I am grateful to Scot McKnight and Zondervan for making this book available to me for review. From the moment I viewed the book trailer in which McKnight appears, I was interested in what he had to say about the widely debated meaning of “the gospel”. One of things I appreciate about Scot McKnight as an author is his ability to think critically about issues which matter to the church in a way which makes scholarship accessible. One might say he is a scholar of and for the church in an age when so many are simply “of”.
This review will not seek to interact at a scholarly level with McKnight. This is not my area of expertise. I will leave this to the likes of Witherington, Kirk, LePort. In this review I will discuss my impressions of the book, what I liked and what I didn’t. In a series of upcoming posts I will interact with the book chapter by chapter on my turf and how it realtes to ministry at my personal blog, The Parson’s Patch.
First up let me say; this book may be short and easy to read but one gets the feeling it has a lifetime of scholarship undergirding it. In what I would describe as an easy to follow conversational style McKnight takes us on a journey to understand what the “Gospel” really means in a way I would identify as scholarly but pastoral.
McKnight begins by carefully deconstructing his own experience and understanding of the word “Gospel”. I suspect many readers will identify with his experience. Begining with 1 Corinthians 15 McKnight seeks to establish what he considers the earliest witness we have to the content of the gospel. I appreciated the way in which McKnight worked his way back through 21st century, through the Reformation to Paul’s, Peter’s and finally Jesus’ understanding of the gospel. In my opinion, by approaching the subject this way, I believe McKnight Unleashes the Gospel from our 21st century misunderstandings and ties it back to the King Jesus Gospel!
If I had one criticism of the book it is that I felt McKnight overemphasized salvation culture as the predominant culture in the church. Although I agree with his assessment that 21st century evangelical culture is not gospel culture I am not persuaded that most churches focus primarily on getting folks saved. I think this might be true of mega churches but because the vast majority of churches are small I think the point is overemphasised. I also felt this part of his argument is out-dated. I am speaking from my own context here in Australia and could therefore be wrong. What I do agree with however, and what McKnight provides, is a clear biblical (including historical) and theological understanding of who and what the gospel is. McKnight has done a great job defining the word within its original first century context as well as providing a theological summary for the 21st century church to consider.
A couple of points which really stood out for me were McKnight’s ability to critique those with whom he disagrees with and yet extend a level of respect expected between Christians. In short, McKnight is polite. Also, in each chapter McKnight interacts with well known, sometimes pseudnomynous “Pastors”? This was incredibly helpful in framing the discussion in my mind for use in ministry.
I can highly recommend this book to Pastors and lay people alike. It is short enough to read in a day or two or, as I would encourage every reader to do, take a chapter each day and read it over two weeks. Anyone who reads this book will come away refreshed, challenged and with a lot to think about. It would make a great study book for small groups.
Finally, this book does not feel like a reaction. As you read it you get the idea that McKnight has been mulling this stuff over for quite some time; researching and reflecting on this issue. At the end of the day he has written a book which is easy to read but certainly not lightweight! I can say with confidence that McKnight unleashes the Gospel from 21st century meaning for 21st century meaning!