Scot McKnight’s “The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited” makes a clear case that our near total equivocation of the term “the Gospel” with a “personal plan of salvation” is a bad case of mistaken identity, witnessed as it were, by the fact that we style ourselves “evangelicals” when our salvation emphasis deems it more appropriate to title ourselves “soterians.” Point well taken. His analysis appears to be confirmed by the evidence he sets forth, namely, that “evangelism today is obsessed with getting someone to make a decision; [while] the apostles, however, were obsessed with making disciples”.
McKnight’s book thus sets out to re-ask the basic question “What is the Gospel”? In order to accomplish this task, McKnight combs through Scripture and executes a sound-but-to-the-point exegesis on relevant passages such as 1 Corinthians 15 and the various sermons throughout Acts; time and time again we end up with the same conclusion: the Gospel is the story of the crucified and resurrected King/Messiah Jesus as the unsuspected finale of the troubled Story of Israel now set back on course to be consummated at the Parousia. However, to those who might suspect foul play with regards to our salvation, McKnight makes explicit “Salvation—the robust salvation of God—is the intended result of the Gospel story about Jesus Christ that completes the story of Israel in the Old Testament.” Bravo McKnight, bravo.
I was delighted when I turned to chapter 5, “How did Salvation take over the Gospel,” McKnight’s historical synopsis of how Evangelicalism arrived at this narrowed vision of the Gospel, as writers often fail to back their sweeping claims with historical investigation. After all, if we make a wrong turn, we should pull out the map and begin retracing our steps. Those steps lead us back to the Reformation and its subsequent confessions, which tended to de-storify the Gospel and reframe it within soteriological terms. If this wasn’t enough, I became overjoyed when, in chapter 7, McKnight addressed the question of whether or not Jesus himself preached the Gospel, as some quarters, rather naively, believe it to be a negative since the phrase sola fide is not in their red-letter editions. However, if the Gospel is first and foremost about Jesus, and Jesus’ Gospel message is centered in himself, then there is no reason to postulate that Paul and Jesus weren’t on the same page.
My only disagreement with McKnight’s book was his reservation on the counter-imperial edge of the New Testament stating, “I’m not convinced the anti-imperial theme was as conscious as some are suggesting.” Nonetheless, even if the anti-imperial resonance is muddled for us two-thousand years later, it is doubtful that the implications weren’t clear to the apostles heralding the Gospel of Jesus in the face a ubiquitous imperial cult with Emperor’s coins in their pockets. I only have to say, “Jesus is president” in our own context and people quite naturally know the implication is “And Obama is not”. Moreover, I noticed McKnight didn’t even take into consideration Philippians and Revelation, two documents that should be allowed to weigh in when we draw a conclusion on the anti-imperial theme in Scripture. Of course, this discussion was only several pages long and has no bearing on the main thesis in general. Finally, if Jesus and Paul do in fact preach one and the same Gospel, I would have assumed that the question of how Jesus’ embodiment of the reign of God through healing, compassion, and justice played a vital role in the heralding of his royal message and how these should be combined with our Gospel preaching today, perhaps we will have to wait for a second volume?
In conclusion, what McKnight has provided in The King Jesus Gospel is a clarion call for those who call themselves “evangelicals” to do just that, herald that Israel’s story as contained in the Scriptures is brought to its intended conclusion in the story of the crucified and resurrected King Jesus whose reign will entail the salvation of all who trust in him. Likewise, if this book is allowed to expand our vision of the Gospel, and that includes the call and command to discipleship, we may finally witness in full glory the transformative power contained within this message of the King to change our lives from top to bottom. This book is on my current top ten, and I suggest you make room for it in yours.
Lawrence is the Senior Teaching-Pastor of Academia Church in Goodyear, Arizona. He is a pastor devoted to the educational growth of his congregants, and the raising up of a new generation of disciples, who will think, tell, and live out the Christian story. Lawrence is currently attending Liberty University.