When I was in seminary, there were two or three books that totally transformed how I understood the Bible and theology. One of them is N.T. Wright’s, What Saint Paul Really Said (1997). That book introduced to me a view of what the “gospel” is that took my breath away. To think, the gospel is not about “me and my salvation,” but something much grander and that was in continuity with the story of Israel! That was news to me. Good news!
Well, I would say, what Wright did in biblically defining “gospel” in view of Paul, Scot McKnight has set out to do keeping in the forefront of the discussion especially the Gospels and Acts. (McKnight does draw from 1 Cor 15 a good bit, but the stimulus for his work, as I understand, came from the conviction that we can learn about “gospeling” from the sermons in Acts, something we rarely ever think to do.)
McKnight is different than Wright in style and to some degree in audience. But, they share the same basic vision of connecting Old and New Testament, heaven and earth, and “evangelism” and “discipleship.” If these were movies, The King Jesus Gospel (in my mind) would be a “re-make” of What Saint Paul Really Said. I mean that in a good way, because McKnight brings all sorts of new themes and ideas (esp from the Gospels and Acts) to bear on this issue, but you can sense he is running along the same path.
You can see that McKnight is not, first and foremost, driven by a desire to get the Bible “right” per se. He is driven by a concern that the gospel is really worthless in the petty form it is being proclaimed as by many Christians. “If the gospel isn’t about transformation, it isn’t the gospel of the Bible” (26). That is what McKnight is after. What we tend to pitch as the “gospel” is really all about personal “salvation.” He calls such salvation-promoters soterians – “we have created a ‘salvation culture’ and mistakenly assumed it is a ‘gospel culture’” (29).
The “gospel” is not really about saving individuals from their sin, but “the resolution of a story-problem, namely, Israel’s story in search of a Messiah-solution” (36). It had always frustrated me that “sharing the gospel” really had only to do with a few bits of the Bible, as I was taught various methods of evangelism. From the OT, all you really needed to show was Genesis 1-3 – humans were created good, and then they sinned. FAST FORWARD TO JESUS.
Also, even in the NT, you didn’t need to know anything about the person of Jesus except he was sinless. As God-man, sinless, but identifying with us, he saved us from our sins. Accept him (whatever that means), and you get to spend eternity with him. Somehow, this method seemed somewhat arbitrary and uninvolved on my end – like when you get a spam email promising you a free laptop or XBOX 360 or whatever just for “clicking” something. Is that what Christianity is about? A “click” of faith connected with some random website called “Jesus the God-man who makes the bad things go away”?
McKnight reminds us the gospel, as the disciples and apostles of the NT preach it, is not (only) about Jesus the Savior, but first and foremost about Jesus the King (or “Messiah”). He explains that King Jesus, as preached in Acts, calls not just for “faith,” but repentance and baptism as well (see 127). So, “God’s people rely on and trust in God, and such a trusting relationship generates a life of obedience, holiness, and love” (128). There’s more: “Initial faith and discipleship…are two dimensions of the same response” (128).
There are some major implications if we understand the full scope of the story of Jesus and the gospel that covers the whole of Scripture. One is that God’s plan involves this world: “If kingdom is the solution, the problem was about the search for God’s kingdom on earth and the problem was the absence of God’s kingdom on earth” (137). This is not just about being recipients of God’s salvific blessings, but becoming restored Eikons (in McKnight’s parlance) who take up their “co-mediating and co-ruling tasks under our Lord Jesus.” Can you see how redemptive this gospel of King Jesus can be, not only for a personal and corporate sense of identity and security, but also for vocation and mission?
Personally, I heard that this was a provocative book, but I think it is right on the money. McKnight continues to challenge the church, especially evangelicals, to think bigger and broader and more biblically (!) about the gospel. Is our gospel first and foremost about salvation (and therefore about “me”), or is it eminently about King Jesus? Take and read!