King Jesus Gospel

Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel is the most recent in a stream of books designed to get evangelicals to recognize that the Christian faith is an inherently active affair. It is not merely a personal message of salvation to be believed in my heart, it is about a grand story that we must continue to tell, and live out, if we are to be the faithful people of God.

I have much affinity with Scot’s overall project. Like my own work in Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul?, The King Jesus Gospel is concerned to articulate a gospel that both Jesus and Paul proclaimed, to articulate this gospel as deeply enmeshed in the story of Israel, and to insist that the gospel is not merely about personal salvation but about a more pervasive, cosmic transformation.

More than this, Scot is working with a similar paradigm to the one I’ve been developing here and elsewhere over the past several years: there is an inherent connection between the gospel message, what defines us as Christians, our identity, and our ethics.

The sharp end of his argument is this: the way that we have “shared the gospel” has been so much about personal salvation that it fails to carry with it an inherent call to a particular way of living. And, when the message of salvation is so truncated, it begins to close its claim to bear the label “gospel” at all: it is “soterian” (about salvation) without being entirely “evangelical” (about the gospel).

McKnight spends the first couple chapters laying out the need to move from a “salvation culture” to a “gospel culture.”

The book then turns to develop an articulation of what the gospel is. It moves from Paul’s summary statement in 1 Cor 15 through the Creeds before returning to Jesus in the Gospels and Acts.

The focus of these chapters is this: the death and resurrection of Jesus are the consummation of the story of Israel.

One the most important contributions of this, the meat of the book, is that Jesus proclaimed and demonstrated himself to be the king of the kingdom, the special agent in whom the story of Israel is coming to its consummation. Far too much credence has been given to the notion that Jesus proclaimed God rather than himself. Jesus places himself right in the middle of God’s plans for the cosmos.

Here are a few places I’d want to push back on the book and maybe generate a bit more conversation:

  • Is the Creed really a faithful summary of the Paul’s 1 Cor 15 gospel? The most important reason I say no is that it removes all of the important interpretive glosses that enable us to say that why the death and resurrection are “gospel”: “according to the scriptures” and “for our sins.” McKnight is insisting that the gospel is the consummation of the story of Israel–yes! But if there is one area where the creed is deficient it is precisely here. There is no “according to the scriptures,” there is no OT, there is no Israel. The creator God has a son whom he sent.
  • Is the creed a faithful summary of Paul’s gospel? No, for reason number two: Paul’s declaration is that Jesus is “the” Lord, the Creed says “our” Lord. In other words, the Creed is the beginning of the soterian gospel that McKnight has written the book to counter. There are other reasons why the Creed is quite different from 1 Cor 15 as well, but hey–this is my hobby horse. You know that I am wary of the creeds as lenses for reading scripture, or as the most accurate summaries of the Story.
  • I’m concerned that using 1 Cor 15 has curtailed the power of the Gospels to contribute to McKnight’s argument. I agree that there is much to the idea that the gospels are passion narratives with lengthy introductions. However, there is a Mark 1-8 in addition to a Mark 8-16. I think that it is precisely in figuring out how Mark 1-8 are gospel, not in hurrying to the crucifixion, that the “gospel culture” McKnight hopes to propagate is going to be established. It might be that our evangelical obsession with the cross is, itself, a significant part of the paradigm that needs to be broken up. I thought that Embracing Grace pushed some of these issues a bit better.

The book is replete with powerful, important statements such as these:

“The question is not about whether Jesus preached justification; the question is about whether he preached the Story of Israel coming to its completion in the story of himself as a saving story.” (106)

“From this point on, Jesus claims, everyone’s moral life is to be measured by whether they live according to his moral vision.” (107)

“… the book of Acts reveals that gospeling was not driven by the salvation story or the atonement story. It was driven by the Story of Israel, and in fact makes most sense in that story.” (134, emphasis original)

The book is sure to generate significant conversations, especially in the more traditional, conservative evangelical world toward which the argument is largely directed. It is written so as to be accessible to everyone, and would be a great conversation starter for many small groups and pastoral staffs.

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