In the introduction to Scot McKnight’s “The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited”, N.T. Wright speaks of John Stott saying, “Who wants an irreducible minimum gospel?”[Stott] asked. “I want the full, biblical gospel.”
McKnight sets out to do that with this book; to unpack the “full, biblical gospel.” His main reason for doing this, as he argues throughout the book, is two-fold. First, it is to stem the tide of current church culture where “the gospel” is focused solely on a personal decision at salvation. McKnight writes, “What has happened is that we have created a ‘salvation culture’ and mistakenly assumed it is a ‘gospel culture'” (p. 29).
Second, it is to know, discuss, preach, teach, and proclaim the full gospel that Jesus taught, that Paul taught, that Peter taught, and that was handed down through the apostolic tradition. McKnight says the best representation of this is found in 1 Corinthians 15.
McKnight takes his time getting to what the gospel should be. Instead of diving into what the solution is, he spends the few first chapters outlining the problem the Church currently is facing. He begins with his own experience in coming up through the church and the focus, no “obsession” we have with getting people to make a decision. He holds that this is not producing the results we would hope.
One particularly startling example is found in statistics from Barna Group’s David Kinnaman, demonstrating the lack of correlation between making a decision and becoming a disciple of Christ. It goes something like this:
- Percentage of teenagers (13-17) who have made a “commitment to Jesus”
- General population: 60%
- Protestants: 80%
- Nonmainline Protestants: 90%
- Percentage of young adults (18-35) who would be considered disciples
- General population: 6%
- Protestants: <20%
- Nonmainline Protestants: 20%
Based on this, McKnight says, “We cannot help but conclude that making a decision is not the vital element that leads to a life of discipleship” (p. 19). He continues with that line of thinking, “I would contend there is a minimal difference in correlation between evangelical children and teenagers who make a decision for Christ and who later become genuine disciples, and Roman Catholics who are baptized as infants and who as adults become faithful and devout Catholic disciples” (p. 20).
This challenges the way many in church think and behave. Often when we say the gospel, we mean salvation. The “Good News of Jesus Christ” for most of us, is that Jesus lived, died, and resurrected so we don’t have to pay for our sin and we get to go to heaven. Even if we wouldn’t articulate it that way, that’s what most in the Christian church believe, discuss, teach, and live. McKnight, however, would and does echo what Dallas Willard called this, which was the “gospel of sin management” (p.27). He contends, “If the gospel isn’t about transformation, it isn’t the gospel of the Bible” (p.27).
The main resulting problem, McKnight contends, is that a focus only on salvation creates a culture that “does not require The Members or The Decided to become The Discipled for salvation. Why not? Because it’s gospel is a gospel shaped entirely with the “in and out” issue of salvation. Because it’s about making a decision” (p.33).
Moving on then, to make his case for a fuller gospel, McKnight lays out his four main categories. These are The Story of Israel, The Story of Jesus, The Plan of Salvation, and The Method of Persuasion. If you stopped to consider, which of these categories you would apply the word Gospel, as McKnight suggests (p.33) then most of us would apply it to the “Plan of Salvation.” It is McKnight’s contention, however, that all of these comprise the Gospel and each “layer” flows from the previous category as it is connected to the foundation below it.
The King Jesus Gospel never leaves this imagery far behind, either. It most often finds it way multiple times into each chapter with some variation of the phrase we read in Chapter 3. There, McKnight writes, “The Story of Jesus, though, is first and foremost a resolution of Israel’s Story and because the Jesus Story completes Israel’s Story, it saves” (p.37).
On the contrary, McKnight holds that stripped of its proper place in the larger picture of the four categories, the Plan of Salvation “isn’t discipleship or justice or obedience” and “leads to one thing and one thing only: salvation” (p.40). He further states how this is disjointed from the rest of the story of the Bible with the following observation; “One reason why so many Christians today don’t know the Old Testament is because their ‘gospel’ doesn’t even need it” (p.43).
McKnight continually challenges us to consider the gospel to those in the time of Jesus, Peter, and Paul. Not to understand it in our context, but in the context of those hearing about it. Also, as already stated, understand it through the lens of people who had the Torah memorized, who had only the Old Testament as their Scriptures instead of readers of today who have the New Testament. Think of the excitement that would be induced at the realization of who Jesus was – namely the Messiah who would rescue Israel and establish His Kingdom. How can understand those things without the Old Testament and the Story of Israel?
McKnight focuses on 1 Corinthians 15 as a blue print for the outlining of the whole Gospel by Paul. He also I’ve only touched on what McKnight writes about but these are the things that stirred me to read on. Why do we have such a hard time making disciples today? Is it simply that we get it wrong by obsessing only with salvation? I’m sure, as McKnight contends, the culture it creates allows for an underlying secret that the rest is optional in many of the subconscious thoughts of those sitting in the pews. Is that the only problem facing the church? Of course not.
I really liked this book. It challenged me and my thinking about what the “gospel” is and what that word implies. I began thinking recently about our focus on a decision and how heaven is often what everyone is sitting around waiting on. This book came and smacked that point right out of the park for me.
I did come away from the book feeling as though there were holes in what was being put forth as the solution. I don’t know why, honestly, but there was a nagging feeling that his thrust wasn’t as full as I expected.
I also didn’t agree with his contention that God had wanted Abraham, then Israel, then David to be what Adam and Eve originally were, and that God ultimately sent Jesus when they failed. The reason is that I kept coming back to what God said in Genesis 3:15 or the protoevangelium. His point seems to be at odds with that.
I also wasn’t a fan of the way McKnight lumped on a bunch of stuff at the end. He adds in suggestions about the creeds, spiritual formation, and the Christian calendar. It was almost like “Hey, if you made it this far, let me go ahead and lop on some of this other stuff, while you’re buying.” That doesn’t diminish those things suggested, but the manor seemed odd.
But, overall I would recommend this to anyone who wants a challenging read about the theology of the gospel. A lot of what he said connected with me and stirred my mind. A lot of what he said will have to be parsed as I come to understand it more over time. A little of what he said didn’t sit with me, but that’s ok; it doesn’t undermine the body of work.