King Jesus Gospel: Part Two

King Jesus Gospel: Part Two November 29, 2011

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

I remember distinctly when Doug Pagitt first said it to me: “The gospel can’t be Jesus’ death and resurrection,” Doug said, “Because then Jesus could not have preached the gospel.”  I’d actually never thought about it like that before, but it made perfect sense.  (Doug wrote about that in A Christianity Worth Believing.)

I also remember, as I became more familiar with evangelicalism through Cru (neé Campus Crusade) and Fuller Seminary, that evangelicals saw the life and works of Jesus primarily through the eyes of Paul.  In fact, a few years back, when the Emergent Village Theological Conversation was held in Kansas City around the topic of Pauline theology, I suggested the title, “Beyond Paulophilia and Paulophobia.”  It seemed to me that emergents suffered from the former latter and evangelicals from the latter former.  (Older mainliners usually just ignore Paul.)

Scot McKnight sees the same problem in evangelicalism, and he sets out to right that wrong.  By doing something that I find rather confounding: Using Paul to define the gospel.  The gospel is summed up most completely, Scot writes, in 1 Corninthians 15.  This, he argues convincingly, is the passage that serves as the genesis for the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, centuries later.

I was pleased to learn from Scot, on p. 48, that “gospel” is a verb as well as a noun in Greek: “The gospel, [Paul] says, is the ‘good news that I proclaimed.’ The Greek says it in a way that deserves notice: to euangelion ho euangelisamen — or, ‘the gospel I gospeled.'”

That being said, one has to wonder why Scot using Paul as his entrée into the gospel.  Why not start with Jesus? It may be an effort to ease his evangelical brethren into his argument — a literary move — which I understand.

Or, it may be a theological move.  If so, that’s not so appealing to me.

For those of you reading along with me, what say you?

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  • Even a post-resurrected Jesus speaks very little (as in none) of an escapist view (heaven-bound) gospel, but rather, a gospel of good news that revolves around the present, the future-thinking, heaven crashing into earth. The “kingdom now” message is His good news. The Dali paintings of a downward view onto the earth (i think) exposes a truth of Jesus’ good news. It’s now. It’s already here. It was promised long ago. It is me. It is you. It never is in escape.

    My 2 cents.

  • Matt

    Since most of Paul’s works (if not all) pre-date the Gospels, I think we need to avoid creating a dichotomy between the words of Paul and the “words of Jesus” in the Gospels (especially since Paul’s works pre-date the gospels, he may more closely reflect the original source material).

    • rob

      Well, if we want to follow that to it’s logical conclusion, do we not have to re-think a literal resurrection? When Paul talks about the appearances of Jesus in that passage, and ends it with “last of all He appeared to me”, HOW did Jesus appear to Paul? Was it physically or mystically? I think we see a building legend/story as the Gospel writers, writing after Paul, add more and more to the resurrection story that was first told in 1cor15. It seems to start with a mystical resurrection, and layers upon layers of redaction later we arrive at a physical resurrection.

  • Did Jesus never speak of his death or resurrection? There would be no good news or gospel to preach had Jesus not died and been raised. Seems to me you cannot separate Jesus’ teaching and deeds from his death and resurrection…and being everything else is dependent on his death and resurrection, then yes…that is the good news.

  • Having read (and liked) the book, I’m pretty sure it’s a literary/rhetorical move. It’s all about the audience – if he can convince evangelicals from Paul that the gospel isn’t just ‘the Romans Road’ then the case he builds will be that much stronger when it draws in Jesus, the Gospels and Acts.

    I too love that he highlights the use of ‘gospel’ as a verb as well as a noun – something I’ve preached and blogged about on my site – have a look:

  • Ben Hammond

    “Why not start with Jesus? It may be an effort to ease his evangelical brethren into his argument.”

    I think that’s the one.

    I was in a class that he taught near the end point of finishing this book a year ago. The quote above is the reason he gave upon being asked the same question by another student, “I’m starting with Paul because they start with Paul.”

  • Michael Dise

    I like what N.T. Wright says in Surprised by Hope about how Jesus’ Resurrection was a guarantee of our future resurrection, the beginning of the new creation, and the arrival of the here/not yet Kingdom. I think this shows how Paul was actually reaffirming Jesus’ good news about the kingdom of God, because for him, it arrived through the New Covenant introduced Jesus’ death and resurrection.

  • Why start with Paul? It is possible that McKnight, as a NT scholar aware that the Pauline writings (especially 1 Corinthians) were the earlier Christian writing might simply think to start there. You’re right that he very convincingly builds the case that the great creeds of the Church flow from 1 Corinthians 15.

    The gospels, and everything else in the NT, therefore postdate the germinal creed he draws from Paul. I can see why he might start there, but I still don’t like it. Looking to Paul as historically primary almost tips the hat to the fact that we can’t rely on the gospels as much as Paul. And I’m not on that boat.

    Pragmatically, it is probably easier for him to start with a more clearly defined list of theological principles ala Paul than have to intuit a lot of things from the actions and various teachings of Jesus. The question then is, of course, is he reinterpreting Jesus through Paul? This goes against my often stated hermeneutic, even if I am likely guilty of doing so in practice from time to time.

    But what about the gospels? What if we started with a great gospel moment: Luke 4:14-21 and discerned our gospel from there? What about the Sermon on the Mount? What about looking at the earliest gospel-Mark? In that book the very first verse declares that it is “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” What if McKnight did an in-depth study of how THAT played out in Mark to define his gospel? The answer might possibly be different.

  • I remember a conversation with a colleague some years ago similar to yours with Doug Pagitt. He said, “If Jesus says ‘the glad tidings’ is that the kingdom is right around the corner then what has that to do with either Paul’s ‘glad tidings’ or with the modern evangelical idea that the gospel is that ‘Jesus died to save me from my sins so that I could by forgiven and join him in heaven when I die’?”
    The Dispensational answer of course is that Jesus’ kingdom gospel had to be postponed because the kingdom was rejected at that time by the Jews. Hence, Paul’s gospel and ours have no direct connection to Jeremiah’s new covenant or Isaiah’s new heaven and earth, both of which are expressions of the now postponed kingdom. That is why any Christian action other than evengelism, any cultural efforts, any social justice is “flesh work.” Have you ever had anyone tell you it was wrong to make the world better because that stuff just delays the coming of Christ? I have.
    Paul, they point out, rarely uses the term ‘kingdom of God’, the essential framework within which Jesus works and speaks. I believe it is worth noticing how deeply the Dispy reworking of the God-story has infected virtually all western evangelical thinking. We have much to do to extracate ourselves from this confusion.
    To be sure, Paul does not talk much about the kingdom: nine times in the undisputed seven letters and all but one of those uses can easily be said to frame the kingdom as a future inheritance rather than as a present reality. The disputed Pauline books contain but three uses of “basilea” and only the two in Collosians suggest he means the kingdom is concurrent and present rather than distant and future.
    However, if we understand the covert context of the Pauline discourse, the apostle’s reticence to use a term which might get him arrested is understandable. If we draw back from the text to look at the story, I believe we can see Paul as a former Pharisee, one who was all about the coming kingdom and king, who hated “the new way” for proclaiming a disgraced, shamed, executed “meshiah melech”, who suddenly — Damascus Road — came to acknowledge, the one he despised had become “Heaven’s” chief enforcer! If that was true, thought Paul, then the kingdom of God has in fact come into existence! The “meshiah melech” reigns now in power and all other ‘powers and principalities’ are toast!
    It seems to me Paul’s ‘gospel of God’ over-against the Roman gospel of Pax Romana was very much about the same message which Jesus brought, with allowance for the time shift. Jesus said the kingdom was “close at hand” or “in your face” or “very near.” Paul proclaims the anointed one (messiah) (he cannot write Melech or Basileus without blowing his cover) reigns over not just the Jews but over all creation! That glad tiding is why Paul can confidently proclaim freedom in the annointed Jesus to all those who were previously bound by violent covenants to Caesar. He does that until the Romans figure out what he has covertly taught: There is indeed, another king, greater than Caesar (Acts 17:7). And then he dies, guilty of the charge, afforded beheading rather than the shameful death of barbarians because he had been a citizen, albeit a treasonous one.
    Within this telling of the story I see no failure of the kingdom gospel in the writings of Paul; only in our false retelling of the story.

  • Larry Barber

    I suggested the title, “Beyond Paulophilia and Paulophobia.” It seemed to me that emergents suffered from the former, and evangelicals from the latter.

    Huh? I think you got that backwards.

    • You’re right, I did get that backwards.

  • Can’t speak for why Scot starts with Paul, but I think we’re too quickly dismissing that starting point simply as a pragmatic ploy to hook evangelicals. Guys, the Gospels didn’t fall out of the sky on golden tablets. They too are reflections, interpretations, by the writers and were written with the needs of particular early Christian communities in mind. Just like the Epistles!

    They are ALL church establishing documents, written for the strength and health of the young movement. And as several have pointed out, Paul’s documents are earlier than the Gospel texts. And are our earliest blatantly theological reflections on what Paul learned from Jesus Himself, Galatians 1 & 2.

    One other thought. Was Jesus any good at His job? I mean, was He effective as a trainer of men? If He was, then why drive any kind of wedge between the letters of the men He trained, including Paul, and the “red letters” of the Gospel texts? If they are not delivering the same message – granted in different forms and cultural language – then we’re screwed. Or, we’re horrible exegetes.

  • Pingback: Jesus or Paul? « Joshua Ryan Ziefle()

  • A Medrano

    I know, I know. I’m just gonna say what others have said of which I first thought before reading the comments. Paul’s gospel came before the gospel about Jesus. But (!) he’s not using the old framework others have built up on Paul’s work. I mean, isn’t that (theo?)logical?