King Jesus Gospel: Part One

Part of a week-long discussion of The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited by Scot McKnight

The first thing that I recognized when diving into my friend, Scot’s, book, is that this is a book written by and evangelical, for evangelicals.

I’ve got a tortured relationship with evangelicalism.  It’s a love-hate thing.  I love the zeal and fervency with which evangelicals practice their Christianity.  I hate that the flip side of their zeal leads them to exclude persons, like me, who are not perfectly orthodox, in their view.

Scot does not so much hate his fellow evangelicals as he is peeved at them.  They have, in his estimation, forsaken the full-orbed gospel and instead taken up an undue focus on salvation.  His compatriots are not “evangelicals” so much as they are “soterians,” Scot charges, using the Greek word for salvation as an appellation.  Salvation does not equate with the gospel, he writes, “Salvation flows from the gospel.” (p. 51)

What Scot doesn’t do, and what I bet that a lot of this blog’s readers have an opinion on, is why have evangelicals allowed questions of salvation to become the entirety of the gospel? And further, why did those of us who were reared in mainline churches not fall into that trap?

As Scot ably and amply notes, this is becoming a meme in evangelicalism — at least, in what I call the “evangelical intelligentsia.”  NT Wright, Dallas Willard (both of whom wrote forewords), Darrell Bock, and others have all taken their tribe to task for focusing on heaven and hell at the expense of the many other aspects of the gospel.  Scot piles on with his own take…a take that I will begin to explore tomorrow.

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  • I am excited to read your upcoming review. This is a book that has been on my radar ever since that awfully awkward promo video.

    Scot is a character that I am frequently perplexed by. I often like what he is up to but not how he goes about it. (that may have to do with the Evangelical background I have emerged from being too close to his agenda).

    I am looking forward to following along. -Bo

    • Bo: Ditto on the video; ditto on the frequent perplexity with Scot.

  • Hey man,

    As a recovering (post?) evangelical, I really liked it. I blogged about it last week –

  • Lock

    “And further, why did those of us who were reared in mainline churches not fall into that trap?” Because you are so awesome and cool. If others where that awesome and cool they would not have fallen.

    Someone can easily take your tribe to town on “social justice” Tony.

  • Joe


    I’m excited to see you starting this series. It’s great timing for me since I just started reading this book and am trying to blog my way through it as well. I’m interested in Scot’s book particularly because of your first observation—that it’s by an evangelical for evangelicals.

    As someone who’s come to the emergent conversation from an evangelical background and have worked in (and still belong to) a fairly traditional evangelical church community, I’m hoping to find some interesting inroads that could help me in theological discussions with my more conservative evangelical friends without expecting them to immediately “get” where I’m coming from after a decades-long personal journey. Maybe wishful thinking, but I bet there’s something that can be learned.

    Looking forward to your reflections.

  • Kenton

    Why have evangelicals allowed questions of salvation to become the entirety of the gospel? Because those that yelled the loudest (think preachers on radio/TV) were those that equated salvation with the gospel. Mainliners didn’t fall into that trap because they don’t yell a lot.

    Looking forward to your review, Tony. I almost read KJG, but got started in N T Wright’s Simply Jesus instead. I think they might be saying the same things. (Would love to know if that’s what other people think.)

  • At your suggestion, I’ve been reading through this book, and yeesh. McKnight’s approach is muddy, slow, and rather perplexing. First of all, I’m not sure that things are quite as bad in evangelicalism (or possibly all of Christendom?) as he says. Second, I’m not sure that he really provides an adequate way to apply the insight that we need to be about the Story of Israel/Jesus and confess Jesus as Lord over and above Saviour. Because he’s an evangelical he can never get away from sin/salvation/etc. The effect is that he seems only to be tweaking things even while he promises his as a more radical revision. I haven’t finished the last chapter yet, and maybe he takes care of things there…but I’m a little skeptical.

    Why have evangelicals become so much about salvation? McKnight ties it to a bastardization of Reformation (especially Luther’s) thought, as if we’ve all interiorized the Turmerlebnis and live it rather obsessive-compulsively. Bring this together Enlightenment rationality, a move towards Arminian revivalism, Wesleyan introspection, and an Anabaptist understanding of baptism, and there we are. A very “modern” approach…which makes it fitting, I suppose, that our post-whatever world is reevaluating it.

    I blogged on this today ( and will as well on Wednesday and possibly Friday.

    • Thanks, Joshua. And thanks for the link to your post. I’m glad to have you reading it along with me.

      Coming later this week from me: my discomfort with evangelicals’ Israel-ophilia.

  • Justin F

    I haven’t read the book, but here’s my theory on why personal salvation has replaced the gospel. In America we don’t fear direct attack on our country by invading armies. We don’t cry out for justice, we sue. I, like most Americans, have never gone hungry. Most Americans have health insurance. We have technology, and we have toys, and we have cars, and we have internet. And we Americans are literate and most have high school diplomas or better.

    But then we read the bible, and we read that Jesus has come to save us. From what? It must be this original sin problem. And so we emphasize the sin, and minimize the secondary or “earthly” problems. Obviously these aren’t the “real” problem, and they aren’t true for us so that must be a universal truth. And with that move, the gospel is now relevant to us. And as an added bonus, we don’t have to change our lifestyle. (Nevermind that when many in 3rd world countries pray for salvation, they are praying for salvation FROM the oppression of the western world)

  • I thought that Scot tried to answer the “why” question in his historical review of the creeds & the Reformation. What am I missing?

    • Yes, Jamie, I suppose he did. But I’ll get to my problem with that in my “Quibbles” post later this week…

  • joe carson

    because people have such fear of death – evangelicals, overall, want as much medical resources for end of life care as everyone else. Fear of hell persuades many to sit in pews and being a soterian its an easy to understand narrative.

    Plus you get to play “rescuer” – saving people from eternal hellfire – quite an ego trip.

    Plus you can readily prop up the powers that be and be their useful idiot, cause the powers that be keep score on planet earth and by being in the 1%, so the salvation story becomes an “opiate for the 99%.