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.

10 thoughts on “King Jesus Gospel”

  1. I’m curious to know what you think of this distinction between “salvation” vs. the “gospel.” Shouldn’t “salvation” itself include an understanding of sin as a cosmic power which thereby enlarges our vision of the gospel?

    Perhaps I’m being picky about semantics, but I suppose if McKnight is trying to correct people’s understanding of the gospel, I wish he would go all the way and broaden their understanding of salvation, as well, instead of making one into the “broad” word and one into the “narrow” word. The same with his reference to “atonement” in one of the quotes above. It almost seems like he’s defining salvation, atonement, etc. by the penal substitutionary model without question, just because that’s how his readers probably are defining it?

    Maybe I’ve misunderstood because I haven’t read the book?

    1. I really enjoyed the comments and summary of the book. One of the subtleties of the gospel is that there is only one people of God “Israel” Mcknight brings this out well by getting us focused on the story. The narrative must be told with a starting point and the salvatic-personal gospel has no continuity to the story. It just begins somewhere in time and space with not reference points or old testament context. This is a great hole or “ommission” as Dallas Willard clarifies in some of his works. Evangelicals, which I consider myself, have done a good job of getting people in but not getting them through. It would be like writing a research paper with no thesis, no context but going right to the conclusion. The Jewishness of the story, the way Christ taught his followers, the Rabbi-teacher mindset is what is missing in the popular gospel. The gentil must come through as the people of God into the commonwealth of Israel. If we do not see all atoned-for people as Israel and as a continuation of the story then nothing really makes any sense. McKnight really retells the story the way it should be told with out theological jargon. The story of King Jesus coming to complete or consumate the story of Israel is so refeshing and takes the pressure off of programs, systems, and all the impersonal linear thought processes we have forced on the salvation story. All the good stuff we look forward to in salvation (atonement, adoption, position, reigning, forgiveness etc.) is not lost but rather put into its proper context and now we see ourselves as finishers instead of just crossing the starting line. Thanks for all the input great blog.

  2. I’m inclined to share Ben Witherington’s ideas about Israel being only part of the story of the salvation of humanity from Adam. Maybe the story of Israel figures so large merely because they were the ones entrusted with the oracles of God. I’m also inclined to resist the idea of a monolithic Church sequential to Israel. What Christians do now is important, but is it really transforming the cosmos, which needs something on a whole other scale?

  3. Daniel, thanks for this. I’m just about to start reading the book. I will keep your comments in mind. I entirely agree with what you say about the creed in relation to 1 Corinthians 15. But you’ve also got me wondering about the implications of starting with 1 Corinthians 15, where it is the cosmic dimension to resurrection that is in the foreground rather than the story of Israel. It may make a considerable difference to approach from this end of the story rather than from the historical-political end.

    1. Without speaking for Daniel, I’ve also read the book. McKnight points out that 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, which talks about the final resurrection, Jesus’ destroying every authority and handing the kingdom over to the Lord, is considered by some people to be part of Paul’s creedal statement. So, in my opinion, McKnight includes the type of cosmic dimension for which you seem to be looking. Hope that helps.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.