The King Jesus Gospel: a review (1)

Scot McKnight’s new book is The King Jesus Gospel: the original good news revisited

Scot kindly dedicates the book to the team at IBI and number of other places where he gave lectures that became the basis of the book.

If you are a (the) dedicated reader(s) of this blog you might remember that I did an 8 part series on Scot’s Lectures on ‘The Earliest Christian Gospel’. So a lot of the ground was covered there. But it’s interesting to see how he developed the final argument.

Basic premise: From the Reformation on, popular evangelicalism developed a ‘soterian’ gospel and an associated salvation culture, tending to reduce down the gospel to an individual existential plan of salvation, detached from the OT and the story of Israel. It also tends to disconnect salvation from discipleship. The gospel becomes abstract, propositional, logical and un-biblically ‘de-storified’

1 Corinthians 15, Scot argues, is the early and prime example of ‘gospel’ in the NT. And this gospel is best summarised by Jesus the Messiah bring completion to the story of Israel. The gospel is the good news about Jesus Christ; his life, death, resurrection, ascension and the consummation of the kingdom to come.

This is, Scot argues, the message the 4 gospels tell; it is the gospel of Paul; it is the gospel Peter preaches in Acts, and it is what Jesus himself preaches – he repeatedly puts himself at the centre of God’s purposes for Israel. And, Scot proposes, this is the gospel that you find in the Creeds – much more the story of 1 Corinthians 15:1-5 than a four point plan of individual salvation.

In other words, to gospel is to tell the story of Jesus. The aim of evangelism is to lead people to confess Jesus as Messiah and Lord. Discipleship follows, a life of loving obedience and service to the Lord.

The gospel is at heart therefore a christology that calls people to respond to Jesus. And that response is about salvation from sin and from God’s judgement, entered into by faith, repentance and baptism.

Scot’s big concern is that we need to develop a more Jesus focused, narrative ’gospel culture’ as opposed to a ‘salvation culture’ that can be little more than ‘sin management’ (quoting Dallas Willard).

 Some Comments:

1. On a personal note, I think seeing the gospel as primarily christology is right – the NT is a form of extended christological reflection on the Jesus and the saving significance of his life, death, resurrection and that he is reigning as living Lord. Scot is closely connecting gospel and salvation, but he wants to prevent them merging. This will make some people uneasy (Trevin Wax for example, see link below) in that too sharp a distinction is being made. Perhaps Scot’s ‘push back’ is strong, but maybe it needs to be given the overwhelming fusion of NT gospel with ‘plan of salvation.’

And, again personally, I have found that ‘preaching Jesus’ feels evangelistically ‘right’. In my wee 90 second talks on Mt 21:28-32 this week on Spirit Radio I’ve tried to do this – it all comes back to our response to Jesus. Preaching last Sunday I went with Matthew 21:1-17 and the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. This is a great example of Jesus’ own ‘preaching’ of the good news about himself. In one block of text, he proclaims himself king; cleanses the Temple, the dwelling place of God; demonstrates the healing power of the kingdom come; and assumes praise for himself only due to YHWH alone. And the implications flow naturally from this – the astonishing claims of Jesus call for response. It is this sort of proclamation of Jesus as Lord, Messiah and Saviour that McKnight urges the church to recover.

2. There are already plenty of conversations out there on this book, not least at Ben Witherington’s blog where he interviewed Scot at length, here on Daniel Kirk’s Storied Theology and here at Euangelion by Scot’s colleague at North Park University, Joel Willets. Daniel Kirk raises some questions about the continuity between a 1 Cor 15 gospel and the Creeds; Ben Witherington has some telling tweaks and critiques. Maybe others will weigh in with reviews, but I think it’s fair to say, so far, that neither is really contesting the case Scot is making about the biblical content of the gospel. There are strong echoes of what N T Wright, John Dickson, Darrell Bock and others have been unpacking in what Scot says. Trevin Wax has a good 2 part review where he unpacks his agreements and concerns.

I think evangelicals of all hues should be taking this book seriously. It begins with and works out from the great gospel texts of the NT. As part of the process of Semper Reformanda, we should continually be willing to reshape our beliefs and praxis in light of Scripture.

3. One thing I kept noticing was how Scot does keep integrating christology and pneumatology within the overall good news narrative. At first I thought he’d downplayed this, but on a re-reading he really doesn’t – it keeps cropping up. It’s the Spirit who repeatedly makes real the victory won at the cross and resurrection; there has to be a central place in any ‘gospelling’ for the presence and power of the Spirit.

4. I can see some responses dismiss this book as Scot raising up and then demolishing a straw man of the ‘soterian gospel’. ‘We don’t teach that’ people will say, ‘it’s a caricature’. Well I’ve been around long enough to know that it isn’t. A de-storified and, at times, individualistic ‘trust in Jesus and your sins will be forgiven’ gospel emphasis is endemic within popular evangelicalism. The emphasis is on what Jesus can do for you and the benefits of salvation. This sort of gospel presentation does not really need the OT at all. Its focus tends to be ‘transactional’ in terms of what happened at the cross.

Now don’t get me wrong – what happened at the cross is central to the message of the NT; it’s everywhere. I get students to write papers on this. And what happened there is all to do with atonement, the forgiveness of sins and salvation from death and judgement. But the cross is not only about good news for the individual; it is cosmic in scope – the redemption of all creation (Col 1.20). So where the benefits of the cross are detached from the story of Jesus, Israel’s Messiah, the Son of God, the risen Lord, what is left is Willard’s de-storified ‘sin management’ equation.

5. This is why I find Scot’s ideas at the end of the book about building a ‘gospel culture’ helpful. He means by this that in ‘gospelling’ and in our lives, we need to become people of the story. I’ll turn to his ideas on this in the next post.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

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5 thoughts on “The King Jesus Gospel: a review (1)

  1. Very much looking forward to reading this, especially after attending those lectures at the IBI, which were really illuminating. Scott McKnight is a great communicator. Would be very interested in your thoughts on building a gospel culture and in reading what McKnight says about it in the book. All the theories and criticisms we have are worth nothing unless we can live the gospel life together.

  2. Greetings John and a warm welcome. Working on a follow up post.
    And you are 100% right in your last comment – and whether a ‘soterian’ or ‘narrative’ framing of the gospel, all are called to follow and imitate the one Lord and keep in step with his Spirit …..

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