Scot McKnight on the earliest Christian gospel (3)

Last Friday and Saturday we had a fantastic 2010 IBI Summer Institute with Scot McKnight. Two full days, 8 sessions, a full house. Scot worked hard and was brilliant.

I’m doing a few posts this week on what Scot had to say. And I should say that these are just based on my notes.

Much of the content of the lectures will be the material for a new book The Earliest Christian Gospel – so we were treated to a special preview.

We left the last post saying the gospel is all about telling the story of Jesus.

Scot went back to the Nicene Creed her and argued persuasively that it actually captures the NT view of gospel in how it tells the story of Jesus ‘according to the Scriptures’.

But how then did the overwhelmingly pervasive evangelical ‘plan of salvation’ come to dominate our understanding of the gospel?

Scot will raise a few hackles by suggesting that it’s down to what happened at the Reformation. While is was a movement greatly used by God and a source of spiritual blessing and a necessary correction to medieval Catholicism, it also reconfigured the gospel.

Scot means by this that statements like the Augsberg Confession, the Heidleberg Catechism and Calvin’s Genevan Confession took ‘gospel’ documents like the Nicene Creed and systematised them into propositional ‘plan of salvation’ type theology.

[This wasn’t talked about on the day but it should be said that it had already been pretty massively reconfigured by scholastic medieval Catholicism].

This sin / salvation culture then became the dominant shaping force of European Protestantism and subsequently evangelicalism.

Again, Scot was not rejecting the Reformers or justification by faith alone etc – he was suggesting that this helps to explain the narrow, judicial, boundary focused and ‘sin-solving’ form of the gospel that has so dominated modern evangelicalism.

Some Comments

Sure it is not all like this. Sure God’s Spirit has never left the Church. Sure no generation will have it all right. Sure it is easy to caricature. But there are few evangelical authors, let alone non-evangelical ones, who would not recognise and agree that there is truth to this depiction of western evangelicalism.

A question is then, will the ‘bigger’ good news story of Jesus gospel help? How?

– It is a positive proclamation about the lordship of Jesus

– It is an invitation to join the story and become a follower of Jesus

– It makes sense of the whole story of the Bible

– It connects faith in Jesus with discipleship and kingdom life

What might some weakness be?


One thought on “Scot McKnight on the earliest Christian gospel (3)

  1. I agree that the story of Israel is a crucial backdrop to Jesus’ mission but it’s not been my experience that it’s totally sidelined by evangelicals. I would hope that no-one who engages with any of the gospels misses the repeated emphasis on how Jesus is fulfilling (in surprising ways) everything that God had promised his people.

    Another thing that struck me was that regardless of whether or not we experience a personal crisis as part of conversion, each of us is naturally in a state of crisis with regard to God (because he is holy and we are nothing like holy!) So I think that while manipulation is never a good idea, nevertheless it is legitimate to try and open people’s eyes to the terrifying reality of God’s judgement and so the need to turn their lives around. (It is also vital if we are to understand the awesome magnitude of what Jesus did on the cross in taking the punishment we deserve.) And in fact both John the Baptist and Jesus do warn people of the need for radical change in their lives: you can’t get much more crisis-oriented than “repent and believe”. In fact Jesus’ emphasis on the horror of God’s judgement (e.g. the parables in Matt. 14) doesn’t seem a million miles from Jonathan Edwards. I’m not saying this should always be the approach (it isn’t in the NT), but it is clearly an important part of the picture.

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