The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight

I love reading challenging non-fiction books, but I almost always struggle when it comes to posting reviews.  I want to wrestle with the ideas, debate premises and offer conclusions. But all too often I lack either the time or the focus, or both, to do them justice. So I procrastinate and frequently end up doing nothing. Not really a good practice for a book blogger, right?

I mention this because I have been avoiding posting on The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited for this reason for quite some time. I am not sure I can do it justice or engage the real meaty issues it touches on. But the good folks at Net Galley and Zondervan didn’t send me a review copy so I could fret about my self-esteem … So. Some thoguhts below.

First, what is this all about anyway? Publisher synopsis:

Contemporary evangelicals have built a ‘salvation culture’ but not a ‘gospel culture.’ Evangelicals have reduced the gospel to the message of personal salvation. This book makes a plea for us to recover the old gospel as that which is still new and still fresh. The book stands on four arguments: that the gospel is defined by the apostles in 1 Corinthians 15 as the completion of the Story of Israel in the saving Story of Jesus; that the gospel is found in the Four Gospels; that the gospel was preached by Jesus; and that the sermons in the Book of Acts are the best example of gospeling in the New Testament. The King Jesus Gospel ends with practical suggestions about evangelism and about building a gospel culture.

This is a powerful examination of what it means to speak of the Gospel and how our understanding of it impacts our “Gospeling” or evangelism. McKnight argues forcefully that to present a plan of salvation, or soterian, gospel is to miss the larger picture of scripture and God’s plan for the universe.

As noted, there is a lot packed in there and a lot you can, and should, debate.  But for now, a few thoughts …

I think the aspect that McKnight is absolutely right on is the plan of salvation focus on current evangelicalism.  This is exactly the environment I grew up in: one focused on making a decision about personal salvation.  Not that there wasn’t an attempt to connect the Old and New Testament, or that spiritual growth beyond salvation wasn’t discussed, but that the gospel was very much seen as personal salvation and the lens through which we saw everything else.  It felt like to me that this was the point.  McKnight calls this focus soterian from the Greek word soteria which we use for salvation.

For McKnight the Gospel is the story of Israel being completed in the story of Jesus who is the Messiah King. This is the Apostolic Gospel and the Gospel Jesus preached. If we lose our focus on this larger story and the context it provides we end up with an individualistic “get saved to avoid hell” type gospel not one focused on the larger Kingdom of God; of how God is writing our story even now.

McKnight presents this very well and uses stories from students and the perspectives of some pastors to highlight how this view has come to dominate. He then outlines how 1 Corinthians 15 is the Apostolic Gospel and the earliest form of the Gospel in the church.  From this start he outlines what this means and how we lost our way.  He then goes on to explore whether Jesus preached the Gospel. Peter’s perspective on the Gospel and how we approach evangelicalism and the Gospel today.

I really feel like I need to read this again to get a strong grasp on the argument and the deeper issues involved.  But the one thing that I absolutely agree with McKnight about and belive deserves to be highlighted is how the big story of the Gospel is so often lost today – the way the plan of salvation approach leaves out the wider lens of God’s action and plan for all of creation – and how the content and style that results from this mindset fails to develop disciples and build communities.

Scott McKnight has down us a valuable service looking at a central aspect of our faith, clearing away the cultural, theological and historical ruble and forcing us to think in a fresh way about what we mean when we talk about the Gospel.

The King Jesus Gospel is a challenging but necessary and, in many ways, refreshing book.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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