McKnight, Scot. The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.
(Amazon.comZondervan.com)

This is a timely book. Why? Well, there are many people seeking to define “the Gospel” today. Often they focus upon some aspect of the Gospel or another Christian doctrine to the extent that the Gospel itself is minimized. Other proclaim a Gospel that looks nothing like what we fine Jesus, Peter, or Paul preaching. Some may think there are already too many books on the Gospel being published right now, so what does this book contribute or did the author want to earn a dollar while the subject was an easy sell? I think this book is different and I think McKnight gets right what we must get right— it’s OK if there are disagreements in some of the details.

What is the Gospel? 

McKnight asks a question that most evangelicals think we know. Yet as he shows through case studies we haven’t thought through this very well (see pp. 24-27 or an example here). Often our definition of “the Gospel” makes one wonder what to do with the preaching of Jesus, or the fact that the first four books of the New Testament are called “the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Matthew/Mark/Luke/John”. Sometimes our “Gospel” is conflated with justification by faith. All of this shows that for many evangelicals our “Gospel” may not be the Gospel at all. At best, it is part of the Gospel, or a result of the Gospel, but not the Gospel.

Evangelicals or Soterians?

In Chapter Two “Gospel Culture or Salvation Culture” McKnight (rightly in my opinion) argues that we have conflated the Gospel to be about salvation alone. Some like Trevin Wax (see “Scot McKnight and the ‘King Jesus Gospel’ 2: Points of Concern”) have felt that McKnight’s distinction here could have a negative impact on Gospel proclamation leading to a division between the Gospel and salvation. I understand his concern, but I think McKnight is clear that it is the Gospel that leads to salvation. He is combating a culture that thinks the Gospel is how I get into heaven and out of hell. This makes the Gospel merely a formula about “personal salvation” (what McKnight calls “The Plan of Salvation”). When we realize what he is critiquing it is easier to avoid false conclusions about what he is saying.

The Gospel Story.

McKnight writes, “To set the stage for defining the gospel we need to distinguish four big categories…” (p. 34) (see Jesse Richards fine summary here) These are the categories:

Some of these things are not the Gospel, but we need all of them to understand the Gospel. First, we need the story. If you can define the Gospel without mentioning Abraham, Israel, David, or anything related to the Hebrew Scriptures, you may not have the Gospel!

For McKnight it is Israel’s story that gives context to the life of Christ. It is from the life of Christ that the Gospel become a means to the Plan of Salvation and it is upon all these things that we determine our method of persuasion (or how we “package” the Gospel, p. 41).

The Gospel according to Paul.

For McKnight Paul’s Gospel receive succinct summary in 1 Corinthians 15.1-5, 20-28. In this passage he points out that (1) the gospel is “gospeled” (vv. 1-2); (2) it is a tradition handed from one generation to another; one person to another (vv. 1-5); (3) it is defined as Christ death, burial, resurrection, and appearance; (4) it is grounded in Israel’s Scripture (Paul writes “according to the Scriptures” in vv. 3-4); (5) “salvation flows from the gospel” because “Christ died for our sins” in v. 3 among other observations; (6) Jesus completes Israel’s story; (7) Jesus the Lord, Savior, Son of God, Messiah is the center of the Gospel; and (8) 1 Corinathians 15.28 shows that the Gospel determines the end of all things: resurrection, renewal, judgment (pp. 47-57).

What is important to realize is how Paul focuses upon the aspects of the Gospel that many evangelicals notice (death, burial, and resurrection) but he frames it differently. The events matter because of the person involved. They are about Jesus!

The Gospel and the Gospels.

If we proclaim the Gospel as about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus while focusing on the events rather than the person we will have a hard time answering this question: “Have you ever wondered why the first four books of the New Testament are called ‘the Gospel'”. (p. 79)

McKnight provides direction:

“If you want to read the gospel,
hear the gospel,
or preach the gospel,
read, listen to, and preach the Gospels.”
(p. 80)

According the McKnight the four Gospels are about one Gospel. It is the Gospel according to Matthew, or Mark, or Luke, or John…not the Gospels. What makes the Gospel of the Gospels the same as the Gospel of Paul?

“….the Gospels are about Jesus, they tell the Story of Jesus, and everything in them is about Jesus.” (p. 82)

The Gospel according to Jesus.

Did Jesus preach the Gospel? Well, did Jesus preach himself? If so, he preached the same Gospel of Paul and the Evangelists. While Jesus’ Gospel focuses on the Kingdom of God it also centers the Kingdom on himself and his actions.

The Gospel according to Peter.

Did Peter preach the Gospel? In the Book of Acts there are many “sermons” recorded and these sermons begin with Israel’s story and they climax with Christ. When these sermons contain calls for response to the Gospel it is believe, repent, and be baptized: Believe in Christ, repent and turn to Christ, and be baptized unto Christ.

Gospeling.

What you’ll discover when reading this book is that Jesus is the center of the Gospel. If Paul is preaching about Jesus’ resurrection he is preaching about Jesus. If Peter is preaching about how Jesus fulfills Israel’s hopes he is preaching about Jesus. If Jesus proclaims himself as God’s Kingdom agent he is preaching about Jesus.

To preach the Gospel is to preach Jesus.

According to McKnight the Gospel is (1) “framed by Israel’s Story“; (2) the gospel “centers on the lordship of Jesus“; (3) it “involved summoning people to respond”; (4) “the gospel saves and redeems”. (132-133) To preach the Gospel is to preach Jesus. As McKnight says, “Anyone who can preach the gospel and not make Jesus’ exalted lordship the focal point simply isn’t preaching the apostolic gospel.”

McKnight asks six questions about “gospeling”: (1) What does it accomplish? (2) What frames the Gospel? (3) How does wrath and judgment relate to Gospeling? (4) What problem does the Gospel resolve? (5) How does it relate to “empire”? (6) How it relates to talk about Jesus. In short (1) it brings people to confess Jesus as Messiah and Lord; (2) it is framed by Israel’s story; (3) While “fire-and-brimstone” sermons can’t be found in Acts there is judgment (see Acts 17.29-31); (4) Kingdom, eternal life…..you’ll have to read this part yourself! (5) Yes, the Gospel cuts against Empire, but the Apostles may not have made as big a deal of it as modern scholars; (6) The story of Jesus was essential to the Gospeling of the apostles, it wasn’t just a precursor for his atoning death. (pp. 133-145)

A Gospel Culture.

In the last chapter McKnight explains how he sees this coming together to create a Gospel Culture. In other words, this is his place to say “This is what this looks like in life.”  I’ll leave you to read this part for yourself in order to ask what this may look like in your church community.

Conclusion. 

Great, great, great book! Like Wright said in his forward you won’t agree with everything, but you be challenged. You’ll be challenged to think about the Gospel as the early church gives it to us. There are many consequences of the Gospel that you may realize are not part of the Gospel nor were they part of the “Gospeling” of the early church.

If you’ve already read the book, what has your reaction been?