Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Review: The King Jesus Gospel (part 1)

I will be posting a series of reviews on Scot McKnight's book: The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. This review will cover his introduction and chapter one. There have been many groups who have claimed ownership of the term “gospel”. There are several ways that it is defined. For some it “the plan of salvation”, for others it is simply “justification.” In recent days, there are those who try to define the gospel a little more fully by trying to tell it in terms of the grand narrative of the Bible couched in four basic terms: God, man, Christ, response. What Scot McKnight will do in this book is try to sketch the whole gospel according to 1 Corinthians 15. His basic outline of the gospel is that the Story of Jesus as the completion of Israel’s Story in the Scriptures in such a way that Jesus saves people from their sins.


Scot McKnight begins his book on the gospel by recounting his upbringing in a typical, conservative (fundamentalist?) evangelical church. He discusses how this church did evangelism and “won souls” to the Lord through decisions. One incident caused him to be somewhat cynical because the focus was more on the “decision” instead of making disciples (which was Jesus command). His experience was confirmed by many of his students who have discussed the same cynicism after being raised in the evangelical culture. He points to statistics that most of the population of the U.S. has made some kind of “decision/commitment” to Jesus. And yet our society does not look like it has that many disciples.

What McKnight gets to is that our focusing youth events, retreats and programs on persuading people to make a decision disarms the gospel, distorts numbers and diminishes the significance of discipleship. His students back up his fears when they reveal that many of them came to faith in the heated moment of a decision-shaped, low lights, evocative music event, but also verbalized that many of their friends did too – and now they have nothing to do with following Jesus.

What McKnight is going to do in this book is pay close attention to the connection of gospel and evangelism and salvation and our methods of persuasion. His preference is working on incorporating “discipleship” into “evangelism” or “gospel”. This book is going to flesh out what the gospel is and what evangelism is – and perhaps most importantly, how to do evangelism in a way that leads beyond decisions to discipleship.

Chapter one - The Big Question

What is the gospel? In the ancient world it was used for declaring good news about something (like a wedding or the emperor’s birthday). (Aside, I wish he would have spent a little more time defining the term gospel, where it came from and how it was used in the Greco-Roman world). Scot thinks we’ve got the gospel wrong or at least our current understanding is only a pale reflection of the gospel of Jesus and the apostles. Our current gospel isn’t biblical enough.

Three Exhibits

We are in need of going back to the Bible to ask this question all over again – as if for the first time, as if we were in Galilee listening to Jesus ourselves, or as if we were the first listeners to the apostles’ gospel in some small house church in the Roman Empire. McKnight thinks we may be shocked by what we find.

Exhibit A – this comes from an email from a student who wants to know what is good news about the fact that Jesus is the Messiah, the descendant of David. For this emailer, the word gospel is almost entirely about personal salvation. It is entirely divorced from Jesus within his own story.

Exhibit B – John Piper’s address “Did Jesus Preach Paul’s Gospel?” Piper says yes, because Jesus spoke (in one place) about justification by faith. Piper (and many or the new reformers) assume that justification is the gospel. Piper and his followers have defined the gospel in a short formula “justification by faith.” But did the apostles define the gospels this way?

Exhibit C – Another pastor that Scot has a discussion with claims agrees that the gospel is “justification by faith.” Scot asks, “Did Jesus preach the gospel?” This pastor shocks Scot with his answer. No, the pastor replies, he couldn’t have. No one could have understood the gospel until Paul and until after the cross, resurrection and Pentecost. For this pastor, the word “gospel” means “justification by faith,” and since Jesus didn’t talk in those terms, he flat out didn’t preach the gospel.

Scot feels that the word “gospel” has been hijacked in a way that it no longer means in our world what it originally meant to either Jesus or the apostles. For most American Christians, the gospel is about getting my sins forgiven so I can go to heaven when I die. Scot quotes Dallas Willard several times in this boo and his quote on the “gospel” in our culture; it is “sin management”, not transformation and discipleship.

No comments: