Sep 23, 2011

Thoughts on McKnight's The King Jesus Gospel

Like a number of other bloggers, I have been invited to participate in the blog tour of Scot McKnight’s recent book The King Jesus Gospel subtitled The Original Good News Revisited. This book has received strong affirmations from the likes of N. T. Wright and Dallas Willard.

There are a number of main points in this book that I am glad to affirm. I affirm the idea that the subject of the book is of primary importance, namely, the gospel itself. McKnight’s contention is that many Evangelicals have a simplistic or reductionistic view of the gospel that sees the gospel as solely being the plan of salvation or the method of salvation. To that end, I believe that McKnight is largely correct. McKnight, I also believe rightly suggests that whatever the gospel is must be defined by the Scriptures. I also affirm, as McKnight does, that we should not talk about gospels (plural) but of the gospel (singular) (pp. 81–3). McKnight is surely correct that there is no gospel that does not have the story of Jesus at its center (p. 82).

That being said, I have real questions about McKnight’s definition of the gospel as “the story of Jesus as the completion of Israel’s story.” I am not sure that this definition does not betray some of the same overly-reductionistic thinking that McKnight challenges. For example, I am not convinced that equating the Bible with Israel’s story (35–6) is not a bit simplistic. If anything, I think it would be better to think of the Bible as God’s story which is told in part through Israel. But to be fair, I suspect that McKnight must equate the Bible in general, and the Old Testament in particular, with “Israel’s story” because passages such as 1 Corinthians 15 do not explicitly tie the gospel to Israel or Israel’s story (the same point could be made in McKnight’s discussion of the creeds in chp. 5). Instead, what you have in 1 Corinthians 15 is the twice-stated assertion “according to the Scriptures” (vv. 15:3, 4). While we are in 1 Corinthians 15, I find at least one aspect of McKnight’s discussion on this passage puzzling. He writes, “the gospel is the story of the crucial events in the life of Jesus Christ” (49, repeated on 50). The problem is that 1 Corinthians 15:3–8 only mentions four events (Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and resurrection appearances). So I wonder whether what McKnight means by “crucial events” is only the death, burial, and resurrection, and resurrection appearances of Jesus. Or to put it more bluntly is Jesus’ life and ministry part of the gospel, if so, how so? If not, why not? There also appears to be a major lacuna in the discussion since McKnight does not really address what he means by “Israel.” Since “Israel” is such a key component of the discussion, I would have expected that this much debated issue would need to be defined. Similarly, I wonder a bit about what McKnight means by “completion.” There are hints here and there, e.g., “This Jesus is the one who saves Israel from its sins and one who rescues humans from its imprisonments” (37), but since McKnight seems to distance himself somewhat from the salvation sense of the gospel I have to think that he means something more by “completion.”

One additional concern I have is more ministerial in nature. It is that, McKnight seems to argue so forcefully for a robust, well-rounded, and biblically informed gospel that he seems to imply that anyone who shares less than “the story of Jesus as the completion of Israel’s story” is sharing something less than the gospel. I wonder here whether McKnight has made the opposite error from the one he condemns earlier in which he rightly criticizes the over-emphasis of decision-making versus discipleship. That is, he might be placing too much emphasis on front-loading a gospel presentation with content that better belongs as part of the ongoing discipling process.

In summation, I think that McKnight has served the church by bringing this discussion to the fore and that his concerns and criticisms are in many cases valid. But on the whole I remain skeptical of significant aspects of his arguments and thus, his conclusions.

Zondervan provided a free review copy of this book. 

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