King Jesus Gospel: Part Four

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

Tomorrow, I’ll polish off my series on this book with a substantive post on Scot’s thesis, and whether I buy it.  But for today, I’ve got some nits to pick.  Forgive me, but I’m a booky person, and I’m also a quibbler, so there are some things about this (and every) book that bug me.  And Scot has privately assured me that my quibbles will not affect our friendship.

That being said…

1) This book needed a better edit.  I say that because it could be tighter.  For example, Scot spends too much time backing away from conclusions before he even makes them.  He’s critical of Luther and Calvin, and fairly so, but he tells us way too many times how much he appreciates and respects them.  Every criticism, it seems, is prefaced with a caveat.

2) Dallas Williard is not a pastor.  Scot refers to “Pastor Dallas” and “Pastor Tom” (NT Wright).  These guys are not pastors.  Neither is Scot, and neither am I.  A pastor is someone who pastors a church.  You can be a “Reverend” and not a pastor, but you can’t be a “pastor” unless you lead a congregation.

3) Where are the feminist voices? Scot has a mastery of New Testament scholarship…to a point.  NT Wright, Darrell Bock, FF Bruce, IH Marshall, RN Longnecker, even John Piper are quoted, some at length.  There’s even a passing reference to Justo González in the last chapter.  But, in an effort to get to the core of what the gospel really is, Scot neglects the many, powerful feminist biblical scholars of the last half century.  This will be a deal-breaker for some readers.

4) “I” and “We” – I’ve had this debate with Scot before.  The use of the academic “we” is awkward, and it doesn’t work at all in this book because in one paragraph, Scot says “we,” and in the next, he says “I.”  For example, Scot begins chapter six by writing sentences like this:

  • “…we have been given a whole new angle…”
  • “…once we do show the relation of gospel and salvation…”
  • “…which we sketched in what we said about…”
  • “…we suddenly discover that…”
  • “So our conclusion is that…”

But, by the second paragraph of this chapter, he writes:

  • “I suggest this gets…”
  • “The gospel, I am arguing, is…”
  • Etc.

The vast majority of the book is in the first person singular.  That’s because it’s actually a very personal book, which I appreciate.  Toward the end, Scot even admits that when he wrote a book for which I served as the general editor, he was not yet able to articulate how much he was breaking from the traditional evangelical (aka, soterian) version of the gospel.  I appreciate this personal aspect of the book.

And I also submit to Scot and to all academics, the “academic first person plural” is not only awkward but, as Scot found in this book, unsustainable over an entire work.

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  • SuperStar

    Yes, these are nits to pick. Scot’s style has always had a goal of bridge-building whenever possible, so it’s not unusual for him to have caveats throughout his criticisms. Dallas and Tom have been actual pastors of churches or entire dioceses and continue to be pastoral in their daily lives, so stop being such a “literalist” when it comes to pastor. Many of us are “pastors” without actually leading a specific congregation. While I think there are certainly scholarly or pastoral women who can be heard on this subject, don’t get hung up on what you feel is neglect. I look forward to seeing your substantive post on Friday.

    • It is a completely valid criticism to say that there are no female voices, with the exception of Fleming Rutledge, in the entire book.

      And no, Dallas Willard has not, to my knowledge, ever pastored a congregation. He is a philosopher of the highest rank. But a pastor, he is not.

      And sorry, SuperStar, but if you don’t lead a congregation, then you’re not a pastor. Likewise, if you don’t live in or hail from Minnesota, then you’re not a Minnesotan. That’s the definition of the word.

      • SuperStar

        I don’t agree with you on the term pastor and I think you are too bound by ecclesiastical and institutional definitions. I think you can make a good case for the gift of “pastoring” from Scripture without being a singular pastor of a congregation. In fact, elders of congregations should be pastors and there were lots of those in Scripture. I believe Dallas Willard has been a pastor in one or more Baptists congregations in his earlier years. And his work with Renovare and his personal work as a spiritual director in people’s lives easily qualify him as a pastor. And I don’t think the reason there are no feminist quotes is because his preferred audience would write him off. Scot’s support of women in ministry and in scholarship is well-documented. But you make a good point that is helpful.

  • The use of pastor was more of a literary device in the book and, while not entirely accurate, did not detract from the message (for me). Willard & Wright as certainly pastoral if not pastors.

  • While I agree there was an unfortunate lack of female voices in the book, I wonder if that was a calculated choice, given those he most wanted to convince are often those who would not hear/respect female voices. Just a thought.

    • I wondered that myself, Jamie. The inclusion of one feminist quote in the book would have likely meant that Scot’s preferred audience would write this book — and him — off.

      Nevertheless, it’s a gaping absence.

  • Tony,
    the feminist voices you refer to hardly have a stake in the argument of this book. The argument is over against a soterian gospel. Furthermore, it wasn’t an academic review, it was short, brief, targeted book aimed at a specific group. Don’t you think then this was a forced editorial necessity?
    Of course … the soterian gospel has made it possible to write off feminine voices, the brokeness of gender relations, and the oppression of women int he church as irrelevant to the gospel. A small treatment of this in the book would have been helpful. Nonetheless, McKnight’s credentials on arguing for inclusiveness of women in church authority structures are impeccable …
    so I think your criticism on this point is a bit off

    • Yes, Scot is a vocal advocate of women in ministry. In fact, today he releases a short ebook on the topic.

      Nevertheless, the feminist critique of soterianism is devastating. It would have helped his argument.

      • rob

        Can you provide some good reading on the topic, specifically a feminist critique of soterianism?

  • Tony,

    Thanks for this series as I am working through Scot’s book as well. I find your posts helpful dialogue and I too found some of the things you said to be disconcerting. About the “pastor” issue…I wonder, SuperStar, if it would be helpful to look at how the term(s) is used in the New Testament. It seems from 1 Timothy 3 (“overseers”) and others that the term (multiples terms) for pastor was usually linked to a specific congregational setting. Furthermore, the early church fathers who were bishops usually were linked to a specific church context (e.g. Clement of Alexandria; . Correct me on this Tony?

    About the women issue. I agree with David Fitch in that McKnight did argue for the inclusiveness of women (Blue Parakeet) but I also agree with Tony in that other voices might help the issue. While the “gospel” might not change from women to men it might change in how it has liberated women and their perspective from that. Perhaps even some dialogue with people like James Cone and others might have helped define gospel as well? What do you think Tony?

    • Yes, Robbie, I think that marginalized voices would have bolstered Scot’s argument. It’s a blind spot in evangelical biblical studies, and he has the opportunity to correct that.