The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight
This started off as a review of Scot McKnight’s book “The King Jesus Gospel”, but somewhere in there it also turned into an opinion piece on the topics brought up in the book. If you want the short, one-line version… : Very good. McKnight argues his case well and is understandable, but more importantly he’s right in what he’s saying and it’s important that we listen.
Scot McKnight came to the Irish Bible Institute in 2010 to give a series of lectures, which I attended, entitled “In the Beginning was the Gospel”. The lectures were brilliant, and they were turned into the book “The King Jesus Gospel”. You’d think, being such a fan of the lectures I’d have bought and devoured the book as soon as I could, but no. Through one thing or another it’s taken me this long to read “The King Jesus Gospel”. I shouldn’t have waited.
McKnight opens the book with a problem. The modern evangelical church has traded in discipleship for decisions and traded in the gospel for the personal plan of salvation. Jesus told us to make disciples and that means more than mere ritual and more than getting people to agree with us and make a decision. McKnight provocatively sums the situation up:
Our system is broken and our so-called gospel broke it.
We have a salvation culture in the evangelical church today. What we need is a gospel culture.
McKnight introduces four categories in his discussion of what the gospel is:
1. The Story of Israel
2. The Story of Jesus
3. The Plan of Salvation
4. The Method of Persuasion
He says that in Evangelical circles we have equated the gospel with the Plan of Salvation (which is tied closely to the Method of Persuasion), this is what has led to our current situation – a church that is better at decision-making than disciple-making.
According to McKnight, the only category that is fit to be called gospel is the Story of Jesus. The Story of Jesus is the climax of the Story of Israel, contains the beautiful truth of salvation and causes and supplies the method of persuasion. What we have done is take one aspect of the gospel and declared that aspect to be the gospel. As beautiful and true as the plan of salvation is (and I do not deny for one moment that Jesus saves by grace alone through faith alone in his atoning sacrifice), it is not the gospel. It is part of what the gospel entails, but it is not the gospel.
The gospel is the saving story of Jesus as the fulfilment of the story of Israel.
That’s why the books Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in our Bibles are called gospel – because they are the story of Jesus told as the completion of Israel’s story. Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah – the one Israel was waiting for, the one the world was waiting for.
In “de-storifying” the gospel we have made it abstract, transformed it into an argument or proposition that one must agree with in order to be saved. Thus we are seeing many more instances of the “sinner’s prayer” being said than we are seeing of the disciple’s life being lived. Christians, the ones we are making with our decision-based, de-storified, so-called gospel, are in fact living lives that are not so different from anyone else.
McKnight borrows a great term from Dallas Willard to describe the kind of gospel that focusses on getting people to subscribe to the plan of salvation instead of the story of Jesus: “the gospel of sin management”. And here’s what the gospel of sin management does:
Gospels of Sin Management” presume a Christ with no serious work other than redeeming humankind … [and] they foster “vampire Christians,” who only want a little blood for their sins but nothing more to do with Jesus until heaven.
[McKnight quoting Willard]
We end up demoting Jesus from Lord, Messiah, Son of God to the role of a ticket-vendor to whom we go to receive our ticket for heaven.
Sarah and I went to see Paul Simon in concert during the summer. It was the first night of his 25th anniversary tour for his Graceland album. It was an amazing concert! We had a fantastic time. Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo were in top form, full of energy. We sang and danced along to some of our favourite songs. I took a few bad pictures on my phone, before realising how stupid that was. But one thing we didn’t do was celebrate Ticketmaster or even give them a moment’s thought, because the ticket-vendor doesn’t matter nearly as much as the event. If we reduce Jesus to a ticket-vendor then he will be used and forgotten about.
McKnight contends that over the centuries, the church has shifted focus and changed our gospel so that it is no gospel at all. We need to look at the gospel as it is found in the early creeds of the church, the gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Paul’s letters and the preaching of Peter and Paul in Acts. McKnight provides a fairly strong argument with extensive biblical evidence, and, as you can see, I’m sold.
So, the first part of this book describes our problem, the second part points to our solution – the real big-picture gospel preached by Jesus, preached by the apostles and preached by the early church – the third and final part (chapters 9 and 10) deals with how to witness to that gospel today. How do we shift from a salvation culture to a true gospel culture?
Maybe it’s my negative personality rearing it’s ugly head, but in both Scot McKnight’s IBI lectures and in reading this book I thought his criticisms were far better than his proposed modern-day solutions. That’s what I thought at first at least. Before I realised I was being stupid.
The solutions aren’t simple. There’s no new diagram for us to draw on a napkin. There is no “gospel in a nutshell”. I don’t know why, but I think deep down, unconsciously, this nutshell stuff is exactly what I was looking for, and was the reason I was initially disappointed. I wanted something easy. Something that could be agreed to quickly. Something that gave fast results. Although he does give a beautiful example of modern gospeling in chapter 10, McKnight doesn’t do sales pitches, thank God.
Making disciples takes longer than getting people to make decisions, but disciple-making is what we are called to do. Perhaps we should stop trying to pare down, distort and squash the dynamite of God into a nutshell.
This is an excellent book, McKnight is a great communicator, an accomplished scholar and passionate disciple of Jesus Christ. Read it.