Guest Book Review: The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight (Lawrence Garcia)

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.

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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.

  • David

    A wonderful read indeed, Mr. Garcia.  I can simply add that I find myself in fundamental agreement with the thrust of McKnight’s work and your commentary. One need only consume the content of what is understood to be the gist of Christianity, be it from Christian friends on facebook, popular books and music, along with preaching and conversation on television and radio, to realize that the premise in regards to the salvation culture of the church is very much bent towards the cultivation of a private spirituality. Reflection on my own life and theological journey dovetails quite well with the quotes and pastoral contrasts that McKnight peppers throughout his tightly constructed book. If one is to take the content of the New Testament seriously, which requires taking seriously the content of the Hebrew Scriptures so as to be able to locate the story of Jesus in relation to the story of Israel, one would be hard-pressed to find an emphasis on private spirituality. The Gospel, as McKnight insists, is far more expansive, as it, as suggested by the title of the book, is a message about a King and His kingdom. The focus that has been given to a personal salvation experience, accelerated by the Reformation (understanding that the Reformation was a reaction against an authoritarian and domineering church, so it’s understandable that the pendulum, both during the Reformation and in its wake, swung so far away from anything resembling structure, eventually landing the church world into an enlightenment morass and its attendant default settings in regards to the sacred and the profane from which it just now escaping), would make the church and its “gospel” message nearly unrecognizable to the first purveyors of the Gospel (Jesus and His disciples). It is incumbent upon Christians to re-grasp the original message of the Gospel, which is that Jesus is King, that His rule is ongoing, and that His rule extends to every area of life. When the implications of this statement are understood, it changes everything. In fact, it already changed everything. The church, unfortunately, has allowed the change that the Gospel brought to the world to slip away, and it is high time for a new generation of Christians, freed from enlightenment categories and the dictates of private pietism, casting off dichotomies of heaven and hell and an unfortunate fixation on “what happens when you die,” to re-enact and then re-proclaim (purposely putting the deed before the word) the message to which all of Scripture points.

  • http://thewholedangthing.wordpress.com Ben Emerson

    I am very excited to read this book.

  • http://covenantoflove.net Derek

    Good review Lawrence.

    I should point out that in reference to this statement: ” 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.” To be fair I think McKnight would agree with you, particularly because you use the term “implication”; McKnight believes that an anti-imperial polemic could have been “implied” by proclaiming Jesus, the Messiah. In other words, people may have heard an anti-imperial polemic when Paul and Matthew and the rest announced the gospel, but that is not the same thing as saying that the New Testament writers consciously wrote the gospel in a way as to be anti-imperial.  Scot would say yes to the first and no to the second.

    • Lawrence G

      Derek, I had read your review and Scot’s response after I sent my review to Kurt, and knew I was gonna be addressed exactly at this point. McKnight is certainly nuanced at this point, and seems to note that the implication was clear only without the conscious determination to do so. So on the one hand your response helps to clarify Scot’s stance, but on the other I think Romans 1 is chalk full of counter imperial claims, as is Philippians, Revelation. With this evidence in hand I suggest they were not only conscious of the implications but determined to subvert the claims of the empire. Derek where do you stand on this, after McKnight’s clarification?

      • http://covenantoflove.net Derek

        In spite of Scot’s view (which I respect because he doesn’t reject the imperial connection, just denying it’s explicitness) I still maintain with Wright and yourself that the imperial connection is explicit. BUT(!) this is a view I have always taken for granted and am open to correction. Scot told me that he is currently a part of a “project right now on examining the so-called anti-empire hypothesis, and our book [with Joe Modica] will at least slow some folks down.” I’m looking forward to reading that one.

  • Spiristfire7

    Great read!  I was enthusid about the reshaping evangelism throughtout the book his emphasis on returning to a Complete Gospel; the gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ it Israel’s story and the fullfillment of Israel’s story and promises which has reached its resolution in Jesus Christ.  Jesus preached the gospel and the apostles preached the gospel centered in Christ and unfolding in evangelism and right through to the coming kingdom found in I Cor 15.  Great tools to encourage Christians to preach a Gospel patterned from the books of Acts creating a gospel culture it is a necessity for people to tell the complete Gospel (that Jesus is Lord)in order for disciples to be made.   I enjoyed the book I looked forward to another book from McKnight soon!

  • http://www.facebook.com/damian.calderon2 Damian Calderon

    I often try to read everything with an open mind always wanting to learn more and come to a better in my own growth and understanding of the Bible and the Gospel in my years as a missionary I never felt in my Heart that you bring someone to make a decision right a way.  However through growth in the word and by example people come to receive what we believe in the Bible and Gods word. I’ve sat with share croppers, field workers and yes with doctors of education the simplest form of presenting the gospel is through our lives.  If we are ourselves do not know the difference between preaching and raising disciples there is a huge difference we cannot change a community or culture over night it takes time and acts of human kindness replacing an old life style with a new one reading books such as this one will challenge one to thing and learn how to make disciples and not just preach… we need to  realize that the salvation message to cultures of the church is very much harmful towards the cultivation of communities and  one’s spirituality of growth in God’s word and true intention of Gods kingdom


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