The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited
We live in a world where the understanding of the gospel has been defined by the traditional model of evangelism in which the focus has been on making decisions rather than allowing people to experience the gospel before submitting to the Lordship of Christ. New Testament Professor, Scot McKnight, takes a brave step in his book, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited, in attempting to recover the true gospel so that the church remains faithful to the gospel.
McKnight’s overarching critique is that Evangelicals have equated the plan of salvation as the whole gospel and that the true gospel has been lost and needs to be recovered. For McKnight, the gospel is more than just a personal conversion experience that takes us to heaven. He agrees with Dallas Willard who says that the gospel of the Kingdom has often been reduced to becoming ‘the gospel of sin management’. Gospel presentations are consumed with the issue of whether is person is in, or out, based on the decision they make. This style of gospel presentation comes out of the Reformation emphasis on personal salvation , something McKnight stresses as necessary yet limiting. The intention of Jesus was not just to generate a salvation culture but a gospel culture that “carried within it the power, the capacity, and the requirement to summon people who want to be ‘in’ to be The Discipled”. The gospel culture is more than just decision-making; it is about discipleship.
McKnight explains that the gospel was “the saving Story of Jesus completing Israel’s Story, and Jesus clearly set himself as the center of God’s saving plan of Israel”. This was clearly the gospel Jesus proclaimed. Paul presented that same gospel in 1 Corinthians 15 where McKnight states that “The gospel of 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 Scripture of the Old Testament”. Peter the gospel is about Jesus being “both Messiah of Israel and Lord of the whole world”. McKnight concludes that salvation comes out of the story about Jesus but “that story is bigger than and framed differently from the Plan-of-Salvation approach to the gospel”.
Integral to the gospel culture is the proclamation of the gospel “summoning people to respond”. McKnight ends suggesting how the church can develop a ‘gospeling’ culture. First we need to develop a more complete presentation of the gospel than just pushing for decisions. Second, there need to be actions that demonstrate the gospel culture. These actions include allowing the biblical story to shape us , immersing ourselves in the story of Jesus, contextualizing the biblical story as a church for a different culture and for a different generation, developing counter stories that go against individualism, consumerism, nationalism, moral relativism, scientific naturalism, new age, postmodern tribalism, and salvation by therapy , and finally embrace the story so that we are transformed by the gospel story . If the church embraces a true gospel culture, it will result in personal transformation by this gospel, leading to “serving others in love and compassion”.
As McKnight watched the development of the church over the years, he became very concerned for the decline of the church in the 21st century. This created within him a desire to see the church recover and express the biblical gospel. This desire became the foundation of his book where he effectively explains that the gospel is not the plan of salvation but the Story of Israel being fulfilled in the Story of Jesus. Even though the Plan of Salvation is important and necessary for salvation, if the plan ignores the gospel message found in the Old Testament Story and fulfilled in the Story of Jesus, it is no longer the Gospel and fails to make disciples but converts.
What I find inspiring about this book is that McKnight challenges the church to stop seeing the gospel as sin management where sinners are persuaded to admit their sin and receive Jesus as Saviour, to challenging people to make Jesus Lord. This declaration that Jesus is Lord, brings a person immediately into conflict with under ‘lords’ in their lives. Having spent 15 years ministering in the church in Asia and 17 years ministering in the church in the west, I have found the church in Asia more passionate about the Lordship of Christ rather than the church in the west. Maybe it is because for a believer in Asia, becoming a disciple has a cost involved; which could mean becoming ostracized and persecuted by family and community.
What I found unclear in the book is the definition of what it means to be ‘the discipled’. Jesus invited people to a discipleship relationship before they made a decision to make Him Lord. The question that seemed to be left unanswered is, at what point does a follower of Jesus become ‘the discipled’? At what point of the journey does the person obey the command to get baptized? Do they commit themselves to baptism when they decide to follow Jesus, or when they place their trust in Jesus as Lord, or when they become ‘the discipled’? It would be good if McKnight had clarified the difference between the ‘discipled’ and ‘the decided’, the ones who have decided to accept Christ’s invitation to follow Him.
Another area needing clarity is with regards to the contextualizing of the Story of Israel to be relevant to the cultures in today’s world. Even though McKnight states that the gospel story in Acts was “driven by the story of Israel” , the reality is that when the gospel was taken into the Gentile world, the gospel had little to do with the story of Israel. When Peter presented the gospel to Cornelius (Acts 10) and when Paul presented the gospel in Lystra (Acts 14) and in Athens (Acts 17), the gospel was contextualized so that people who had no understanding of the story of Israel could understand the story of Jesus.
Finally, McKnight leaves the key evangelical doctrines unanswered in his much-needed recovery of the broader gospel. For example, even though justification is not the gospel, it is an essential result of the gospel. The process of sanctification is another important result of the gospel. McKnight needs to clarify the relationships of these key doctrines within the context of his broader understanding of the gospel.
McKnight’s passion for Evangelicals to live the full gospel by practicing and proclaiming the gospel message is clearly seen in his book. His strong focus to biblical and theological accuracy clearly fulfills his overarching theme for Christ followers to become ‘the discipled’. Overall, I found McKnight’s book very thoughtful as he presents a clear account of how Jesus and the early church understood the gospel and its relationship to Christ.