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?