gospel and where the plan of salvation fits into it is much more robust than that. He begins at the beginning and gives the plan of salvation roots. This is how he orders it: Story of Israel/Story of the Bible –> Story of Jesus –> Plan of Salvation –> Method of Persuasion.

If The King Jesus Gospel lacks in any area, it is that it causes the reader to ask questions it does not answer. It does provide some answers, but it does so without a lot of specifics. An important point is made that the evangelical church has a salvation culture but needs a gospel culture. How do we accomplish that? How do we build a gospel culture? Maybe it is better not to answer the questions too specifically. Maybe it is better to figure it out ourselves. To help with this, McKnight offers a list of six comparisons between the gospeling, or evangelizing, in the book of Acts and our gospeling today. He compares:

  1. What gospeling seeks to accomplish

  2. What frames gospeling

  3. Gospeling, wrath, and judgment

  4. The problem gospeling resolves

  5. Gospel and empire

  6. Talk about Jesus

Since McKnight defines the gospel as the story of Jesus, he is basically advocating a story approach to gospeling as opposed to a soterian approach. To do this we must create a gospel culture. He closes the book by telling us that a gospel culture emerges from a soterian culture in these ways:

  • We have to become People of the Story.

  • we need to immerse ourselves even more into the Story of Jesus.

  • We need to see how the apostles’ writings take the Story of Israel and the Story of Jesus into the next generation and into a different culture, and how this generation led all the way to our generation.

  • We need to counter the stories that bracket our story and that reframe our story.

  • We need to embrace this story so that we are saved and can be transformed by the gospel story.

One of the most powerful aspects of The King Jesus Gospel is just how rooted in scripture it is. McKnight makes no claims without drawing them back to the Bible. He sums this up by providing an appendix with the gospel sermons in the book of Acts. This does an excellent job of demonstrating what first generation Christian preaching looked like and what ours can be.

While I do not endorse every aspect of any book, The King Jesus Gospel offers great insight into current evangelical church culture and a framework for changing that culture. There is much for church leaders and Christian thinkers to gain and learn from in this work. Whether or not you agree with McKnight, this book is definitely worth reading and thinking through.

Thoughts?

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