Trevin Wax has just reviewed Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel and has offered a thorough interaction with this creative book (with a great cover-design, I must say). After registering a number of agreements with McKnight, Trevin suggests several shortcomings. One of these involves the way McKnight conceives the story of Scripture. I’ll quote Wax at length, as this section is excellent.
The heart of my differences with Scot’s proposal is not in defining the word “gospel.” It’s not in the gospel announcement’s need for the Story. It’s in the way we read that Story. There’s the rub. The reason I think it’s ultimately unhelpful to distinguish between a story gospel and a soterian gospel is because I think the story is soterian, that is, the grand narrative of Scripture is telling us about God’s glory in saving sinners through the cross and resurrection of His Son. The heart of Israel’s story is hope for salvation delivered by the coming Messiah-King.
When I read the Old Testament narrative, I can’t get through the Pentateuch and not tremble at the thought of standing before God without an animal sacrifice. I can’t read the story of Judges without shuddering at the pervasiveness of sin and the need for a Messiah-King. I can’t read Isaiah and not recognize my need for a righteousness that comes from outside myself.
Scot reads the announcement of 1 Corinthians 15 and wants to emphasize that Jesus is Messiah and Lord. I see the announcement of 1 Corinthians 15 as the gospel presentation by which we are being saved. The big story that the Bible is telling is a story of salvation – its promise and provision through the coming kingdom of a crucified Messiah. And this is why pitting the Old Testament storyline against atonement theology makes little sense to me. It’s not just that I view the gospel as a soterian. I view the story that way as well.
This point is dead-on. There’s a lot of talk about preaching the “story” of Christ as opposed to “personal conversionism” and that sort of thing. But look at the OT and what does one find in the story of Israel? Salvific act after salvific act after salvific act. Surely this is not the only matter unfolding in the OT, but it is in my reading of it most definitely the core. In other words, you cannot separate God’s saving work and the history God authors. As Ricky Gervais would say, “Not possible.”
I would say in conclusion that McKnight is clearly onto something in his book. He is attempting, as I understand him, to bring together the kingship and messiahship of Christ. That is a laudable task. Accordingly, he is seeking to unite two models of the atonement: Christus Victor, the victory of Christ over the forces of darkness executed at the cross, and penal substitution. Without going into an engagement with McKnight’s program, I would say that this is a vital project, one that I’m encouraged to see a number of scholars and doctoral students taking up. Because of various pressures, evangelicals of the recent past were tempted to emphasize just one model of the atonement, viewing others as “liberal.” I understand why they did this, but it’s great to see the models cohering in our day, as they should–with penal substitution very much at the core.
My friend Jeremy Treat, a Wheaton PhD student under Kevin Vanhoozer, fellow SAET member, and one of the brightest young theologians out there, is doing work in this area, and I can’t wait to read it. During my time at TEDS, I wrote a paper for theologian Graham Cole’s atonement class on Carl Henry and his view of the atonement. Unbeknownst to practically anyone, Henry did his own blending of atonement “models,” fusing penal substitution with the moral influence theory. Evangelicals stand to benefit from much more of this kind of creative, biblically grounded theological work.