Scot McKnight is the Karl A. Olsson professor in religious studies at North Park University in Chicago. He blogs regularly at Jesus Creed. This is the first book of his I’ve read and I’d like to say I’m inclined to check out some of his other books.
In our preaching class, one of the methods for sermon prep was to create a problem-solution-application message. This book essentially follows the same pattern with chapters 1-2 outlining the problem, chapters 3-8 sketching the solution, and then chapters 9-10 offering an application. As a helpful guide, let’s consider those as general headings.
McKnight is writing in order to remedy a problem – a problem that he sees desconstructing the church (p. 27). This problem is a misunderstanding of the gospel that truncates and creates a salvation culture, focused on who’s in and who’s out, rather than a gospel culture, focused on growing disciples of Christ. This in turn creates a kind of irony where “evangelicals” who should be about the gospel, instead turn into “soterians” who are primarily focused on personal salvation. The problem McKnight is addressing is a culture of self-professed evangelicals who are not growing in Christ like they should because they have a truncated view of the gospel.
The solution then is to go back to Scripture and recover the wide vista that the gospel actually displays. Whatever one may think of McKnight’s theologically positions, here or elsewhere, or whether or not you agree with his diagnosis of the problem, he clearly gets the solution right: go back to Scripture and see if we might be missing something. McKnight does this first by looking at the Old Testament story of Israel that frames the gospel (chapter 3) and then interestingly skips ahead to look at Paul’s writings (chapter 4). He does this because he believes 1 Corinthians 15 is the “one place in the entire New Testament where someone actually comes close to defining the word gospel” (p. 46).
He then unpacks 1 Corinthians 15, before drawing out 8 observations from the gospel of Paul (which you’ll have to read the book to discover for yourself). As McKnight sees it, “the gospel for the apostle Paul is the salvation-unleashing Story of Jesus, Messiah-Lord-Son, that brings to completion the Story of Israel as found in the Scriptures of the Old Testament” (p. 61).
With this in mind, the next obvious question is whether or not this gospel is proclaimed in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Before getting there McKnight takes an interesting side road to ask the question of how “salvation” came to overtake “gospel.” He assumes the reader is asking this question (p. 62) but that may or may not be the case. It would seem to be a little cleaner to keep the chapters on biblical exposition all together and then place this chapter right before the Application chapters.
In the end though, it’s McKnight’s book and he can order the contents however he likes. He does a good job transitioning from chapter to chapter, even if some people might disagree with how he orders things. In chapter 5 though, McKnight tries his hand at some sociology and attempts to explain how we got where we are now. Aside from an historically inaccurate jab at Calvin (p. 70), I think McKnight is on target in this chapter, and I think there is some truth to his observation that “our contemporary equation of the word gospel with the Plan of Salvation came about because of the developments from and after the Reformation” (p. 71). He clarifies that he is not faulting the Reformation for the problem, but merely observing that some of the Reformation emphases got pulled in an expected direction and that led to the current state of affairs.
From here, McKnight goes back to biblical exposition with a chapter demonstrating the unity of the Gospels and articulates a kind of perspectival analysis of them. He argues that there is only one gospel, hence the common way of referring to the first four books of the New Testament as “The Gospel According to Matthew,” or “The Gospel According to Luke.” There are not four “gospels” but rather four lens for the reader to see the singular gospel story.
Having made this point, McKnight then shows how Jesus himself preached the gospel (chapter 7), as did Peter in the book of Acts (chapter 8). For space constraints, I’ll leave it to you the reader to explore more of what McKnight says there by actually picking up this book and reading it for yourself.
In his concluding chapters, McKnight offers a new word for his application: “gospeling.” In a way, this is just a translation of the Greek we already use for evangelism, but for McKnight it is more full-orbed and can therefore encompass discipleship as well. Putting the gospel into a bundle, McKnight sees four distinct emphases of the gospel:
- It is framed by Israel’s story
- It centers on the lordship of Jesus
- In summons people to respond
- It saves and redeems
McKnight sees the gospel, and our gospeling today as solving the fundamental problem of needing a ruler, a king, and a Lord (p. 137). The announcement of Jesus as Messiah and Lord and his life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension flesh this out further. Gospeling then “declares that Jesus is the rightful Lord” and “summons people to turn from their idols to worship and live under that Lord who saves” (p. 142).
It is McKnight’s hope that this vision of the gospel will lead evangelicals back to a gospel-centered culture rather than a salvation centered culture.
At this point, I’ll be brief. I’ll say right off that I enjoyed reading this book and felt that McKnight made his points in a clear and compelling manner. He was generous in his criticisms when at times he could have been much more sharp and made some disparaging remarks. I might not be personally inclined to accept that his sketch of the problem is accurate, and there is some question as to who McKnight is specifically addressing in this book. One gets the impression that it is aimed in part at the young, restless, Reformed crowd, or possibly just easy-believism broader evangelicalism.
I can see this book working well for both, so if you consider yourself to be an evangelical, and you simultaneously think we might have gotten off track in our approach to discipleship (as in, maybe it seems to lack an organic connection to conversion and evangelism) then you should probably take a long Saturday afternoon and engage McKnight in this book.
This book isn’t the last word, or the definitive treatment of the topic, but I value McKnight’s perspective on the issues he addresses and feel that he offers an important work that clarifies our understanding of just what the gospel is, and in turn, how it changes everything.
- Author: Scot McKnight
- Title: The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited
- Publisher: Zondervan (September 13, 2011)
- Hardcover: 176pgs
- Reading Level: General Reader
- Audience Appeal: Pastors and Bible students looking for an exposition of the Gospel
- Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of Zondervan)
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