King Jesus Gospel, Part 2

We’ve begun a series of posts looking at Scot McKnight’s recent book The King Jesus Gospel. Today’s thoughts will summarize and reflect on Chapters 3 and 4 of the book.

After drawing the distinction between a church culture of salvation and a culture of the gospel, McKnight moves into a series of further distinctions and clarifications. Chapter 3 is a plea to understand the difference between the the story of Israel/story of the Bible, the story of Jesus, the plan of salvation, and methods of persuasion. Failure to recognize the distinctions results in calling something the gospel which is not the gospel, thus skewing our evangelism. For McKnight, the gospel proper is the second of these–the story of Jesus. It is an announcement, one which is only comprehensible as the culmination of the story of Israel. The good news is that Jesus is the Messiah long anticipated by that story and those who drew their identity from it. But it also has universal significance, as is also anticipated from that story properly understood. The author is emphatic:”If we ignore that story, the gospel gets distorted, and that is just what has happened in salvation cultures.”

The alleged distortion occurs when the plan of salvation, or how one comes to be “saved,” is considered. Evangelicals typically think of the plan of salvation as the means by which an individual gets saved, in response to what God has done for him/her; rather than this, McKnight wants to refer to “plan of salvation” as the saving message itself: this is what God is up to. It is the announcement that in Jesus He is bringing to completion what He had promised to do through Israel for the larger purpose of saving the world. That’s the plan. To hear the summons to receive Christ outside of this story is to make Israel and the Old Testament itself irrelevant. It also removes us from our originally intended purpose as God’s image-bearers in the world.

Chapter 4 seeks to establish that the storied gospel is in fact the gospel of Paul throughout his correspondence (the coherence of that gospel with Jesus’s own teaching is taken up later in the book). Using 1 Corinthians 15 as a basic text for understanding Paul’s idea of gospel, McKnight begins a series of observations, all of which merit our attention, though not all can be covered in this review. First, the gospel is what connects Paul to the Corinthian believers. Even though Paul refers to “his” gospel in other contexts, it is clear from the definition that there is only one, and he shares in the salvation it brings along with his readers. The gospel is summarized by what is quite likely an early hymn or creed: Christ died, Christ was buried, he was raised, and he appeared.

But Paul also makes it clear that Christ is the resolution of Israel’s story (see especially Galatians), and it is for this reason that salvation flows from him. And the story is a complete story, not just a Good Friday story. The life and the resurrection of Jesus matter, as is often overshadowed in salvation culture understandings of the gospel, according to which the death of Jesus seems sufficient. The gospel also includes the “end of all ends”–the consummation of all things (1 Cor. 15:28). The result of this is the uncompromising testimony that Jesus–and no one else is truly Lord of all.

McKnight is surely right about this: the significance of knowing what the gospel is and what it is not cannot be overstated. McKnight’s next chapter (next post) will spell out how the substitution of a personal plan of salvation for the good news that Jesus is Lord came about. Listening to his ideas about what the announcement really was might also help us to comprehend afresh why the early Christians were thought to be a threat to Roman authorities. If they were simply waiting for another world after death, why bother with them at all? But if Jesus is Lord of all, Caesar is not–in fact, he is a fraud.

I’m curious. Have we been guilty of preaching a “de-storied” gospel, one which actually requires only Good Friday? Does the humanity of Jesus do anything for us other than substitute for us in death? What are your thoughts on what McKnight has written to this point, including ideas not covered in this post?

10 thoughts on “King Jesus Gospel, Part 2

  1. This is good earth to be digging in, Teacher.

    To respond to you question; “Have we been guilty of preaching a “de-storied” gospel….”:

    I look at it this way…Jesus’s death on the cross saves me from the penalty of Sin….while His resurrection saves me from Sin. Sin – not the wrong things that I do, but the very nature that is Sin….

    But, even still – these alone are not the fullness of The Gospel….

  2. This fuller version Gospel (not to be confused with “Full Gospel” as it has been called) surely is a meatier variety of Jesus than many of us are used to. If true, it necessities a paradigm shift and a rethinking of how do *are* Church. Always dangerous territory to coax such big change… (right?)

    I appreciate the adjustment to include all of what God is up to.

    Thank you for your summation of KJG. I’m on the edge of my seat for the next installment.

  3. I posted the bulk of this comment on a fb group page: sorry for the repeat if you read it there but I know not everyone is a member of that page. Ken commented there that there is no such thing as a church without disciples. I agree. More and more I am seeing that what we have called church is often at best a shadow. I was talking with someone the other day about McKnight’s book in relation to the comment made on Facebook about how when you make disciples you always get the church but when you try and make a church you don’t always make disciples. I said that I think a similar framing of gospel could be made “if you preach the gospel you get salvation (as in the soterian approach McKnight identifies) but if you preach salvation you don’t always get the gospel. In similar vein then the question becomes “can you make disciples w/o an adequate understanding of the Gospel?” If not (which is my answer, you can’t make disciples w/o an adequate understanding of the gospel.) then it can be said that w/o the Gospel, in its fullness, you don’t have a church. I am a little ahead of Ken’s blog in reading the book and I don’t see McKnight making this move yet though I have not finished the book. Ken or others reading the book, do you think that Mcknight would make this strong a statement? Would you?

    • Tim, I would agree with you…saying that you can’t have disciples without an adequate understanding of The Gospel….at least, true disciples – the reason Jesus had disciples while He was on the earth was not so they could be saved from Sin, but so they could learn to live…

      I have put it this way: In The Church, all are believers – but not all are disciples….

      I might not agree entirely, however, with the thinking that without the fullness of The Gospel you don’t have a church – depending on the definition of a church vs. The Church perhaps.

      • I know…I am not part of your ‘group’ ;)

        It is or is it not The Gospel? What the believe (those that are not disciples)…perhaps those that are believers while not disciples believe in the name of Jesus to save from the penalty of Sin – which is reality….but, are lacking the fullness of The Revelation of Christ’s Gospel in that they are saved from Sin…here and now.

        Although, I can’t say that I know what people believe, per-say….nor, can I even suggest to know the condition of their heart & pursuit of Jesus.

      • Ok, continuing to spur :). As I read McKnight it occurs to me that our understanding of what it means to be “saved from our sin” is smaller than Jesus intended it to be. To be saved from “our” sin has a corporate component that may actually be the primary emphasis. That is to say that sin was ultimately a usurpation of our place in relationship to God. Because of that intial and repeated usurpation there was and is a resultant mess that humans, undirected and unruled by God, created and continue to create. Jesus comes to do what humans have demonstrated they are unwilling/incapable of doing. Therefore, being “saved from sin” is more than not having to go to hell, it is not having to live in the mess we created. Instead we are invited to live “ruled” by God and thereby helping to usher in the Kingdom of God where his “will is done on earth as it is in Heaven.” Personal salvation is but one part of a larger whole and again the order matters. The understanding of being saved from sin as enabling the living as a people ruled by God encompasses personal salvation but giving primacy to personal salvation does not necessarily result in a kingdom advance in this world. Therefore, can it be said that believing in personal salvation w/o a resulting discipleship is a tenuous salvation at best? The scene at the end of the Chronicles of Narnia where the group of huddled dwarves in Aslan’s country after the destruction of Narnia who though “in” and free continued to believe themselves bound and in darkness. Aslan says of those dwarves that “Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison…”(Chapter 13 of The Last Battle) Those who see personal salvation as the whole of the gospel may technically make it “in” but like the dwarves will continue to live in the darkness of a willfull ignorance shaped by the kind of life they lived instead of a life shaped by the life of Aslan or in our case Jesus.

  4. Ken, I say yes, required reading! I think McKnight’s/Wright’s thesis explains so much of the difficulty we face as a denomination…I’ll stop there. We need to dive into this question and not simply dangle our feet from the comfort of our “soterian” island.

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