In hearing Scot McKnight’s retelling of the gospel we have been encouraged to think of what the term itself signifies in the New Testament. To that end he draws a sharp distinction between a (false) gospel in which personal salvation becomes the content and the of Jesus the means, and the true gospel, which is nothing other than the story of Jesus as the completion of the story of Israel. To put it more simply, he fears that we have moved the center of the gospel from what God does to save the world to our decision. The concluding chapters of The King Jesus Gospel offer a summary of the differences between the soterian and the biblical gospel (Ch. 9) and a sketch of what a gospel culture church looks like (Ch. 10).
In “Gospeling Today” (9), McKnight begins his list of six comparisons with what would at first appear as a subtle distinction if one had not read to this point. The “gospeling” in Acts declares the significance of Jesus who is the Messiah, thereby summoning listeners to repnt and confess Him; the soterian gospel seeks to persuade sinners to admit their sin and find Jesus as the Savior. Personal saving cannot be embraced without reference to Jesus as the fulfillment of Israel. Second, following from the first, is that the gospel of the apostles is framed and driven by that story of Israel; the soterian gospel is framed and driven by an atonement story. Here he notes that neither Paul not Peter sought to explain the workings of atonement in Jesus but both declared it as fact. But the most significant of the six, at least in my reading, is the comparison drawn between descriptions of the problem the gospel resolves. This section (fourth in McKnight’s listing) lays out the goal of God’s creating of humanity, which he takes to be serving in the temple of God’s earth as His eikon (following Walton and others); this is the “fundamental human assignment.” This leads to a presentation of the story of Israel and how it is completed in Jesus. It is, indeed, a “grand story” showing the rightful position of Jesus as Lord–all of which is set in contrast to a badly impoverished gospel of personal salvation for which the Bible is hardly even needed. It is out of this story that McKnight’s other comparisons grow; this one is central.
“Creating a Gospel Culture” (Ch.10) concludes the book. Here McKnight addresses on of my earlier concerns, namely the work of the Holy Spirit in the announcing of the gospel. Just as He guided the preaching and adapting of the apostles, He does so with today’s faithful church, moving in unanticipated ways to prepare both speaker and hearer, and therefore prayer becomes one of the keys to creating a gospel culture. Others include the necessity of knowing our story–both in terms of a church knowing the fully why the gospel is good news and in terms of interpreting our personal stories in its light. We become people of the story. We do this through a renewed attention to the church’s calendar (my students have heard that one before) and to its sacraments. It is only through being fully immersed in this story that we will be able to recognize, expose, and deconstruct the alternative stories of the world around us.
Most of what McKnight offers in the book resonates in me; I have had many thoughts, some of which have been expressed in classes over the years, which are given some useful handles in this book. I could quibble with some points here and there (for instance, I found the last chapter somewhat short on new suugestions; but this is not his primary field). But instead my closing observations are given for generating some discussion, especially among those who have read the book with me. Those thoughts center on what we are offering to the world under the title of “gospel.” It occurs to me that it is the one thing we have not looked into. Churches have tried for more than a generation to “be relevant” in their real enough concern for “lost” individuals and even entire cultures. The problem is not lack of concern, nor is it an unwillingness to change certain things. Over my lifetime we have changed the style of the building, the order of worship, the kinds of music we will and will not use, the social and cultural activities we will and will not engage in as Christians, the way we dress when we attend church functions, the expectations of members, and a host of other peripheral matters.
But do any of these matter if we are unwilling to look at what we offer? At the end of the day, we must tell the truth. And to tell it we must know it in all its fullness. The story of Jesus as Messiah and Lord is the gospel. Nothing short of that will confront people with a reason to bow down and then rise up in His power. Maybe there are other things taht need to change; but I have this great suspicion that none of it will matter if we do not truly have good news.